Above the 49: Beat-up second line could be Canucks' undoing

The NHL season has yet to open, but already the Vancouver Canucks have a situation brewing on their second line that could hinder their chances at making a legitimate run for the Stanley Cup significantly in this shortened season.

Already faced with the reality they'll have to start the campaign without former Selke Trophy runner-up Ryan Kesler, the Canucks confirmed Tuesday that they will be missing high-priced winger David Booth as well.

Booth, who was expected to be a key component of Vancouver's second offensive unit this season, will miss the first four-to-six weeks of the regular season after sustaining a groin injury on Sunday at the start of the Canucks' truncated training camp.

It's a crippling blow to a team that seemed to have issues about where they would get their secondary scoring even with a fully healthy lineup.

The Canucks, who finished as the fifth highest-scoring team in 2011-12, had been counting on bounce-back years from the likes of Kesler and Booth to take some of the scoring burden off the shoulders of their top trio of Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows.

Kesler managed just 22 goals and 49 points last season, down from the career- high 41 goals and 73 points he posted the season before. It was due to a sluggish start as a result of coming off offseason surgery.

Booth, meanwhile, had just 16 goals and 30 points split between Florida and Vancouver last season, which marked his lowest totals since becoming a full- time NHLer with the exception of his 2009-10 campaign that saw him suit up in just 28 games while dealing with concussion issues.

Vancouver has a couple of veteran players who have shown the ability to put up points in the past, Chris Higgins and Mason Raymond, for the short term. However, while Higgins had his moments last season especially when skating alongside Kesler and Booth, and managed to finish with a respectable 18 goals and 43 points, Raymond has completely fallen off the map in recent years.

The 27-year-old Raymond, who took a pay cut in order to avoid salary arbitration back in July, had a career-high 25 goals and 53 points back in 2009-10. He managed just 10 goals and 20 points last season.

What will most likely make or break Vancouver's season, however, will depend on whether their currently available top two forward prospects, Zack Kassian and Jordan Schroeder, can manage to live up to expectations and provide offensive firepower.

Neither Kassian nor Schroeder lit it up exactly playing in the AHL this season, but both will get a chance to play a prominent role in light of Vancouver's injury woes, albeit in Schroeder's case it would appear as if he has fallen behind fellow AHLer Andrew Ebbett on the depth chart when it comes to that open second-line center position.

Regardless of who ends up on Vancouver's second line to begin the season, it's clear the Canucks will have a tough time earning the same respect around the league for their offensive prowess compared to what they've enjoyed the past couple of seasons particularly when you consider the upgrades that the teams in their own division have made.

The Wild made a huge splash in the offseason adding superstar winger Zack Parise and stud defenseman Ryan Suter in the opening days of unrestricted free agency.

The Oilers, who already boasted three of the league's most dynamic young guns in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last season, will be adding 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov as well as offensively gifted blue- liner Justin Schultz to their roster.

Even the Flames and Avalanche, respectively, made some upgrades. Calgary added newcomers Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman along with prospect Sven Baertschi likely to crack their lineup, while Colorado welcomed former 20-goal scorer P.A. Parenteau, formerly of the New York Islanders, to the fold.

Vancouver won't expect its makeshift second line to tear the league up by any means, but it will need them to at least be a threat on most nights and perhaps even carry the goal-scoring load every so often on those rare outings where the Sedin twins get shut down.

And they'll need this at least until reinforcements in Kesler and Booth return. Otherwise, it could be a very long season for the Canucks even though it's been shortened to 48 games.