Antoine Roussel’s return to the Canucks lineup from ACL surgery couldn’t have gone better.
His return coincided with his idol, Alex Burrows, going up into the Ring of Honour. On top of that, he scored the game’s opening goal on his very first shift: it almost seemed scripted.
Roussel isn’t the only injured Canuck making his way back into the lineup, however. Jay Beagle, Micheal Ferland, and Brandon Sutter were all back at practice on Friday, taking part in line rushes with the other forwards.
Ferland has been practicing with the team for a week, initially while wearing a non-contact jersey. He shed the non-contact jersey on Wednesday and appears to be close to a return to the lineup. If all goes well, he could suit up for Saturday’s afternoon game against the Buffalo Sabres.
Jay Beagle likewise seems ready to return, skating at centre on the fourth line on line rushes at practice, whereas Ferland was rotating with Zack MacEwen and Sutter was rotating with Adam Gaudette. Beagle has officially been day-to-day for nearly four weeks, but looked to be in fine health this week when he made an appearance with Union Gospel Mission to play road hockey with some kids from the Downtown East Side.
According to head coach Travis Green with reporters on Friday, there’s a possibility that all three of Beagle, Ferland, and Sutter could return for Saturday’s game, while Tyler Motte is likely to start skating soon as well.
If all three forwards return, the Canucks will have to make some decisions. They’ve already sent Nikolay Goldobin back to the AHL — he doesn’t need to clear waivers as he hadn’t spend enough time on the NHL roster — which makes enough roster space for Beagle and Ferland to return. If Sutter also returns, they’ll need to send one more player down.
The most obvious candidate is Zack MacEwen, who is one of just two forwards left on the roster that does not require waivers. The other one is Elias Pettersson.
MacEwen just scored his first career NHL goal on Tuesday with a lovely tip on a Jordie Benn point shot, but he’s struggled in other areas of the game. When he’s been on the ice at 5-on-5, the Canucks have been crushed in puck possession.
According to Natural Stat Trick, shot attempts are 80-to-40 for the opposition at 5-on-5 with MacEwen on the ice. Shots on goal are 40-to-19 and scoring chances are 38-to-17. He’s been fortunate that his goaltenders have stood on their heads behind him, but it seems pretty clear that he’s not quite ready for the speed of the NHL, as he sometimes gets lost in the defensive zone.
That’s not to say that MacEwen won’t get it in the future. The big winger has steadily progressed every single season in the Canucks’ organization and has been held up as an example of a player buying in and doing whatever it takes to get better. There’s every reason to believe that he’ll take the same approach if he gets sent down to the AHL again, taking his experience in stride and learning from it so that he’s ready for the next call-up.
As for Goldobin, he had one chance to prove himself after he was called up and it didn’t go well at all. In his one game, the Canucks were out-attempted 12-to-1 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5 and he was summarily benched, then stuck in the press box. Perhaps he’ll earn another call-up in the future, but that performance had to be a disappointment, both for him and the team.
Beyond the roster decisions, the Canucks may have to make some room under the salary cap to bring back both Sutter and Ferland, both of whom were on Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR). That will likely mean bumping Alex Edler to LTIR.
Then there’s the lineup. Loui Eriksson didn’t have a spot in line rushes at practice, so he’s a likely scratch if Ferland and Beagle return, along with MacEwen going down. If Sutter also returns, however, who sits?
Does that mean Adam Gaudette comes out of the lineup? Gaudette has five points in his last four games and is coming off a two-assist performance against the Ottawa Senators, so that doesn’t seem like the best idea.
Who else could it be? Jake Virtanen has four points in his last four games, even if he’s struggled in other areas. Tanner Pearson has been a mainstay in the top-six and has 12 points in his last 11 games. Josh Leivo is an underrated play-driver and has been picking up points recently as well.
That leaves Tim Schaller as an option to scratch, but he leads Canucks forwards in ice time on the penalty kill and Green has been loath to scratch his penalty killers.
It will be interesting to see where Green’s priorities lie if all three forwards return to the lineup.