David Booth has been taken off of injured reserve (and Andrew Ebbett was waived to clear a roster spot), so the Vancouver Canucks now have the roster that general manager Mike Gillis originally designed.
The problem is that the Canucks actually have an overabundance of quality forwards at this point, with both Ryan Kesler and Booth coming off the injured list in recent days to join a team that is uncharacteristically healthy.
When the season started, the Canucks had many question marks amongst their forward ranks, and it was feared they would be a one-line team.
Now, similar to the infamous situation in goal, head coach Alain Vigneault has the enviable problem of having too many good forwards and too few spots in the lineup.
Jordan Schroeder has stepped up and filled the void at center when Kesler was injured, and he is the pivot on a very effective and speedy line consisting of himself, Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen.
Mason Raymond has also excelled in what is essentially a redemption campaign.
After decreasing point totals two years in a row, albeit with decreasing power-play time as the Canucks changed strategies, and the brutal broken back suffered in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, Raymond was on his last legs in Vancouver, and took a paycut on a one-year contract. He is currently tied for the team high in goals (five) and with nine points is the highest-scoring forward who doesn’t hail from Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.
Tied with Raymond for goal scoring is Zack Kassian, who has played on pretty much every line, using his hands and playmaking ability on the top lines to score and using his 6’3” frame to crash and bang on the bottom lines.
These three players were the biggest question marks to start the season, and they have risen to the occasion. The problem is that with the return of Kesler and Booth, even with the forced retirement of Manny Malhotra, there just isn’t enough ice time to go around.
Booth has yet to practice with a set forward line, and Vigneault is known for tinkering with his lines during the game, but here is my best estimate on the lines for the upcoming game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Daniel Sedin—Henrik Sedin—Alex Burrows
Chris Higgins—Ryan Kesler—David Booth
Mason Raymond—Jordan Schroeder—Jannik Hansen
Aaron Volpatti—Maxim Lapierre—Zack Kassian
The first and third lines should be staying intact. The Sedins and Burrows have amazing chemistry, and the Schroeder line has been very effective as well.
On the second line, this is basically the American Express line from last season that was so effective at controlling play. Higgins is a versatile, two-way winger, and Booth and Kesler had some good chemistry last year as well.
On the fourth line, I'd guess that Kassian is demoted and bumps Dale Weise out of the lineup. Weise might be a surprising pick to remove from the lineup, but in a fourth-line role, Volpatti has been throwing more hits (40 to 33) and has proven just as effective on the forecheck.
Kassian was demoted to the fourth line in the latter parts of the most recent Canucks game, and here he can focus on playing the body and throwing his weight around.
It should be noted that Kassian was at his most productive on the scoresheet earlier in the season when he was taking liberties with opposing players and getting into fights.
Going into a grudge match in the Madhouse on Madison, maybe picking some fights with the Hawks is what he needs to spark a return to the top lines. Volpatti also has fights in back-to-back games and should continue his belligerent play into Chicago as well.
Ultimately, if the Canucks remain healthy (knock on wood), they have the enviable problem of having to rotate quality players out of the lineup on a regular basis. This might help spur greater production and consistency out of players on the bubble. And when it comes to the playoffs, you can never have too many healthy bodies.