NHL: Canucks Projections – The Third Liners

THIRD-LINE HEROES: Jannik Hansen and the Canucks’ third-line players will be relied upon to produce and shutdown other teams like never before this season

BY THOMAS DRANCE

We’ve already looked at goal scoring output from the Sedin twins and the second line forwards, and now we get to the “third line forwards” – some of whom are “tweener” forwards who will probably spend a good deal of time in the top-six this season. My model identified five “third-line forwards” for the Canucks this season, but we’ll only cover four here in Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre (Zack Kassian will have his own post later this week). Let’s get to it, starting with gravity-challenged speedster Mason Raymond.

MASON RAYMOND
Mason Raymond has had a rough couple of seasons in Vancouver, following his breakout campaign in 2009-10. In 2010-11 he actually had a career year by the peripheral metrics, but his power-play time was down and at even-strength he was snake-bit and struggled to convert his copious opportunities into points. Then in the Stanley Cup Final he was severely injured on a freak play involving Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk, and he struggled mightily by every metric in 2011-12.

I remain convinced that, were it not for the injury that took six months to heal from, his performance at even-strength would’ve bounced back last season. Now however, with the addition of David Booth and the offensive emergence of Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen – I tend to think that a change of scenery for Mason Raymond might be beneficial for both sides. Regardless, I plugged Mason Raymond into the model as a “tweener” averaging just a shade under thirteen minutes per game, and second unit power-play minutes in 41 games this season. Here’s Raymond’s forecast for the upcoming season:

Mason Raymond is one of those players with an “outlier” season, but rather than adjust his outlier season (the way I did the Sedin twins) I just included a fourth year into my sample. In part that was intended to dilute the impact of his outlier 2009-10 campaign, and to bring his “sample-size” above 3000 minutes at even-strength. Mason Raymond remains a productive forward by my model – he’s the sixth most efficient even-strength scorer on the team behind Kesler, Daniel, Booth, Hansen and Higgins, and the third most efficient power-play scorer behind only Booth and Kesler. However, he’s been passed on the depth chart (both in reality, and in my model) by the likes of Higgins and Hansen and will have fewer opportunities this season to post the gaudy totals he did a few years back. If his underlying numbers rebound, he’ll still be valuable to the Canucks and if the percentages are kind he could post a big year. But common sense and my projection model indicate that Raymond’s as a signature contributor in Vancouver’s top-six forward group are likely over.

CHRIS HIGGINS
Moving along to fan favorite Chris Higgins, whose shooting percentage rebounded after three seasons of what looks to be awful luck, and scored eighteen goals in an injury shortened campaign in 2011-12. The early indications are that Chris Higgins will start the year on Vancouver’s third-line alongside Jannik Hansen and Maxim Lapierre, though, with Andrew Ebbett likely to center the second line, this “third-line” could well be the team’s “second” in terms of their ice-time. We’ve pencilled in Chris Higgins to, like Mason Raymond, play a tweener role that includes prolonged stints in the top-six and second unit power-play duty. While our model calls for Chris Higgins to play about 60 minutes of power-play time this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t actually occur. While Chris Higgins has – woeful shooting percentage aside – been a capable even-strength scorer over the past four years, he’s struggled mightily on the power-play. In fact, his goal scoring rate on the power-play is less than half of his even-strength rate which is very rare. Higgins is a steady veteran and an under-rated playmaker, so he’ll likely continue to see power-play ice-time, but his recent results would suggest that the Canucks might be better off seeing what someone like Zack Kassian or Jannik Hansen can do with Higgins’ power-play ice-time.

Anyway, here’s Higgins’ projection for the 2013 season:

As you can see, our model suggests that Chris Higgins will regress back to his 2010-11 level of production following his 18 goal outburst last season. Of course, if Higgins finds a regular slot in the top-six alongside his “American Express” line-mates from last season (Kesler and Booth) he certainly has a shot at out-performing our model.

JANNIK HANSEN
Another “tweener” type winger who will likely see time on the first, second and third lines during the course of this season is of course Jannik Hansen. Jannik Hansen came into the league several years ago as a speedy grinder and through sheer force of will has turned himself into a wrecking ball forechecker with some untapped offensive upside. Hansen has several top-six forward level skills – like his offensive awareness, shot velocity and playmaking ability – and he’s probably the player I’d pick as “most likely to outperform his forecast.” That’ll be especially true if his right-handed shot finds its way onto the first power-play unit with the Sedin twins in Kesler’s absence. My model doesn’t account for that possibility – though it did give him five games on the top-line – because Hansen has no power-play track record and I’m not going to just tag him with a 1.5 power-play goals per sixty minutes rate on a hunch. But that’s my two cents about the opportunity Jannik Hansen sees in front of him headed into the 2013 season. Here’s what our model predicts for Hansen’s goal scoring output:

Finally, when Daniel Sedin went down with a concussion last year, fourth line pest Maxim Lapierre joined Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows on the top-line and made the most of his opportunity finishing the year with ten goals. He even played regular top-six minutes in the team’s first round series against Los Angeles, and appears to be the front-runner for the team’s third line centre job in training camp; a role he filled with aplomb during Vancouver’s Stanley Cup run in 2011. By our model Maxim Lapierre will be hard-pressed to match his goal scoring pace from a year ago (barring injury), but so long as he can handle tough minutes and offer the Sedin twins a bit of protection in Kesler’s absence, I think the Canucks will take it. Here’s Lapierre’s projection for the 2013 campaign:

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