With a nearly brand new fourth line consisting of Dale Weise, Maxim Lapierre and Aaron Volpatti, the Vancouver Canucks are looking to revamp their play so they can once again have a chance at hockey’s greatest prize.
“If we could find an identity for that fourth line that would help us win games, we would definitely go in that direction,” says head coach Alain Vigneault. “Having a physical line, that physicality that sometimes wears the opposition down is right, but having that speed that’s tough to handle for the other team is also a component you’d like to have.”
But what do the Canucks really need – physicality or speed? Firstly, the fourth line needs to work together as a unit. Last season the Vancouver Canucks used 13 different players on their fourth line. With all the line changes, it was difficult for the players to connect. During the past five games, and throughout the past season, there has been little togetherness. It may take time, but the Canucks’ fourth liners will need to get used to playing together and find chemistry with their linemates.
With Lapierre virtually guaranteed to remain as the fourth line center, the Canucks need wingers who can keep up with his speed and physical nature. Lapierre has both of the components Vigneault mentioned, but he requires two wingers who can match those skills and work with him effectively.
However, it seems like Vigneault is leaning towards the physical side. With the departures of Tanner Glass and Raffi Torres, GM Mike Gillis looked to fill their spots. The team chose Weise over Victor Oreskovich because they felt that Weise is busier and more physical, even though Oreskovich was trusted enough to play 19 playoff games last season. As well, Weise and Volpatti are not known for their speed or stick handling; they are known instead for their hits, their fights, and the toughness that they are capable of bringing to the ice.
Overall, the Canucks need depth. In order to have depth, they need a good, offensive fourth line, comparable to the fourth line of the 2010-11 Boston Bruins. During the Stanley Cup finals, the Bruins’ fourth line had points, hits and physical play that wore the Canucks down. The Bruins’ fourth line was so skilled and strong that coach Claude Julien could play them against any other line in any situation. This is what the Canucks need: a fourth line that can bring energy and passion to their playing to rile up their teammates while contributing offensively and making hits.
“I’m going to bring some energy and be physical and I think we can make some things happen down low,” said Weise, “I’ll do what I do. Stand up for my teammates if need be and provide a spark and chip in a little offense if I can… I’m willing to step up.”
However, in the first five games of the Canucks’ season, audiences have seen little of Weise, Lapierre and Volpatti, with each playing around 8-11 minutes a game. It would be beneficial for them to develop into a fourth line that the Canucks can depend on to play more often. They have contributed very little offensively, with only one point between the three of them; an unassisted goal scored by Lapierre. While Lapierre has proven that he can score by himself, hockey is a team sport, and he needs teammates that he can depend on and score alongside.
Fortunately, these three have been fairly physical in their time on the ice. With Weise at 11 hits, Volpatti at eight and Lapierre at six and a few fights, this line has managed to keep their composure and have generated only three major penalties and one minor penalty. Keeping the penalties to a minimum will be very helpful for the Canucks this season.
With only four games played, there is still plenty of time for the Canucks to develop their fourth line into one that has depth, but it needs to happen quickly. This team needs a good fourth line for the playoffs, and while that may seem far away the sooner the Canucks prepare the better. With the upcoming return of injured players like Ryan Kesler, the lines will be jumbled and all the players will be fighting for a spot again – but somehow, through either keeping the fourth line together or through moving players to build chemistry, it is possible for the Canucks to find the depth, grittiness and ugly goals that they need.