The Vancouver Canucks have all but given up on the playoffs. They’re all in on the youth movement and giving any prospect worth the title their sliver of the big league pie.
It’s about looking to the future now. Canucks general manager Jim Benning has alluded to as much, touching on the club’s plans going into the 2016 NHL Entry Draft on his most recent set of radio hits. More specifically, their philosophy and the players involved therein.
Jim Benning talked draft strategy and defensemen, defensemen, defensemen this week. What it all means: https://t.co/PiXnKSreQu
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) March 10, 2016
Benning kicked a hornet’s nest when he strayed from the script, suggesting that the club was interested in snagging a defenceman in the first-round. Although, to his credit, Benning acknowledged that the three forwards at the top of the draft, Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi are in a class of their own.
Benning says if there’s a F they can’t pass up in draft, they’ll draft a forward. #Canucks
— Omar A (@omarcanuck) March 9, 2016
The Canucks may have a positional need at defence, but whether they should prioritize this route of player accumulation as the one-step fix-all remains a topic of debate. Just as contentious was Benning’s willingness to reveal draft strategy in March and the leverage surrendered in doing so, but that’s another topic for another day.
I can respect the thought process that pulls the cart down that path. Vancouver is at it’s weakest on the blue line this season, possibly next and looking at the prospect pool it’s entirely possible it’s an area of weakness that follows them well into the future. Hell, maybe even when the team as a whole is competitive again.
Intuitively, it makes sense that one would observe an area of weakness and look to find the most expedited path to fill that need. Benning is a scout by trade, building in a result based industry. You can hardly blame him if this is his favoured method of roster development.
That’s fine and good, but a draft pick isn’t an investment in the player itself but the wins you can reasonably expect that player to add over the course of a season, career. If player x (defence) and player y (forward) are separated by a half-win a season, it really shouldn’t matter what position they play – you take the extra win(s).
Players are assets and the team holds full control over the contractual rights of the player they pick. If that asset has run out of room it can just as easily be turned into an asset that does fit. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators executed that move to perfection, swapping Ryan Johansen and Seth Jones to fill a positional need. The Canucks thought they were doing that when they traded Hunter Shinkaruk for Markus Granlund.
Another factor is that the needs of today could very well be the surplus of tomorrow. The draft is one approach to player accumulation, but there’s also free agency, waivers and trades to consider. A lot can happen in a year. How dire are the Canucks needs on the back-end with Frankie Corrado in their system? Needs are fluid and subject to change on a day-to-day basis.
If the Canucks are selecting between the 7th and 15th overall picks, odds are the earliest that player takes a shift is another season or two down the road. Potentially longer, or not even at all. Crystal ball withstanding, you cannot see that far into the future. There’s no telling how far their prospects on either side of game develop in that span, or what will become available to them in free agency or by trade.
The Canucks may not have drafted a defenceman in ten years, but they’ve certainly iced some of the best blue lines in the league over that span. With an expert scout like Benning running the show, there’s no reason they can’t repeat that feat. It just might require a little creativity.