Even when Ryan Kesler was still a Vancouver Canuck, the lack of production from the second line, which Kesler centered, was one of the many much-discussed topics on Canada’s West Coast.
Now that Kesler’s been traded to Anaheim, the Canucks’ second line is arguably the most pressing area for general manager Jim Benning to improve.
As it stands heading into tomorrow’s free-agent frenzy, Vancouver’s second line is comprised of newly acquired center Nick Bonino, with winger candidates in Zack Kassian, Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, and Alex Burrows (if the latter is dropped from the top line with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin).
The problem? Kassian, 23, is still a project; Higgins is probably better suited for a third-line role; and Hansen is definitely better suited for a third-line role.
Granted, it’s possible prospects Bo Horvat, Nicklas Jensen, and Hunter Shinkaruk could push for minutes on the second line, but they’ll need to make the team first.
For Benning — who’s done well to add bottom-six forwards Derek Dorsett and Linden Vey, and seems intent on signing a free-agent goalie (Ryan Miller?) — UFA options for a goal-scoring winger include Jarome Iginla, Thomas Vanek, Mike Cammalleri, Matt Moulson, Jussi Jokinen, and Radim Vrbata. There are others, but those are the ones who scored 20 or more goals last season.
It’s not a particularly lengthy or impressive list. On top of that, the Canucks can’t legitimately make the “come play for a Stanley Cup contender” pitch anymore. And that may cross a veteran like Iginla off the list.
Benning said in May that he believes the Canucks can be turned around “in a hurry.” And after a busy draft weekend, it stands to reason he’ll be busy again tomorrow.
How successful he’ll be remains to be seen.