Jannik Hansen practiced on Wednesday for the first time since suffering an injury against the New York Islanders in October. He’s eligible to return on Sunday against the Dallas Stars, which raises some interesting questions for the Canucks: just where does he fit into the lineup?
In the 11 games that Hansen has played this season, he’s mainly skated in the top-six, spending some time with the Sedins on the top line and on a second line with Chris Higgins and Ryan Kesler. The only issue is that John Tortorella has settled on a consistent top-six after a lot of experimentation early in the season and there doesn’t seem to be any room for Hansen. That is, unless Tortorella is willing to shuffle his lines significantly, which appears to be the case.
The first option would be to bring Hansen along slowly, starting him on the fourth line. At practice on Wednesday, he skated on a line with Tom Sestito and Zac Dalpe in drills, with Jeremy Welsh taking the place of an absent Henrik Sedin. That may have just been because he was not eligible to return from long term injured reserve on Thursday against the Sharks, however.
The benefit of starting Hansen on the fourth line, perhaps with spot duty on special teams, is that it keeps the other line combinations together. The top line with Kesler on the Sedins’ wing has been dominant at times, though the three players have combined for just 2 assists over the last 4 games. The second line with Mike Santorelli centring Higgins and Alex Burrows has been very impressive, particularly in their battles along the boards, and have performed very well against strong competition.
The question mark is the third line of David Booth, Brad Richardson, and Zack Kassian. The trio have skated just one game together, finishing about even in puck possession against the Joe Pavelski line for the Sharks, but they seem to have some potential together. Starting Hansen on the fourth line for a couple games gives the Canucks some more time to assess that line.
With that said, the Canucks have scored just 1 goal in each of their last three games, so a change seems to be in order. The question is how big a change is needed. If the line combinations at Saturday morning’s practice are any indication, we will see a significantly different lineup on Sunday against the Stars.
Kesler a centre again. Back on 2L with Higgins and Hansen. Burrows with twins. Booth-Santorelli-Kassian / Sestito-Richardson-Welsh #canucks
— Dan Murphy (@sportsnetmurph) November 16, 2013
With Kesler on the wing and the return of Hansen, the Canucks have a surplus of wingers, so moving Kesler back to centre seems to be the best use of their resources. The end result is a lineup that looks almost exactly like what fans expected at the beginning of the season.
Kesler’s return to centre pushes Santorelli to the third line. That alone may encourage Tortorella to spread out the minutes, as Kesler has led all Canucks forwards in ice time and is tied with Sidney Crosby for the league-lead in ice time among forwards, while Santorelli is fifth among Canucks forwards in ice time and has averaged over 19 minutes per game. The third line, meanwhile, has averaged closer to 12-13 minutes per game.
A third line of Santorelli, Booth, and Kassian should be able to play more minutes and take some heat off the top-six. Both Booth and Santorelli have been second line players in their careers, though Booth hasn’t played up to that standard of late, and Kassian has the potential to be a second line player as well. Having all three on the third line should theoretically work out well.
The move also reunites Burrows with the Sedins, which will hopefully help Burrows get going again. The winger has no goals and just 3 assists through 9 games, though he has performed well and been robbed multiple times on great scoring chances. As much as Tortorella has seemed convinced that Kesler is best suited to be a winger, having him on the top line has prevented the Sedins from elevating the game of a lesser player, like Burrows or Kassian.
The move will also hopefully get the Sedins producing again, as they haven’t provided a goal in four games.
Hansen returning immediately to the second line may be throwing him into the deep end after a long absence, but his return gives the Canucks some impressive depth at forward, partly thanks to forcing Kesler back into the middle. With both Santorelli and Richardson impressing this season, the Canucks now have excellent depth down the middle of the ice. If Hansen is able to perform up to his usual standards, their depth down the wings is also superb.
Without moving Kesler back to centre, the Canucks would have to put one of Kassian, Booth, or Hansen on the fourth line, which would not be ideal unless it was a temporary situation to get Hansen back up to speed. It doesn’t look like Tortorella thinks he needs to be eased back in, however, and it will be interesting to see how he performs in a large role immediately.Tags: Jannik Hansen