Why Do We Care About Draft Picks?

draft pick benning article

Jim Benning has taken a lot of heat in this market over the past year or so, and with good reason. He’s haemorrhaged assets at an alarming rate, been on the losing side of his trades more often than not, and signed a number of players to above-market-value contracts. For a moment, however, I’d like to cut through the negativity and talk about something Jim Benning has always done remarkably well: finding talent in the draft. 

Players selected by the Canucks under Jim Benning have already played a combined 137 NHL games. That’s an impressive feat, even if the argument could be made that those players may have been better suited spending some time in the AHL last season. It’s doubly impressive when one considers that Jim Benning has only been at the helm for a total of two NHL drafts, and the scouting department’s two biggest crown jewels- Brock Boeser and Thatcher Demko- have yet to play a single game in the NHL. 

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

It’s what makes this Gudbranson trade so difficult to swallow. It’s also what makes it so curious when Jim Benning’s defenders say things like this: 

Obviously, a team is not going to land a prospect of Crosbyesque or Stamkosian pedigree with a second round pick. But what if I told you they could land a top-line forward, one who’d play over 800 games, most of them on a team’s top line, and average over .07 P/GP over that time span? Would you trade that player for Erik Gudbranson? Better yet, would trade that player and Jared McCann for Erik Gudbranson? 

If you think the suggestion is outlandish, you should know that the Buffalo Sabres drafted such a player with the 55th overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. That player was Jason Pominville, and they didn’t even need a high second round pick like the one Vancouver gifted the Florida Panthers to get him. They were able to do it at 55.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

That’s only one pick, though. You’d need a larger sample size to draw any significant conclusions about Jim Benning’s scouting ability. Thankfully, I looked at how the Sabres’ fared with Jim Benning as their Director Of Amateur Scouting back in very first blog post ever, in my halcyon days as a blogger for OneCanuck. 

The value the Sabres were able to get out of their draft picks while Jim Benning was manning the helm as Director Of Amateur Scouting borders on astounding, with the 1998-2004 Sabres outperforming every NHL team’s average by a whopping margin: 

draft picks graph

Overall, from 1998-2004, the Sabres made 66 picks. The players selected have a total of 10,170 games played, with an average of 154 GP per player. The Sabres selected 17 NHL regulars during this time, just shy of a full roster, for a success rate (percentage of players to play over 200 NHL games) of roughly 25.7%. That’s a record most NHL teams would envy.

I think there’s a legitimate argument to be made that a draft pick made under the influence of Jim Benning may hold more value than one made by the average NHL scouting department. The gap has started to close now that a few teams have begun to employ statistical models in regards to scouting draft-eligible players, but the Sabres’ record under Benning remains impressive all the same. 

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

To get a sense of what kind of value the Canucks have been giving up by dealing away so many draft picks, I took a look at how the Sabres fared from the second round onward from 1998-2004. I purposefully excluded first round picks because, thankfully, Benning has yet to deal one away. 

Round # Of Picks Total GP Average GP % of players who played

over 200 NHL games

2      11   2961       269                 36%
3       6   1118       186               33.33%
4       6    627       104.5                16.6%
5       6    655       109.1                16.6%
6       6    890       148.3               33.33%
7+       21   1722         82                9.5%

Some notable picks from this era include Ales Kotalik (6th round), Ryan Miller (5th round), Paul Gaustad (7th round), Derek Roy (2nd round), Christ Thorburn (2nd round), Jason Pominville (2nd round), Dennis Wideman (8th round), Clarke MacArthur (3rd round), Jan Hejda, (4th round), and Andrej Sekera (3rd round).

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Maybe I’m giving Benning too much credit here. After all, the Sabres had an entire department at their disposal when they made these picks, and the draft record in Boston during his time there was spotty, to say the least. The comments section here at Canucks Army is usually filled with pleas to be more positive when assessing what Jim Benning has done, so in this case, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

During his tenure as the Director Of Amateur Scouting in Buffalo, the Sabres yielded three or more NHL regulars in five of six drafts. Unfortunately for their 1999 class, Mike Zigomanis and Doug Janik missed the 200- game threshold we use to define “NHL regular” by 3 and 10 games, respectively. 

This is why we care about draft picks.

This is why every team should care about draft picks. Especially if that team is run by Jim Benning, who should understand the value of draft picks better than just about anyone in the National Hockey League. 

The problem isn’t that Jim Benning can’t do anything right. The problem is that Jim Benning has been so terrible at getting fair value back in the trades he’s made that he’s actively shooting himself in the foot and preventing this organization from playing to its only strength.

Some time ago, Jim Benning said he feels he can expect every draft to yield 2-3 future NHLers. If he’s able to replicate even some of the success he had in Buffalo, that’s not an unreasonable estimate. That’s why we pull our hair out over all the mid-round picks he’s included as pot-sweeteners in deals like the one made for Erik Gudbranson this week: At some point, the sum of the value being sent out is going to exceed the sum of the value coming back in. Regardless of how you feel about Erik Gudbranson, Brandon Sutter, or Brandon Prust, a rebuilding team is not in the position to give up futures for a minor boost in the short-term.

In the brief time Jim Benning has been the GM of the Vancouver Canucks, they have traded away four second-round picks, three third-round picks, a fourth-round pick, two fifth-round picks, and a sixth-round pick. The only significant draft picks they’ve been able to recoup were the 3rd they got for Eddie Lack, and the first rounder they received in a package from Anaheim for Ryan Kesler. You know, the one they used on Jared McCann, who’s not a Canuck anymore.

How on God’s green earth does a team that finished 28th in the standings last season think they’re in a reasonable position to be making moves like this? Especially given what we know about the average value of a draft pick, and that we have evidence to suggest that the Canucks are likely capable of performing at an above-average level at the draft table? 

When Jim Benning was hired, it was based largely on his resume as a scout. The team’s goal has been to rebuild through the draft while remaining competitive. It’s not the recommended course to chart, but if you’re going to do it, you’ll need better-than-average performance in the later rounds of the draft. What Jim Benning’s Canucks have been doing is severely limiting the shots at the dart board they’re going to get, and when your aim is as good as Jim Benning’s is purported to be, that’s bound to cost you in the long run. 



  • Canuck4Life20

    It’s interesting to see that the analytics crowd hates the trade from the Canucks point of view, while a lot of hockey people (including Gudbranson’s former teammates) think that Benning made a great deal. He paid a steep price and admitted as much but this is a trade that balanced and strengthened the blueline. It will give Hutton a partner that can help shelter him from the physical play that wore him down this spring while giving him more freedom offensively and Gudbranson will be another player to bolster their already strong penalty kill.

    The comparable trades that have been mentioned are Reinhart (16th & 33rd picks) and Hamilton (15th, 45th, & 52nd picks). Hamilton is clearly a better player but the Flames paid more. Reinhart has the potential to become exactly they type of player that Gudbranson already is and the Oilers paid more for that potential than the Canucks did for the sure thing.

    Benning drafted the best player available two summers ago and now has used him to upgrade a position of weakness with a player just reaching his prime. It could be argued that he paid above market value, but not severely so. He will replace McCann’s potential with this years pick, Boeser, the signing of an established free agent, or one of the other free agents that he has signed from college, the CHL, and Europe. That sounds like good asset management to me.

    Regardless of the high prices that Benning has paid in some of his trades, this organization has a much deeper pool of young talent than it did before he took over. He has shown a willingness to take chances on fringe players but is not afraid to cut them loose if they don’t work out. He is trying to strengthen the prospect pool but is also trying to strengthen his group of players in their young-to-mid-twenties and is willing to pay to do so, even if the price is potential. The organization wants to develop their players the right way and doesn’t want their young prospects getting put into roles that they aren’t ready for. They feel the best way to ensure that their young players aren’t forced into roles too early is to bring in NHL ready talent that can take on the more demanding defensive assignments. They want those players to still be around as leaders 3-5 years down the road when the younger players have grown and the team is ready to compete again. It’s hard to understand why this website won’t acknowledge even some of this and instead continues with the narrative the Benning, Linden, and Desjardins have no plan and no clue about what they are doing at all.

  • LampLighter2K

    As big a critic as I am of Bennings, let’s not forget to put the blame squarely on ownership for not allowing a proper rebuild. Most of Bennings moves are aimed at foregoing better prospects that are 3-4 years away and bringing in lesser talented players that are ready now. Short sighted tunnel vision by the Aquilini’s imho.

  • Canuck4Life20

    As big a critic as I am of Bennings, let’s not forget to put the blame squarely on ownership for not allowing a proper rebuild. Most of Bennings moves are aimed at foregoing better prospects that are 3-4 years away and bringing in lesser talented players that are ready now. Short sighted tunnel vision by the Aquilini’s imho.

  • dtriemstra

    The assists he has traded were generally assets that were drafted by a guy that didn’t have a great track record drafting….

    was the “minor boost in the short term” a shot at Sutter or Gudbranson? Something tells me these guys will be corner stones of a big two way team.

    So Jackson, you acknowledge that Benning is a “draft” guy, then maybe he doesn’t see anyone worth those picks. Sutter and Prust were victims of injuries that limited their abilities. Injuries happen in a violent big boy game, the spreadsheet you seem to work with doesn’t have space for that.

    I love this Straw man perfect GM the analytics guys have in their minds. The Gudbranson has hockey people evenly split. DOld school guys say the Canucks needed him and got a good deal, the Geeks say it was a lopsided deal for Fla. guess only playing the game will tell the story.

    In my opinion, the Canucks were center heavy. We will draft Dubois or Tkachuck and get a top line forward and have Hutton paired w big G. We replace a middle six forward w a top line forward and have a 6’5 right shot Dman.

  • Cageyvet

    The post was inaccurate . Benning has received back in trades exactly the number of picks traded including one first , two seconds and three thirds
    He has made 14 draft picks in his first two drafts ( there are 7 rounds in each draft ) He has beyond any doubt been a significant plus both in trades advantages to the Canucks ( some were win win all things considered ) and has put in place a much younger but quite competitive team . It feels like Gudbranson is the end of part one . Now they can begin to draft and develop knowing they have a solid mix of young NHL players with some great vets and first class goaltending . This is the sort of environment and organization that young players can thrive in . You don’t think some hot shot free agent scorer is more likely to want to play for the Canucks knowing they have Gudbranson Edler Tryamkin , Sbisa and Pedan to have their back ? Some of you don’t seem to understand that team synergy and confidence are what fosters success ? Canuck management is clearly good at player development to boot .
    This latest move was a great play by Lindenning and most of their plays , not all but most , have clearly been winners . They’ve done an excellent job in their first two years and we are lucky to have them .

    • Bud Poile

      canucks got canucks gave up

      4rth round pick ————- Christian Ehrhoff

      Rapheal Diaz —————– Dale Weise

      Derek Roy (16 games) ———–Kevin Connauton
      2nd round pick

      Miss you….thank goodness your gone.

  • dtriemstra

    @NeilB:

    Thanks for those extra stats…I’m not sure that any of this is conclusive yet, but that’s why it would be nice if someone would do more than just a fly-by analysis. What’s amazing is that analytic writers have become just as “hot-takie” as the usual pundits they snicker about. Further, they have started to become very group-thinky on twitter.

    For example, Yost’s piece includes stats for Gudbranson as a third year dman, when Gudbranson was 21 years old! In his analysis, it doesn’t matter who Gudbranson played with or against, nor if his assignment got tougher or lighter. NeilB’s stats suggest that who he plays with is important, and the studies that apparently show that difficulty of competition isn’t important are at best suggestive and certainly not conclusive. Maybe Yost is right, but it would take a lot more to show than the hot-takie numbers Yost uses. Imagine if we started to decide Horvat is a bust because of the difficulties he had dealing with the harder workload this season.

    I’m not saying that Benning didn’t just get taken for the cleaners. I’m not a fan of Benning, so I wouldn’t have any trouble saying this is another stupid trade. I’m saying that no one has yet shown it, and it might be worthwile to do so.

  • Bud Poile

    Never forget this site defended King Corsi David of Fenwick for two years — two freaking years!! — based on the same metrics! So, where is that CA darling these days? Eastern Russia. Yeah.

  • Bud Poile

    Its interesting that this post praises Bennings draft record to no end – but is putting no credit whatsoever on his ability to judge players – Like Sutter and Gudbranson. Here’s an idea – maybe he is just as good?

    It always hurts to see second pick traded but that is the going rate for solid stay home defenders.

    I am sure Benning will be after more draft picks through trades, he’s not done yet.

  • Bud Poile

    There is a bizarre need among a large portion of the fan base to believe that the team’s management is excellent at their job, facts and evidence to the contrary be damned. Very odd. I will never understand it but it’s an interesting phenomena to witness.

    Benning could literally start murdering puppies and if anyone criticized him for it, fans would jump all over the critic saying: “Benning is a GM for a reason, he knows why murdering puppies is important and you pyjama wearing basement bloggers will never understand! He’s got 30 years of pro hockey experience and youre just a nerd with a calculator! So what if the analytics say there is no correlation between murdering puppies and good puck possession, stats aren’t everything! Write something about how great Benning is or I am going to stop reading CA!”

    Bizarre.

  • Bud Poile

    Woe, Canada, Our home and Native Land.
    All Canadian teams were buried in the Sand,
    With glowing hearts we see the rise,
    The true North strong and Free,
    From far and wide, O Canada..
    No Cups since Nineteen Ninety Three,
    God keep our land, Glorious and Free,
    O Canada, will another Stanley Cup
    Ever Be….

  • Bud Poile

    Bonino/Forsling for Sutter
    Shinkaruk for Granlund
    McCann for Gudbranson
    Personally, prefer players on the trade-out side, rather than those coming in – not to mention draft picks burned or highly questionable acquisitions eg: Dorsett, Sbisa. Florida WANTED to get rid of Gudbranson ( based on
    shots/goals allowed ) so Jim – ‘meat & potatos’ Benning gave them McCann & # 33 & #93?! MacKenzie Stewart as a winger? Pedan as a winger?
    Sure looks like they’re ad-libbing as they go.

  • Riley Miner

    Go back to, and including 1996, you will note that the Canucks dealt away 11 second rounders while keeping/acquiring 11 more. eight of 11 that were kept were complete duds while the other three include Mason Raymond, Artem Chubarov and Harold Druken. Second rounders don’t always work out., although “Thatch” will likely be a gem. Banning is at least trying to right the ship. More than Gillis did.