Photo Credit: Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
As a variety of Vancouver Canucks veterans struggle through the preseason, young players like Ben Hutton, Jared McCann, Brendan Gaunce and Jake Virtanen have excelled. These young men have stolen the spotlight in Vancouver over the past two weeks, and may be gearing up to steal NHL jobs from the club’s veterans this weekend.
While it was somewhat revelatory this week when we realized that, yeah, McCann had a legitimate shot at actually making the club, it seems to be becoming increasingly likely that a variety of players whom we considered to be ‘prospects’ will be wearing Canucks silks on opening night. The latest report from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman only further cements that perception.
Here’s a curious note from Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts column on the subject:
Christine Simpson and I taped a commercial with the Sedins, and while we were waiting, Henrik said a few of Vancouver’s young players would surprise in the preseason. Hopefully he wagers on sporting events for extra spending money, because this prediction was right on. Vancouver has some interesting decisions to make as Ben Hutton, Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen press for a roster spot. When asked if anyone specifically impressed him during their summer skates, Henrik picked Brendan Gaunce, also pushing for time. As the salary cap flattens, a few GMs indicated they believe that makes it even more important to be patient with your young players, but GM Jim Benning is warning his vets he’s prepared to go young.
That the Canucks are serious about giving a young player, or two, or three, or maybe even four, some serious run once the regular season gets underway isn’t a huge surprise, really. There’s a reason the club allowed Brad Richardson and Shawn Matthias to walk in free agency, and didn’t bring in any veterans on professional tryout deals this preseason, after all.
“This summer we made some hard decisions to maybe not re-sign some guys and trade some guys to try and make room for our younger players,” Benning said during an appearance on TSN 1040 on Thursday. “Now that it’s upon us, and these kids have played well, we’re going to have to make more tough decisions to get them up and on the team and on our roster. We have to make the decisions that are right for our team and give our team the best chance to win this year.”
Benning demurred, however, when he was asked about whether or not the club has considered moving an additional veteran piece (or two) to free up spots for some of the players who are exceeding expectations at training camp.
“We haven’t talked about (trading a veteran) yet,” Benning said, offering up an answer that we should note was definitely not a “no”.
“We’ve got this game tonight we’re going to go and see how our young kids play tonight and tomorrow is a day off and we’re going to meet and talk about which direction we’re going to go in.”
The Canucks have 12 forwards signed to one-way contracts, but we might consider the number to be at 10 in practice – since Chris Higgins is injured and Ronalds Kenins doesn’t require waivers to be re-assigned to the American League. You might even consider it at nine, considering the way Linden Vey has disappointed in training camp and during the preseason.
Bo Horvat is on an entry-level contract though he’s a shoe-in to make the team, but it would seem likely that there’s two remaining forward spots up for grabs and six forwards still in competition for those spots (Adam Cracknell, Gaunce, McCann, Virtanen, Vey, Kenins). Of those five players only Vey would require waivers to be re-assigned to the American League, although neither McCann nor Virtanen are eligible to play in the AHL since they’re still 19-years-old.
On the back-end the club is still carrying 10 defenseman, although Taylor Fedun was placed on waivers on Thursday and would seem a likely cut on Friday. If we assume that the club will carry 13 forwards and eight defensemen on their opening night 23-man roster, then there’s possibly only one more blue line cut to go.
Hutton, Frank Corrado and Alex Biega would appear to be the players most likely to be on the bubble. Of those three players only Hutton can be assigned to the American League without requiring waivers, although Biega seems unlikely to be claimed based on his high AHL salary.
It’ll be very interesting to see how the club opts to proceed. We suspect that the organization is willing to start the year with a variety of very young and very green players on the roster, but how willing is the organization to expose the likes of Corrado and Vey to the waiver wire, or to the trade market?
One thing is for sure, this isn’t an issue the Canucks have dealt with in a very long time.
“It’s going to be tough,” Benning said on Thursday of cutting the roster down to 23-men, “but I think that’s a good problem to have. The fact that these kids have come in and played so well bodes well for the organization moving forward.”
This post has been edited. The original version of this post failed to identify Adam Cracknell as a sixth Canucks forward in competition for one of two available forward spots.