Target forward prospects too?

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, rumours, speculation and trade ideas will be plentiful. The Canucks situation is one which will be followed closely leaguewide, as Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis still may or may not be in play. If they are, that changes the entire market.

Ideally, the Canucks take advantage of the trade market and deal both for picks and prospects. There should be quite a few teams that would be a fit for either. Supply and demand indicates the Canucks will be able to pick their dance partner should they present themselves with a worthy offer.

Which has us wondering which pieces might be of interest and what thought process the Canucks will enter this hugely formative stretch with.

It’s often suggested that the Canucks prospect stable is at it’s weakest on the backend. A fair criticism, as the Canucks still lack that blue-chip defensive prospect that can play huge minutes and contribute on both ends of special teams. These concerns are likely overstated, as the Canucks depth in this area is relatively impressive.

In fact, there’s a case to be made that there’s too much depth. Vancouver’s farm team, the Utica Comets, will likely be overcrowded next season. It’s likely that current Comets blue liners Jordan Subban and Ashton Sautner will be asked to step into larger shoes next season in a more premier role, with their first season of professional hockey behind them.

Last week, news broke that the Canucks were pulling Nikita Tryamkin’s strings to get him on their side of the Pacific, playing professional hockey in Utica. There are the obvious financial and contractual reasons why one might not expect Tryamkin to make the Canucks next training camp, so let’s assume the Comets are where he plays.

This brings us to the other big Russian (or Lithuanian, depending on who you ask) defenceman in the Canucks system, Andrey Pedan. Pedan sipped a cup of  coffee with the Canucks this season and didn’t look out of place. He has been rounding out his game well in Utica and looks to be ready to take the next step. Pedan’s waiver eligibility next season means the Canucks will be reticent to risk a Frankie Corrado redux, so you can pencil him in the lineup.

This leaves the Canucks with six defencemen going into next season, assuming everything remains constant.

There’s also a good chance that the Canucks fifth-round selection from 2015, Carl Neill, will also turn pro and join the Comets. I won’t speculate in either direction, but given his age and production in the QMJHL, it seems likely.

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That leaves the Comets with four prospects patrolling the blue line next season. The Canucks general manager, Jim Benning, has said many times that he wants his prospects to have veteran players to learn from. So it’s safe to expect the Canucks to sign one or two players of that ilk, like Taylor Fedun or Biega types to help out.

Obviously, there are some variables in there but based on these aforementioned player situations, it’s clear that the Comets are not in dire need of defensive prospects for next season specifically.

If the Canucks can acquire a high-end defensive prospect, in the same vein as Madison Bowey, then they should. Or if they can get a defenceman drafted early in the 2015 draft, perhaps that’s worth exploring. But it shouldn’t be something they target just for the sake of it.

Looking at the forward group in Utica next year is where things get interesting.

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Former first round picks Brendan Gaunce and Hunter Shinkaruk are clear frontrunners to push for a spot next season. I doubt both of them crack the roster out of camp, but one of them making it isn’t a far-fetched thought.  It will all depend on what the Canucks do in the UFA market to clog up their path, but with Brandon Prust, Radim Vrbata and Adam Cracknell as pending UFA’s, there are 3 spots being opened up. That is before any trades to open more spots. Once again, those spots could be quickly taken but (the unlikely) return of Chris Higgins, or on the trade market or in free agency, but at the very least Shinkaruk and Gaunce would be the go-to injury recalls. 

Another player that could make the Canucks is Alexandre Grenier, who becomes subject to waivers next season. As the Canucks have shown in the past with Frankie Corrado, they aren’t afraid to place a player on waivers who they feel needs to play. Regardless, he is another name in the mix to make the Canucks roster next season or could be gone.

Those three are currently in the top 5 for scoring for the Comets, so any absence by them will be noticed. The Comets do have players like Alex Friesen and Mike Zalewski, who are at this point, long shots to make the NHL and can’t be relied upon to carry the offence for the Comets next year. So that brings us to ‘Who is coming?’

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Let’s start with the 2014 draft class.

With Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann establishing themselves as full-time NHL’ers this year, they obviously won’t be available to join the Comets next season. Normally, the 1st round pick (s) would be turning pro next season and would be looked upon to help handle some of the offensive load. After that the Canucks drafted 3 defenceman (Stewart has been converted to forward since), one goalie and one centre. 6th round pick Kyle Pettit is not an offensive player in the slightest and I won’t be surprised if the Canucks don’t sign him. Stewart played four games in the AHL this season, where he didn’t score a goal. He went to the ECHL and didn’t score any goals there. He is now in the WHL and has 2 goals in 14 games. With that, there is no offensive help coming from the draft class that would be ‘turning pro’ this season.

Looking at the 2015 draft class, the Canucks took Brock Boeser in the first round, and he is more then likely going to return to University of North Dakota next year. I would also suspect that if and when Boeser turns pro, he will likely go straight to the Canucks roster, or only see a handful of games in the AHL. Next forward taken, Zhukenov is just getting his taste of hockey in North America and although he has been steadily improving, he needs to add strength before the AHL is even an option. Gaudette will likely return to Northeastern. Jasek is a bit of a wildcard as it is rumour the Canucks want him to come over to North America next year, but I would suspect that he will go to the CHL for a year. So again, there are no reinforcements on the offensive front from this class.

I will give credit where credit is due – Canucks management through the acquisitions of Sven Baertschi, Emerson Etem and Linden Vey (yes, even him) have successfully helped fill the gap that was created from bad drafting between 2008-11. But there is a gap that is being created right now that likely will need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

There is the possibility of Anton Rodin being in Utica next season, but I doubt that would happen or last for very long. If he is signed and unable to crack the Canucks roster out of camp, he could spend some time in Utica to start the year but if it is for an extended period of time, I would suspect that he would ask to be assigned back to SHL or have his contract terminated.

Through a combination of trading picks for the Etem, Baertschi and Vey, the rapid promotion of Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen and Brendan Gaunce and taking Boeser in the first round there has been a void created. After Shinkaruk and Gaunce, the Canucks are lacking high skilled offensive players on the horizon to help create competition at the AHL level. Thus taking advantage of the trade market and moving pending UFA’s to acquire some 19 to 21-year-old forward prospects would be a wise venture.

These age blocks that I have been alluding to are something that I will delve further into in the coming weeks, taking a look at the Canucks roster and their prospect pipeline.

With that, I won’t speculate who is available or who the Canucks should target specifically, but merely suggest that the Canucks would be wise to tackle this gap now. One or both of Shinkaruk and Gaunce will likely start the season in the AHL next year, but the following year, they are both waiver eligible. Then that gap that I mentioned above will be even more prevalent and worrisome. Competition is key to creating a successful organization from the bottom up.

Depending on the market, the Canucks may be able to squeeze a ‘high end’ defence prospect from somewhere. Although that is unlikely to happen, the trading deadline is the best chance for the Canucks to do so, as teams will have their eye on the cup and may be willing to part with a player that they vehemently opposed to moving just mere weeks ago.

So don’t be surprised that if the Canucks do choose to move players like Hamhuis and Vrbata that some young forwards may be coming back. They likely see the same gap as I do and will want to address it before it becomes an issue like the terrible drafting from 2008-2011 did.

  • Almo89

    I think the Canucks are in a unique situation that will allow them to package potentially two 1st round picks to trade up for a higher 1st round pick.

    Now this of course depends on who/what the trade value is and where they stand in the lottery.

    If they get a 1st rounder for Hammer for example and package that with a high pick from the lottery they have the leverage to pick high via a trade.

    Who cares about position, pick high if you can. Especially in this draft.

    Mr R.

    • Cageyvet

      If we get 2 picks in the first round this year, use them both. We need to fill the pipeline, and our own first will have enough chances at top 3 the way things are going. With our historical luck we’d trade 2 for 1 and still end up picking 5 to 7 overall.

      Plus, our 2nd should be a high pick, if we can get an extra 1st rounder and pick 3 of the top 35 to 40 prospects I’d go that route.

      If we pick the right kids, flesh out the ranks with whatever the league offers up for decent value via free agency or hockey trades for position players.

      This team will aim to develop further and make the playoffs next year, but expectations still can’t be too high.

      I hear you on the thought process to get a stud, but it’s not like with the twins where Burke knew what numbers 2 and 3 were getting him. This lottery system screams finish somewhere near the bottom, but Buffalo proved that last didn’t guarantee the franchise player.

      They were fortunate that number 2 last year is also a hell of a player. That won’t always be the case, give me the numbers game, the more you pick top 50 the more chances you have of drafting actual NHL players.

      • elvis15

        I agree with 90% of what you’re saying here; I’d just like to clarify something with the statement “but it’s not like with the twins where Burke knew what numbers 2 and 3 were getting him”.

        Burke didn’t pull off the steal of (last) century until the morning of the draft. We’ll know well ahead of that time what our draft position will be. My secret wish is to get the #1 pick, then flog that to Toronto for the #3 (Chychrun) and Pittsburgh’s pick (stealing Max Jones with that one).

        The number of things that would have to fall our way to make that happen would almost be enough to convince me that this league *is* rigged…

  • Spiel

    Technically Virtanen or McCann could be sent to Utica next year without having to clear waivers. They will be old enough to be assigned and they will not have played the requisite number of games to require waivers.

    The reason why both are in Vancouver full-time is the choice was NHL or junior. Next year because they are older, the AHL is an option if they do not win their spots on the roster.

  • Steampuck

    Let’s back up a bit on the Canucks having too much defensive depth. As things stand today, the Canucks have three legitimate NHL defensemen (Edler, Tanev, & Hamhuis). Four if Hutton continues to progress. But after that, they have a half dozen seventh defensemen. Bartkowski, Biega, Weber, Sbisa make me pine for Andrew Alberts (who was actually pretty good at parachuting out of the press box once a month for spot duty).

    I’m excited about Tryamkin, Pedan, Fedun, and Subban, but I don’t know that any of them will be able to manage even close the kind of load that Edler has to carry every night. We don’t have a blue chip defender. And that remains the biggest need if this team wants to make any noise whatsoever in the next decade.

    So, let’s not equate numbers with depth. Because I think they mean different things when it comes to prospects. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, to see Benning ship out a couple of the Utica defensemen over the summer, perhaps on the eve of the draft. Just to make room, etc.

      • Steampuck

        Well, not for the sake of it, but a blue chip defensive prospect has to be priority number one. This team has too many fringe defensemen. We could use another sure thing or two. My guess is that likely comes through trade or free agency–and not for a couple of years…

  • Spiel

    This is a good argument for Benning cleverly playing his trade chips (Hammer, Vrbata) and gaining additional late first or second round draft picks.

    We still have a lot of needs.

    This franchise does NEED a Grade A defensive prospect with first paring upside however.

    PS – would love to see Benning fleece the Capitals in a Hammer trade and then re-sign him this summer to cap friendly 2-3 year deal. A boy can dream can’t he?

  • Steampuck

    Our forwards are loaded with young ish nhl players. Horvat, McCann, Virtanen, Shinkaruk, Vey, Rodin, Etem, Baertschi and Gaunce could all play next season. In reality this means we should be trying to offload the likes of Burrows, Dorsett and Higgins. With more prospects coming through (and a top 5 pick this year would likely be a forward), there is no need for more organisational depth in this area – vets can be signed for Utica if necessary.

    Our d is in desperate need of NHL reinforcement on the other hand. Even if Hamhuis returns and Pedan makes the step up, we’d still need at least one more NHL quality d. Maybe we could get someone like Demers in free agency, but the likelihood is there will be very little quality available. So a prospect like Bowey or perhaps a Baertschi/Vey/Etem type trade is essential for the Canucks to field a competitive team.

  • elvis15

    I’m a bit confused by your reasoning here. I don’t really understand the ‘void’ your referring to. Baertschi is the only one that cost a pick right now — the 2nd rounder. Etem was worth a stalled prospect plus a 2017 sixth rounder. Vey was the pick we acquired in trading Garrison. Horvat, Virtanen, Gaunce, Shinkaruk, Boeser have all been taken in the past couple of years. The void is from the past, not the future; that would only make sense if we had traded off a lot of our future draft picks. Right now we have 7 picks in 2016 (lacking the 5th from the Prust/Kassian trade and regaining the 3rd we traded to the Isles originally for Pedan which then went to Buffalo who then gave it to Pittsburgh as compensation for hiring Bylsma and then they gave it back to us in the Sutter trade — for what it’s worth I think a Vancouver 3rd is going to end up pretty close to a Anaheim 2nd by year’s end) and we have 6 picks in 2017 except the 6th for Etem. In 2018 we have 8 including the extra 2nd from CBJ for Tortorella.

    Also, I don’t think Gaunce would ever be considered a highly skilled offensive player, even by his own family. That’s just not the kind of player her projects to be. The only prospects we have on the horizon that would even potentially top out at that I think are Boeser, Zhukenov and Jasek (in addition to Virtanen and McCann who I think are clearly in that mold).

  • Spiel

    Pretty sure we have some forward prospects in Kalamazoo that should be moving up next season to Utica. I still say go heavy in 1st 3 rounds on defense
    You can never have too many.

  • Spiel

    Hey Hutton is currently a defensive nightmare! He often gets beat wide and for his size he plays far too soft for my liking.
    Pedan is that big tough.punishing dman who apparently has a bigtime shot. We should put aside the fact Hamhuis is comming off a gruesome injury and wants to stay because he is a local guy. If we can get a high draft choice for him and not have to re-up his salary at 2 million plus that would be good. Sure he seems like a character guy but his offensive skills are dimishing.

    Vrbata is an egnigma,I mean since shootout records have been kept he is top2 in goals scored I believe? I mean thats a pretty useful guy to have for the extra point! A bigger concern for Benning should be getting rid of Desjardins for a veteran coach? I just can not remember how many times this yr. we have lost points late in games because we sit back in our own end just hoping not to lose? And we know how this has gone. And his fascination with Dorsett when we need a goal is really baffling!

  • TyranasorusSex

    If I were to speculate I would bet that McCann gets assigned to Utica next year. The man clearly has trouble with the defensive side of the game. He does not see “trouble brewing that could result in bad things happening soon” when he is too focused in the offensive end and he also makes weird decisions at times in his own defensive end.

    Add in the fact that he is gawd awful in the face-off circle and also needs to add more weight and strength to his frame, and in that vein, his development path should not be too different than how Shinkaruk is playing out.

    Next year both Shinkaruk and Gaunce should make the Canucks full-time.

  • Steampuck

    “The Comets do have players like Alex Friesen and Mike Zalewski, who are at this point, long shots to make the NHL”

    Couldn’t disagree more with you take on Mike, and i am presuming JB agrees as that is why they signed him and gave him his first NHL taste. After being sent back to Utica he has dominated and gone on quite the point streak. I give him very good odds to make the nucks 4th line to start next season.

  • elvis15

    Totally agree that if we aren’t able to find a blue chip D-man (or at least a high ceiling one with a bit of risk if we can’t afford a Bowey-type) then we should look for good players anywhere. We may have more of that need in the forwards for the AHL, but Zalewski should step up (very well liked by Utica fans, and a bit of a clutch scorer) – and that’s if he doesn’t replace Cracknell here depending on our remaining center depth.

    One thing that is being overlooked though is players currently with the K-wings in the ECHL. Valk has been very good part from his injury absence, and he’s been matched up with Fox and Blomstrand (first and second on the team in scoring) on the K-Wings top line. That whole line could conceivably move to the Comets as a group, and that would potentially help their offensive output. You can’t say they won’t have chemistry!

    Otherwise, there are plenty of AHL journeymen out there who could be fill ins and would help with the veteran presence. I just don’t want to see the Canucks aim for mid-range prospects in return to make sure the Comets are all right, when we have bigger concerns about top end skill with the Canucks.