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.
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.
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?’
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.