When a good team evolves into a great team there are a few things that they all have in common. The defence can move the puck, the team has sufficient goaltending; and most importantly, they have a top nine forward group that can control the goal share. The Canucks have been a top six/bottom six team for the past couple years, and throwing out Brandon Sutter as the third line centre and expecting a positive goal share is starting to become a cruel joke to Canucks fans.

Getting into tweets early in this one…

If the Canucks want to create a top nine there is one simple tip they should take from this article, they shouldn’t use Brandon Sutter as the third line centre anymore. There once was a time when teams were constructed to have two scoring lines, a checking line and a fourth line but with the game’s increased emphasis on speed and skill, the idea of a “checking line” has been all but extracted from the game. As a result, it’s time to stop for all of us to stop viewing roster construction through a traditional top six/bottom six lens.

Teams need to be able to score goals throughout the lineup while also being defensively responsible. That is hockey in 2019, folks. An ideal fourth line acts as a place where you can bury your specialists and play them at 5-on-5 for 8-10 minutes per game. PK and PP specialists can get a bit of action in at 5-on-5, wait for their chance to shine on special teams, and possibly move up the lineup when the team needs a spark.

The Canucks have their top two centres set for the foreseeable future in Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat, but the third line is still very much in question with Adam Gaudette, Brandon Sutter and JT Miller being the top three candidates to play down the middle.

Adam Gaudette

If the Canucks want to take the step to becoming a good or even great team, Adam Gaudette needs to be an integral piece. If making the playoffs is the goal, they’ll need a third line centre who can be a contributor offensively. Adam Gaudette came into the league with a lot of hype after winning the Hobey Baker award as the best NCAA player in 2018, and some fans believed the team had found a diamond in the rough with their 2015 fifth round picks. Gaudette has had times where he has shown some flashes of being an offensive talent in the NHL, and anyone who’s gotten a chance to see him play in the AHL has seen the offensive force he can be at that level. The issue is that he will be 23 years old at the beginning of the season and after his few years in college he is now at a crossroads in his NHL career. Does he have the talent and hockey IQ to hold down a full-time NHL job in a team’s top nine?

There’s evidence to suggest he can. In his first 40 games of the 2018-19 season he was only averaging 10:12 of ice time and had five goals and five assists in those games without any consistent time on special teams. Gaudette’s most consistent linemates were Jake Virtanen, Markus Granlund and Antoine Roussel. With the team’s additions of Micheal Ferland and JT Miller we could see some more time of Virtanen and Roussel with Gaudette and I’d expect to see Sven Baertschi and Tanner Pearson get some time with him as well.

Gaudette did finish the final 16 games of the season averaging 12:35 of ice time per game and was only able to contribute two assists over that period so he definitely has work to do this offseason to improve his chances of being a full-time third line centre in the NHL. He did, however, have a higher Corsi for and goals for per 60 minutes and lower Corsi and goals against per 60 minutes than Brandon Sutter, who could very likely be Travis Green’s choice for the third line centre spot.

Gaudette seems to spread out his offence at the NHL level, though when he was a Northeastern standout in the NCAA he loved to score from the left side of the ice and was very efficient on the powerplay. The Canucks have not used Gaudette consistently in that position but I would not be surprised to see him get some work on the second unit this season if he takes a step after his offseason training.

If he can take the next step, he looks to be one of the better options for the third line centre role. If he can be what a lot fans think he can be, that sets the team up down the middle for years to come.

Adam Gaudette has a lot on his shoulders this season and he may not even know it. A big year for Gaudette would be a big upgrade for the Canucks down the middle and definitely give the team a top 9 forward group that can score goals and at least have the chance to compete to have a positive goal share.

Brandon Sutter 

There’s not much more you can say about the guy at this point. I’m over Brandon Sutter. Sure, there’s a chance he stays healthy and bounces back if everything goes right, but if that happens he’ll be worth more as a trade chip than the third line centre on a team that’s in desperate need of some playmaking in in the bottom-half of the lineup. The Canucks have a small army of wingers in the mix to round out the top nine and the team needs to have a guy in the 3C role that can include his wingers in the offence and Brandon Sutter doesn’t do that.

In a vacuum, Jay Beagle and Brandon Sutter are perfectly fine fourth-line centres but most smart fans understand that the team can’t afford a boutique defensive centre in a salary cap world and the fact that there are two of them just doubles the destruction of offence in the team’s bottom-six.

When Brandon Sutter was on the ice at 5 on 5 the Canucks had a 6.11% shooting percentage and Jay Beagle wasn’t much better with his 6.85%. Sutter did start 44.7% of his shifts in the defensive zone and 35.5% in the neutral zone but was still at a worse percentage of goal share as he was on the ice for 21 goals against and was only on the ice for 8 goals for, a goal share percentage of 27.5%. Beagle started even more often away from offensive faceoffs with an combined percentage of 81.1% of his faceoffs coming in the defensive or neutral zone in which time Beagle had a 37.8% goal share, which is also not very good but the lack of offensive faceoffs might account for Beagle’s low percentages to some degree.

All in all it should be an easy decision to keep Sutter off of the third line. If he starts the season there like some believe coach Travis Green will do it means a bit more developmental time and confidence boost for Adam Gaudette in Utica but like I said earlier, I’m over Brandon Sutter.

Give me something new! Give me something fresh!

JT Miller

I initially wasn’t a big fan of the idea of JT Milller starting in the 3c role. I want JT Miller on the top line with Pettersson and Boeser, as I recently wrote. If this team does want to commit to having three lines that are a threat to score, this option does make some sense to me. It’s not the direction I’d go in, but I can see the appeal.

The Canucks wanted to add wingers that would contribute to their top 6 this offseason and they did that with the additions of JT Miller and Micheal Ferland. Miller is probably the best option on the top scoring line but he’s also likely the best player to round out the top 9 group at centre, too. His playmaking ability around the net and ability to contribute with a very high goal share percentage in a third line role is good reason to believe that he would thrive as the third line centre, where he would have easier matchups against opposing teams and with wingers like Jake Virtanen, Micheal Ferland, Sven Baertschi or even Antoine Roussel (when he returns), he could finally provide the Canucks with the offensive top-nine stability they’ve needed.

I can see the case for Miller in the third-line centre role but I’m not crazy about the idea of taking Miller away from Horvat or Pettersson. There are a lot of wingers on the roster, but the Canucks still need to make sure their top two lines are solidified and that players like Horvat and Pettersson are put in a position to succeed.

Forget top six/bottom six

For years the Canucks have had a bottom six that plays scared and have neglected the need to get offense from their bottom two lines. The Canucks need to get on the path to championship contention and the first step  is to be a positive goal share team at 5-on-5.

That obviously starts with the Pettersson and Horvat lines, but there’s an obvious need in Vancouver for a feisty third line that can regularly contribute on the scoreboard. For my money, Adam Gaudette looks like the best centre to fill that role while still allowing the Canucks to roll out an offensively potent top-six, but if he can’t step up to the plate and become the player Canucks’ fans hope he can it will open the opportunity for JT Miller to try the 3C position.

Just keep Sutter away from that spot. The market is tired of seeing so many players sink into his black hole of offence. Could Sutter bounce back and become that 15-20 goal scorer we have seen in the past? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and has been trending down for the past five seasons.

Even at his best, Sutter has never been a playmaker, and over the past five seasons he’s had more secondary assists than first which is a crazy turnaround from the ratio of first assists to second assists that he saw at the beginning of his career.

Travis Green has a lot of decisions heading into training camp and one of the major decisions will be figuring out who slots in down the middle on the third line.

Obviously, every player wants a chance to play with Petey and Boeser but someone needs to back them up in the scoring department, and it’s time for the front office and the coaching staff to build three lines that are a threat to score instead of a top six that tries to score and a bottom six that tries to not get scored on. They have the pieces now to attempt to construct a legit top 9, the question is whether the Canucks will do it or fall back to their old ways of marching out Brandon Sutter as the third line centre.

Who is your guy to play 3C?

Does Sutter have any value and will he if he performs well at the start of the season? Sound off in the comments.