Can Jordan Schroeder, Zack Kassian, and David Booth give the Canucks an effective third line?

For all the talk of splitting the Sedins between the Canucks’ top two lines over the past week, the discussion bypasses what has been one of the Canucks’ legitimate issues this season: the third line. The Canucks have a bevy of forwards to parcel out in the top-six, but huge question marks in the bottom six, starting at third-line centre.

Since John Tortorella seems content to leave the fourth line on the bench for the vast majority of the game, the third line is the real issue, with none of the Canucks’ centres taking the reins during the pre-season. The third line through the first five games of the season has been a mish-mash of Brad Richardson, Jannik Hansen, David Booth, Dale Weise, Chris Higgins, and Mike Santorelli, with some of those rotating into the top-six. The various combinations haven’t experienced much success and haven’t stayed together with any consistency.

Over the past two games, however, an intriguing combination has been put together that may solve the problem. With the return of Zack Kassian and Jordan Schroeder to the lineup, the two youngsters have been matched with David Booth to form a third line with the potential to have some staying power.

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Every Goal, 2012-13: Jordan Schroeder

It’s been four years since Jordan Schroeder was drafted in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks and he finally made his NHL debut in the 2012-13 season. With Ryan Kesler out to start the season, Schroeder had an excellent opportunity to play an offensive role and prove himself after a couple middling seasons in the AHL. It didn’t quite work out as hoped.

While Schroeder was able to hold his own defensively, a concern given his size, he wasn’t able to produce much offensively, scoring just 9 points in 31 games. He was the Canucks’ best rookie, but only by default. Still, it’s something to build on, particularly after scoring 10 points in 9 AHL games during his April demotion. He may be reaching the point where he’s too good to stay in the AHL and will hopefully force himself into the lineup in 2013-14.

He’ll be 23 at the start of next season and will be challenged for the third-line centre role by Brad Richardson, as well as prospects Brendan Gaunce and Bo Horvat. His new one-way contract, worth just $600,000, will aid his cause, as he won’t strain the salary cap.

If he wants to stick with the Canucks long-term, he’ll need to provide more than the three goals he scored in 2012-13. Let’s take a look at those goals, shall we?

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Canucks re-sign four restricted free agents to completely fair and therefore unexciting new contracts

For some reason, Canucks fans have been exceedingly worried about Chris Tanev this off-season. The number of tweets and e-mails that I’ve received asking about Tanev is mind-boggling, particularly considering he has only played one full season with the Canucks and it happened to be one shortened by a lockout. Tanev is certainly a good young player, but he’s not worth all the fuss and bother that has been raised over the past month.

The concern is particularly overblown when you consider that Tanev doesn’t have arbitration rights and therefore has minimal leverage in contract negotiations. The Canucks will re-sign the cool, calm, and collected defenceman eventually — it’ll just take time to sort out the particulars.

Meanwhile, as Canucks fans eagerly await a new contract for Tanev, Mike Gillis has quietly gone about re-signing a quartet of other restricted free agents to new deals.

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Bonus hardware! Handing out the real end-of-year Canucks team awards

The Vancouver Canucks handed out their team awards on Thursday night prior to their lacklustre effort against the Anaheim Ducks. Henrik Sedin took home the Cyrus H. McLean award as the Canucks’ leading scorer and will keep it unless Daniel manages to score 6 points on Saturday against the Oilers without Henrik getting any.

Dan Hamhuis deservedly won the Babe Pratt award for best defenceman, Cory Schneider understandably won the Cyclone Taylor award as the team’s MVP, and Jannik Hansen simultaneously had his praises sung as the team’s Most Exciting Player and was named the team’s unsung hero with the Fred J. Hume award.

That just doesn’t seem like enough awards, so we put together seven more:

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Ask it to Bulis! on Canucks UFAs, Jordan Schroeder versus Andrew Ebbett, and what Tanev is worth

It’s time once more for Ask it to Bulis, where two incredibly intelligent, witty, handsome, and humble bloggers answer your questions about life, the universe, and everything, but mostly the Vancouver Canucks. Side effects include enlightenment, rationality, and botanophobia.

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Examining the Canuck winners and losers of the 2013 trade deadline

It wasn’t a terrible NHL trade deadline for the Canucks. After all, they acquired Derek Roy, a skilled player that adds a very important element to their attack: a centre. They really haven’t had one of those all season.

Still, the 2013 trade deadline won’t be remembered in this city for what Mike Gillis did — it will be remembered for what he didn’t do. A big part of that is because he acquired Roy the day before the deadline, which is like giving a child a present on Christmas Eve. It’s exciting, but there had damn well better be something else under the tree on Christmas. But a bigger part is because Roberto Luongo wasn’t traded, leading to the the most indelible moment of the deadline, when Luongo told the world he had a sucky contract. That’ll stay with us, just like Luongo will.

All of this in mind, let’s take a look at the winners and losers of the deadline from a Vancouver perspective.

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Has Jordan Schroeder’s improved play eased Vancouver’s need for a centre?

ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun gave Vancouver hockey fans some food for thought Wednesday when he named the Canucks among the teams showing an interest in San Jose bruiser Ryane Clowe, who might be on the market as the Sharks debate a deadline sell-off. “Don’t just assume he’s 100 percent headed to an Eastern Conference team,” Lebrun added after discussing a number of scenarios in this regard. “I’m told there are Western Conference teams, the Vancouver Canucks among them, that also covet Clowe.”

This left many Canuck fans scratching their heads for several reasons. Does the club really need a guy that takes a lot of penalties, has yet to score a goal all season, and abuses the letter E so brazenly? And beyond that, don’t the Canucks need a centre more than they need another winger?

Let’s ignore, for the moment, Clowe’s awful luck this season, the blowups it’s produced, and the extraneous E’s, instead taking a look at that last objection. All season long, the Canucks have been shorthanded up the midde, what with Ryan Kesler spending so much of the year on the IR and Manny Malhotra’s tenure as a Canuck ending back in February. It’s been our understanding that acquiring a centre has been a top priority for this team all year.

But now we’re beginning to wonder if Jordan Schroeder may have helped to shift their priorities.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Phoenix Coyotes, March 21, 2013

By all accounts, this game should have been a gong show. David Booth joined Ryan Kesler on the Injured Reserve list, Zack Kassian and Steve Pinizzotto didn’t even fly to Phoenix, and Chris Higgins tweaked his back at the morning skate, turning the Canucks’ lineup into the hockey equivalent of Aziz Ansari’s boombox mixtape.

Like that mixtape, the Canucks’ third line seemed to be thrown together at random, with Andrew Ebbett centring Dale Weise and Keith Ballard. Andrew Gordon drew into the lineup for his first game as a Canuck on a fourth line with Maxim Lapierre and Tom Sestito. The haphazardly arranged lineup looked like a disaster on paper, but the Canucks knuckled down and played a simple, hard-working road game.

That isn’t to say it didn’t have its bizarre moments, as it certainly did. At times, this game resembled the Coyotes’ original, seemingly peyote-inspired, jerseys. I reached a higher plane of existence when I watched this game.

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Breakdowning Jordan Schroeder and Dale Weise’s brief turn as the Sedins

Much like Stella Payne, Jordan Schroeder had lost his groove, so the Canucks sent him down to Chicago to get it back. On Tuesday, he made a strong case for having rediscovered it.

Alain Vigneault faced a lot of criticism for his decision to pair Jordan Schroeder with Dale Weise and Tom Sestito in the games before Schroeder’s demotion to the minors, but much of it was misplaced. Sure, Schroeder is the most skilled player on that line, but that should be perfectly clear. To be a centre in the NHL, you have to be able to elevate your wingers rather than falling to their level, and Schroeder was unable to stand out on that fourth line during his first stint with the team.

Early in his second stint, however, he finally broke through, making Dale Weise look like the Daniel Sedin to his Henrik as the two combined for a highlight-reel goal that turned out to be the game-winner. It’s a great goal, and it only gets greater the more you watch it. How does a 2-on-4 during a line change turn into a down-low 1-on-0 for Dale Weise in a matter of seconds, especially against the St. Louis Blues, who are usually airtight defensively? Well. Let’s break it down.

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Jordan Schroeder in: how to win faceoffs and influence zone starts

When David Booth got hurt at the Canucks’ abbreviated, two-scrimmage preseason, I opined that this spelled the end of Jordan Schroeder’s chances to be the Canucks’ second-line centre on opening night. My theory: Schroeder might have had a shot when he would be skating between two veterans in Booth and Mason Raymond — much like Cody Hodgson did the year before, beating out Ebbett in training camp and lining up between Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm on day one — but with the young’un Zack Kassian stepping up to fill in for Booth, I suspected Vigneault would uncomfortable doubling down on inexperience on that line by making Schroeder its centre. Hence, safe, forgettable Andrew Ebbett had the edge.

I got that one right.

Since then, however, it’s become clear that Alain Vigneault didn’t. Ebbett was quiet through the first two games of the season — quiet enough that the Canucks eventually called Schroeder back. In the Canucks’ third game, Schroeder drew in and Ebbett drew out.

But then Manny Malhotra’s wife gave birth to a baby boy, and Malhotra stepped away from the team for two games, leaving Vigneault with no choice but to dress both Ebbett and Schroeder. What followed was yet another two-game showdown between Ebbett and Schroeder for a middle-six centre job. This time, Booth or no Booth, Schroeder won it clean.

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Shift-by-shift: Jordan Schroeder’s debut

Over four years after being drafted by the Canucks, Jordan Schroeder finally made his NHL debut. It was unspectacular: he didn’t score the gamewinning goal or make a game-saving defensive play. He didn’t even get a shot on net. But he must have done something right: in a tight game that went to the shootout, Schroeder had almost 15 minutes in ice time, including a shift in overtime.

Considering that Alain Vigneault is notoriously stingy with ice time when it comes to young players, getting 14:49 in ice time in a debut is quite impressive. Since I was watching the game as a whole, I didn’t necessarily see everything that Schroeder did during the game and he didn’t have much in the way of a stat line. He finished with 2 PIM, 1 shot attempt blocked, 1 hit, 1 takeaway, and was 1-for-4 in the faceoff circle.

So I decided to go back and watch every single shift from Jordan Schroeder and break them down. After I did so, it became very clear why Vigneault trusted him on the ice: his defensive responsibility.

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Canucks recall Jordan Schroeder from the Chicago press box

The Canucks could have saved themselves the cost of a couple flights. They announced Tuesday that they are recalling Jordan Schroeder from the Chicago Wolves just four days after he was the final cut of training camp. In fact, he didn’t even play a single game with the Wolves, despite his fellow camp cuts lacing up for two games since flying back to Chicago. Maybe the popcorn in the Chicago pressbox is just better than the popcorn at Rogers Arena.

Schroeder lost the battle to center the second line to Andrew Ebbett in training camp, as Harrison predicted when David Booth injured his groin. Without two speedy, veteran wingers on the second line, Alain Vigneault was hesitant to place an untested rookie in the middle. Two games into the season, however, it is clear that the Canucks don’t even have a second line, so there’s little harm in trying to create one from scratch.

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Why Jordan Schroeder should fear David Booth’s groin

On Monday, Canuck nation got some bad news, as David Booth missed the second day of the abbreviated post-lockout training camp with a sore groin. Tuesday, the news regarding Booth’s groin got even more grim: not unlike an elusive Albertan mountain goat, Booth killed it. He’ll be out 4-6 weeks with a strained groin.

Thus, if you were already somewhat disillusioned to learn that Andrew Ebbett and Jordan Schroeder would be battling it out to see who centred Mason Raymond and David Booth in the absence of a rehabilitating Ryan Kesler, consider that they’re now battling to see who centres Mason Raymond and… someone.

And frankly, while Booth’s strained groin was bad news for the entire Canucks organization and their fans, I’d argue that it was especially bad for Jordan Schroeder’s chances to win that battle.

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Hungry like the Wolves: Up the river with the Rivermen and Admirals

Hungry like the Wolves is an ongoing feature on Pass it to Bulis during the lockout, wherein we keep an eye on the Canucks prospects and property currently playing for the Wolves as it’s the closest thing we’re going to get to Canucks hockey for quite some time.

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Hungry like the Wolves: Ice the Hogs, then split with Checkers

Hungry like the Wolves is an ongoing feature on Pass it to Bulis during the lockout, wherein we keep an eye on the Canucks prospects and property currently playing for the Wolves as it’s the closest thing we’re going to get to Canucks hockey for quite some time.

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Five options for Vancouver’s third-line centre vacancy

For a brief, fleeting moment, centre was a position of strength for the Canucks. With the acquisition of Maxim Lapierre at the 2011 trade deadline, the Canucks were perfectly structured down the middle of the ice: Henrik Sedin, the super-skilled all-star Art Ross winner, on the top line; Ryan Kesler, the two-way power forward coming into his own as a sniper, on the second line; Manny Malhotra, the defence-first enabler, on the third line; Lapierre, the defensively-responsible agitator, on the fourth.

The Canucks even had Cody Hodgson, full of promise, waiting in the wings. Life was good in Centresville.

That’s when a malfeasant puck made a beeline for Malhotra’s eye, ruined everything, then went on to a starring role in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When Malhotra returned in the playoffs, he wasn’t the same player and that continued in the 2011-12 season. While he still played a vital defensive role, Malhotra’s ice time was much-diminished and it was apparent that he simply wasn’t as effective as he had been prior to the injury.

Hodgson, for his part, made good on several elements of his promise, but left Alain Vigneault and Mike Gillis wanting on the defensive side of the puck (and the patriarchal side of Hodgson’s family), leading to a trade out of town. In his place came Samme Pahlsson, who came with defensive acclaim, but didn’t live up it. Now he’s gone back to Sweden, leaving the position unoccupied.

When you add the fact that Ryan Kesler is definitely, totally injured and absolutely still recovering, no question about it, to the mix, the middle of the ice looks positively capacious for the Canucks. Utility forward Andrew Ebbett might be a stopgap, but what are the Canucks’ options for a season-long solution? Here are 5 of them:

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The Canucks made another round of cuts this afternoon, sending Mike Duco, Eddie Lack, Yann Sauve, and Jordan Schroeder to Chicago, Nicklas Jensen to his junior club in Oshawa, and releasing Todd Fedoruk and Anders Eriksson outright. While there is still one final round of trimming to go, as a number of players that will need to clear waivers remain with the team (Mancari, Parent and/or Sulzer), today’s cuts were, in effect, the final round, giving us a fairly clear indication as to who will be in the lineup on opening night.

As we have been throughout this process, PITB is here to break down the moves.

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Throughout the Young Stars Tournament, we will have in-person coverage from Harrison, while I will be “in studio” back here in the Valley. We won’t be writing our usual I Watched This Game feature, as the games themselves are not what matters. Instead, we’ll be looking at the individual performances. I will be choosing the 3 stars from amongst the Canucks prospects as well as making a few other observations. Why just the Canucks prospects? Because we don’t care about the other teams. Screw ‘em.

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Jordan Schroeder rode into camp last year with high expectations, both from the Canucks and from himself. A year removed from leaving the University of Minnesota to join the Manitoba Moose just in time for the Calder playoff run — a stint where he put up 15 points in 17 games, including a hat trick — it was assumed that Schroeder’s first full pro season would yield an AHL superstar, and possibly even an NHLer.

Instead, Schroeder hit a wall, underestimating the gruelling schedule and the conditioning level required to suffer through it.

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Canucks news comes fast and furious, and sometimes we find ourselves playing catchup. Thankfully, the Dreaded Two Goal Lead–often called “the worst lead in hockey”–is super easy to come back from. Everybody knows it’s a guaranteed death sentence for those that hold it. Well, much like an ice hockey team coming from two goals down, [...]

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