Forgotten man Baertschi could be key to success of Canucks' attack

Jul 30 2019, 10:34 pm

In many ways, 2018-19 was a lost season for Sven Baertschi.

The 26-year-old Vancouver Canucks winger battled the effects of a concussion for most of the year, limiting him to just 26 games.

Speaking with a Swiss newspaper last season, Baertschi described his symptoms, saying the puck appeared “a bit hazy,” adding that he also suffered from headaches.

Baertschi missed over two months after the initial concussion suffered against the Vegas Golden Knights in October. He returned for another month at the end of December before leaving the team again in February, and was gone for nearly another two months.

So as fans and media alike start piecing together their projected lineups for the team next season, you can understand why Baertschi’s name has slipped onto the third or fourth line for a lot of people — if he hasn’t been forgotten about entirely. There are serious doubts as to whether he can remain healthy for a full season.

But we could be jumping the gun with those assumptions.

Only Baertschi knows how he feels heading into next season, and of course, the next concussion could be right around the corner.

Or maybe he’ll be just fine.

Baertschi is reportedly 100% healthy, and if he can stay off the injured list next season, he has potential to be a good fit in the Canucks’ top six forward group.

The Canucks should be able to piece together a good first line, assuming Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser continue their strong play together. The key to improving the team’s offence, which ranked 25th in goals last season, will be their second line.

Showing chemistry with Bo Horvat in the past, Baertschi could very well find himself on the left side of the Canucks’ second line.

Despite an injury-plagued season, Baertschi scored at a 28-goal, 44-point pace (based on an 82-game season) in 2018-19 — one year after scoring at a 22-goal, 45-point pace.

If he can stay healthy for a full season, 25 goals and 50 points isn’t out of the question, which would a massive boost to the Canucks’ attack.

One spot in particular that Baertschi could help is on the power play, where he contributed half of his points last season. Despite missing 56 games, Baertschi finished fifth among Canucks forwards in power play points (7) and fourth in power play goals (3).

Maybe that’s more of an indictment on the quality of his teammates, but the fact remains that the skilled Swiss winger can provide an edge with the man advantage.

With three of the four probable forward spots likely spoken for on the first unit power play, Baertschi could fit in alongside Pettersson, Boeser, and Horvat in the bumper spot. Or he could help run what should be a much-improved second unit.

Competition for ice time

Head coach Travis Green will have options heading into next season, so there will be competition for spots and nothing will be gifted to Baertschi. Jim Benning has hinted that Micheal Ferland will get a look with Pettersson and Boeser, while most expect JT Miller to start as a top-six winger — perhaps on Horvat’s right wing.

Tanner Pearson found success on Horvat’s line at the tail end of last season, so that’s another player in the mix.

But we shouldn’t discount what Baertschi brings to the table.

Baertschi has scored 0.53 points per game over the last three seasons, which trails Miller, but bests both Ferland and Pearson as the table below illustrates.

GP G A PTS PTS/Game
Miller 239 58 103 161 0.67
Baertschi 147 41 37 78 0.53
Ferland 224 53 53 106 0.47
Pearson 241 57 54 111 0.46

Whatever the case, it looks unlikely that the likes of Loui Eriksson, Josh Leivo, and Nikolay Goldobin (not to mention Tim Schaller, Tyler Motte, and the rest of the offensively-challenged wingers Horvat was forced to play with last season) will see regular minutes on the Canucks’ top two lines, and that’s a good thing for the team going forward.

Next season is a big one for Baertschi, who will want to stay healthy while not playing afraid, which is easier said than done. But if he does that, we shouldn’t sleep on the skilled winger, who could be ready to piece it all together at the NHL level for a career-year.