While Ryan Kesler initially hoped to be back by opening night after his off-season surgery, it instead appears that he is on track to return by November. This means he will miss anywhere from 11 to 23 games, depending on when in the month he returns. His absence will have a ripple effect on the rest of the Canucks lineup, with some of the repercussions being immediately obvious and some of them being a little further under the radar.
Let’s start with the obvious: Cody Hodgson will be the Canucks’ second-line centre. Whether this terrifies or excites you will depend on how optimistic you are about the Canucks’ top prospect and how much you think Alain Vigneault hates the 21-year-old. Just a quick reminder: prior to his back injury and subsequent lost season and long recovery, Hodgson was the CHL’s player of the year, scoring 92 points in 53 games. He also led the World Junior Championship tournament in scoring, beating out John Tavares. You can probably guess what side of the optimism/pessimism spectrum I fall on.
According to Jeff Paterson, Hodgson has switched his player number from 39 to 9, the number made famous by Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, Gordie “Mr. Hockey” Howe, and Bobby “The Golden Jet” Hull, which means he needs a better nickname than “CoHo.” Perhaps Cody “The Salmon” Hodgson? Cody “Silent G” Hodgson? Cody “Back Attack” Hodgson? It needs work.
For those worried about how Hodgson will perform, this next point may help ease those fears: the second line will be sheltered like a homeschooled kid. Unlike Kesler, who is an elite defensive forward and Selke winner, Hodgson does not yet have the defensive acumen necessary to line up against the opposition’s top lines. While the arrival of Manny “The Enabler” Malhotra eased Kesler’s burden, Vigneault had no qualms about sending Kesler out against tough competition when the situation warranted it.
The Candy Striper line of Hodgson, Marco Sturm, and Mikael Samuelsson, on the other hand, will likely face some of the weakest competition on the Canucks. Vigneault now has the luxury of having a defensively responsible fourth line led by Maxim Lapierre, who played a role similar to Malhotra’s during the playoffs. This means that Malhotra will face the opponent’s top lines, with Lapierre will be sent out against the secondary scorers, leaving the Sedins and the second line to mop up the lesser lights.
One of the ripple effects, then, is that the third line will see more icetime at even-strength. The third line of Malhotra, Jannik Hansen, and Chris Higgins will be relied upon more often to face tough opposition and will likely see much more icetime than they did last season. Kesler was right behind the Sedins in even-strength ice time last season and Vigneault will be unlikely to give that time to the still unproven Hodgson.
It is also likely that the Sedins will start more often in the defensive zone. In the last couple seasons, the Sedins have led the NHL in offensive zone starts, a major contributor to their increased offensive production. Having two stalwart faceoff men behind them in Kesler and Malhotra has helped significantly. Even with the addition of Malhotra, Kesler continued to take a large number of defensive zone faceoffs for the Canucks.
In his absence, the bulk of the defensive zone faceoffs will need to be taken by either Lapierre, Hodgson, or Henrik. While Lapierre seems to be a good candidate, and it’s likely that he will take some of them, he’s struggled at times with his faceoff numbers. Hodgson is unproven and unlikely to start in the defensive zone very often. Henrik, on the other hand, improved his faceoff percentage last season to 52%.
With some of the failures in defensive zone coverage that we saw from the Sedins in the Stanley Cup Final, it might behoove Vigneault to give them more opportunities to work on that part of their game. Also, since the third line will get more icetime, some of their shifts will have to start in the offensive zone and it all has to balance out somehow.
As for special teams, there’s an obvious repercussion: Alex Burrows will play on the first unit on the powerplay. We saw this in the pre-season, as Burrows took Kesler’s usual net-presence role on the first unit. While Samuelsson occasionally played with the Sedins when Kesler was unavailable or recharging after a recent shift, he will be moving to the point to take Ehrhoff’s vacant spot.
So here are a couple predictions: Burrows will lead Canucks forwards in icetime in October and Burrows will set a career high in points. With Burrows playing on the top line at even-strength, on the first-unit on the powerplay, and being one of the Canucks’ top penalty killers, he’ll be playing a lot, particularly if the top line is sent out for more defensive zone faceoffs.
As for setting a career high in points, Burrows has done most of his scoring at even-strength. His previous career-high of 67 points in 2009-10 was reached with only 6 powerplay points and he scored 51 points the previous season without tallying a single one on the powerplay. This is because Burrows rarely saw any time whatsoever on the powerplay and, with Kesler out to start the season, Burrows has the opportunity to pad his point totals in October with some plumb powerplay time.
On the other side of special teams, Hodgson will play on the penalty kill. Kesler was right behind Malhotra in shorthanded time on ice last season. With Lapierre available to step into the secondary role behind Malhotra, that would seem to solve the problem, but Vigneault likes to use three penalty killing units, preferably with a reliable faceoff man on each.
Henrik, then, would seem to be the first option, as I suggested in the point on zone starts, but Hodgson was used extensively in a penalty killing role in the preseason and it seems likely that Vigneault will prefer to save Henrik for even-strength and powerplay time. This means the likely forward duos on the penalty kill will be Malhotra-Hansen, Lapierre-Burrows, and Hodgson with one of Sturm, Volpatti, or Higgins.
Tags: Alex Burrows, Candy Striper Line, Cody Hodgson, featured, Kesler, Ryan Kesler