The moment we’ve all been waiting for is now upon us. The NHL Entry Draft starts at 4pm in Buffalo, New York and the Vancouver Canucks are set to pick fifth overall. With a little luck, they’ll land a franchise player to build around for the foreseeable future.
Then again, with all the trade talk circulating it’s entirely possible they’re picking somewhere else. Or not even at all. It’s the silliest part of silly season and at some point the swarm of moving parts settles. For the Canucks, who are adamant about their desire to compete for the playoffs next season, that might involve trading their fifth overall selection for immediate help.
I wouldn’t rule out the Canucks moving out the odd contract to build on their dwindling draft stock. For Canucks General Manager Jim Benning, a master scout by trade, that could go a long way in meeting their goal of drafting and developing throughout their rebuild on the fly.
Hell, just about anything could happen. Let’s try and make sense of it, on the other side of the jump.
Jim Benning: “We think 4, 5, & 6 are all in the same tier. We have a defenseman in the top 6 & we think he’s clearly the best defenseman.”
— Canucks Now (@CanucksNow) June 23, 2016
Piecing together the Canucks comments and everything I’ve heard, I think this is a two-horse race. It’s either going to be Pierre-Luc Dubois or Olli Juolevi. I could live with either selection, though I have to admit, I will be all kinds of disappointed if the Canucks take Juolevi ahead of Dubois.
It’s not so much that Juolevi is necessarily a reach at fifth overall. His talent is absolutely worthy of the distinction. It’s just that Dubois is that much better. Not to mention, picking Dubois addresses a long-term need that the Canucks have had for the last five-plus years. I’m talking of course of a succession plan to Henrik Sedin.
At first glance, there isn’t really a flaw in his game – he has elite skating, shooting and hockey IQ. He uses his all of those and his size to protect the puck and create offence. He also has the explosive first couple of strides to separate himself from defenders. If it’s in a down low situation, Dubois isn’t afraid to get in there and muck it up. At this moment, there really isn’t a flaw to his game and it’s no wonder why teams would be tripping over themselves to select him.
Juolevi is a smooth skating, puck moving defenceman with offensive flair and a penchant for creativity. Though his defensive side is still a bit of a work in progress (and it has improved greatly over the course of the season), his ability to move the puck up the ice, and ,in particular, distribute it in his own zone, in a highly sought after skill set in the NHL.
Shuffling Draft Picks
I don’t necessarily think it’s likely that the Canucks change their position at the draft, but anything’s possible. Benning has gone on record as saying that the top three players are foundational pieces that can enter the Canucks lineup as soon as next season. Does he pull the trigger on a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets to make it happen? Based on these comments, it’s doubtful.
Benning: The price for us (to move up) doesn’t make sense. I’m content at five. We’re sitting in a perfect hole
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) June 23, 2016
Similarly, I can’t foresee a scenario where the Canucks move down. They need to stockpile top of the lineup talent and that’s increasingly difficult as you move further down the draft. That said, they don’t have a wealth of mid-round picks. If they get overwhelmed with an offer that’s rich in the second and third-rounds, maybe they cave.
Jim Benning: “We’ve had calls, but it’s going to take a lot to get #5 away from us. We’re very excited about the player we’ll get.” #Canucks
— Canucks Now (@CanucksNow) June 23, 2016
Jim Benning has likely landed himself in hot water with his comments yesterday regarding Steven Stamkos, P.K. Subban and Milan Lucic. Though conventional wisdom would suggest that publicly discussing players by name that are still under contract would warrant three separate charges, it appears as though Benning is just under investigation for Subban and Stamkos related comments.
The NHL is looking at a complain of tampering after what #canucks Jim Benning said yesterday regarding Steven Stamkos and PK Subban.
— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) June 24, 2016
The reason that the Canucks aren’t being investigated for Lucic is simple. Los Angeles Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi has granted Lucic and his agent permission to speak with 29 other teams leaguewide. Hence, no tampering charges.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi also adding that a letter has gone out officially authorizing Lucic camp to talk to other 29 teams right away
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) June 22, 2016
The relevant precedent to consider here is Ron Wilson, who was dinged for “inappropriate public comments” back in 2009, when he hinted that his club planned to pursue the Sedin twins were they to hit unrestricted free agency. It was actually the organization that was fined at the time, rather than Wilson personally.
“You’re hearing right now — and this sounds very contradictory — but there is a real possibility I would think that we would be going after the Sedins. Let’s just speculate there,” Wilson said in a Fan 590 appearance before the opening of free agency in June of 2009, via CBC.
The league investigated and determined that Wilson had violated an “inappropriate public comments” provision of bylaw 15 (the bylaws are sealed, so we can’t get too much into it). He was fined and indisclosed amount, with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly offering this statement at the time:
About Those Players
The Canucks just aren’t ready to rebuild yet. If the Erik Gudbranson trade didn’t send that message home, the Canucks reported interest in almost anyone noteworthy should. As we’ve already outlined, the Canucks appear to have interest in pursuing Lucic and Stamkos in free agency, and Subban via trade.
Jim Benning: We called about Subban, we’re interested in Lucic, will inquire on Stamkos https://t.co/xzo0N6PqTq
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) June 23, 2016
I can’t envision a scenario where Stamkos signs for any less than $9.5-million, which accounts for almost all of Vancouver’s cap space. Similarly, Lucic will cost anywhere in the neighbourhood of $6-million-plus on a long-term deal. As for Subban, he’s locked into his contract for the next six seasons.
If the Canucks are serious about their interest in acquiring Subban, now is the time to do it. At the beginning of the next league year, Subban’s contract has a full no-trade clause. The only problem is that they lack the capital to make such a move happen. Especially compared to what the Edmonton Oilers can offer.
If Subban is actually on the market it’s hard to imagine that the Canucks would have the asset war chest required to outbid teams like the Edmonton Oilers – who have been explicit about their interest in acquiring a stud right-handed shooting blue liner. For Vancouver to even get in the game you’d have to start with the fifth-overall pick, and probably add Chris Tanev, and then add Bo Horvat and even then you’re still not going to be able to compete with a team like Edmonton once players like Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins enter the equation.
Can the Canucks Acquire More Picks?
The Canucks have exactly two selections in the first 120 picks of the draft. That’s less than ideal. Especially for a franchise with so strong a scouting acumen as the Canucks have shown since Benning took over as General Manager.
They have the pieces to land more draft picks, though. Perhaps not first or second round picks, but fourth and fifth round selections seem entirely conceivable. Perhaps they move Andrey Pedan, who is waiver eligible next season and at the wrong end of a defensive logjam on the left side. Or the rights to Dan Hamhuis, a pending unrestricted free agent. If they really want to shake things up, perhaps the Canucks ship out Jannik Hansen — talk about selling high.
The list of teams that the Vancouver Canucks have been bested by at the draft since Jim Benning took the job as General Manager is a short one. That’s the advantage to having a master scout running the show.
That’s why Canucks fans get frustrated when the club they cheer for surrenders draft picks in trades, much like they did when they acquired Erik Gudbranson. In the wake of that trade, Vancouver has but two selections in the first hundred picks. That’s less than ideal for a club that should probably be rebuilding and just finished their season in third-last place.
I wouldn’t write off the Canucks addressing this in the coming week, though. There are a few different ways they could bolster their position in the top half of the draft and I’ll try and touch on three such options on the other side of the jump.