Jim Benning speaks: Juolevi, Rodin, and the competition for roster spots

Any time a member of the Canucks management team is interviewed, there are always points made that need to be dissected. Especially in the middle of the summer, the rare appearances that they make may provide Canucks fans with some comments and answers that they hope for. Earlier today, General Manager Jim Benning was on TSN 1040 discuss numerous topics that fans may find curious.

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Any type of hockey-related headlines are rare in the middle of the summer, but the Canucks fans got a treat as Jim Benning announced the long-awaited signing of 2016 5th-overall pick Olli Juolevi. The 18-year-old defenseman’s contract took longer than expected, especially when most of the top 10 picks had already been signed. Trevor Linden has emphasized that the two groups were simply going through the processes, and the deal was finally finalized more than a month after the draft. Furthermore, much has been made of the possibility of Juolevi returning to Finland next season rather than staying with the London Knights. There were speculations as to if he was being loaned to the Memorial Cup Champion team, but fans never received a definite answer. The city of London will be happy to know that Jim Benning finally shut down the rumours of Juolevi’s potential return to Europe. Click here to read Ryan Biech’s piece on the signing on Juolevi.

Jim Benning on Juolevi: “There was no rush to get it done. We were in communication with his representatives and we wanted to make sure we did a deal that he felt comfortable with and we felt comfortable with. He’s going to be an important player for us for a long time so it’s an exciting day for our fans. He’s a very intelligent hockey player, he’s smart and reads the play well. I think he’ll look good at camp. We don’t want to rush Olli, but it’s his physical strength that he needs to work on.”

Jim Benning: “He can’t [go to Finland or Sweden], it’s against the CBA that the NHL has with the CHL. He signed a contract to play in London. He didn’t have an existing contract with Jokerit that would apply to him. If he doesn’t play with us in the NHL, he’s going back to his junior team in London.”

Both Trevor Linden and Jim Benning have reiterated their desire to add a gritty, goal-scoring winger. With the off-season half over and still no acquisition, the idea may seem more far-fetched than initially thought. 

Jim Benning on adding another forward: “I’ve talked to a bunch of teams but we haven’t gotten anywhere with those talks. We’re circling back on some free agents, talking to their agents and seeing where they’re at. We would like to add an experienced, 15 to 20 goal-scorer if we could. We’re still talking to teams about potential trades and/or looking at the free agent market. We’ve talked to a couple players to see if they would like to come in on a PTO so we’re lining guys up through that.”

One x-factor in this upcoming season is the Canucks’ 2009 2nd-round pick Anton Rodin. After putting up over a PPG pace in the Swedish Hockey League, Rodin has decided to return to North America and hopefully bring some offense to the Canucks. However, towards the end of his season with Brynas, Rodin suffered a skate cut to the knee, which then required off-season surgery. Jim Benning confirmed that the 25-year-old should be ready to play come September training camp.

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Jim Benning on Rodin: “He’ll be healthy for training camp. I talked to our physical therapy guys and he’s right on schedule to start camp. He’s working out every day and doing his therapy. I expect him to be ready for out training camp.”

One point that Jim Benning reiterated is that there will be competition for roster spots due to the depth at the front-end as well as back-end. Depth at the forward position has already sent rookie Jared McCann out of Vancouver, and bringing in Erik Gudbranson has certainly strengthened the 2nd pairing defense. With that being said, the 3rd pairing has raised questions because of the possible combinations that could be made.

Jim Benning on the 3rd defense pair: “We acquired Philip Larsen and he’s a skilled power play guy. He can skate the puck up the ice and he’s good on the power play. Then it’s going to be Sbisa who is a physical, stay-at-home guy and he was good for us last year. We got Tryamkin, Biega, and Pedan. Troy Stecher has worked real hard this summer and I’m excited to see where he’s at in camp. There’s competition and we have good depth at defense.”

Jim Benning on potentially sending Virtanen to Utica: “Even up front, we have depth. Emerson Etem has been here all summer and worked extremely hard. Jake has showed up every day and worked hard. There’s going to be competition amongst our young players for ice time and spots on the team. Jake is in good shape, he’s working hard. He’s an important guy for our group, but we’ll make the decision that’s best for him in the long term. If he needs to spend time in the AHL and that’s what’s best for his development, that’s what we’ll do.”

Some other takeaways from Jim Benning’s interview:

  • Several young players have stayed in Vancouver to train
  • Most veterans have left town for the summer and will be returning in August
  • Loui Eriksson has yet to come to Vancouver, mostly due to the fact that his family welcomed their fourth child in May. He expects the new Canuck to arrive at the beginning of September.
Source: TSN 1040

  • Riley Miner

    It’s official: Vanessa’s taking over Canucks Army. Great article.

    Also, the way he phrased the frontrunners for the 3rd pairing is rather interesting to me. Off the bat he names Sbisa and Larsen as the frontrunners, he also names Stecher as a notable over Juolevi, I wonder if those two might be good enough to crack the roster but simply go down because of numbers. It sucks, but then again, it’s a good problem to have.

  • Dirty30

    I would prefer to see this kid playing in Europe rather than the OHL. Jokerit are in the KHL which is probably the number two league in the world. It appears from Bennings comments this is not an option and that Jokerit botched this by not signing him to a contract before coming to the OHL?? I’d be interested to know if this would have been the Canucks preference and that London is plan B?

    • Dirty30

      Vanessa is kicking butt here on CA and few of the other writers have stepped up their game to match her standards. Ryan Bietch seems to be bringing his A game and maybe has even more to offer.

      I’m not missing the circle jerk Petbugs and his three-ring circus reviews.

      So let’s hope some healthy competition does make everyone better.

  • Dirty30

    15-20 goal veteran…..sounds like Hudler to me. I’d be onside with that. Good, underrated player. the only problem is if you sign him, you have s soft, soft forward group

  • Riley Miner

    Sbisa was “good for us” last year? Then who was I watching? Very, very frustrating if the team still has Luca penciled into the top 6 when they should be giving guys like Pedan and Tryamkin the inside track to nail that spot down. Though, frankly, I’m prepared to be very disappointed that our new Top Four Defenceman from Florida is being hugely oversold based on what he’s actually done in his career so far.

    • Dirty30

      I am personally just going on the reactions of the trade from 2 people I respects reaction to the trade (Luongo and Willie) I’d say we got a beauty in Gud!

      I think the teams biggest need is depth at centre. Far more so than a scoring winger. We have Sedin Bo Sutter Granlund and then what????? Cassels? If we sustain any injury at centre were lined up another high draft pick.

      We lost Vey and Cracknell and have not filled those spots unless they are planning on playing Pedan as an injury call up at center cuz hey why not?

      • Dirty30

        I gave you both props and a trash…

        gave you the trash first because I thought you were over reacting with the lack of centre depth, but you are right that we lost a bit of depth by losing Cracknell, Vey and McCann. All 3 saw some time in the dot.

        We still have Gaunce who could slide over but there is a chance if one of Henrik, Bo, Sutter or Granlund get injured, JB makes a minor move during the season to bring in a 4th line guy.

        • BigDeal

          “lost a bit of depth” ?? We have no depth at centre. A fragile Henrik and a bunch of third line centres does not make for a contender. Hopefully Horvat can be an excellent second line player eventually but there is a dearth of talent at this position. I’d feel better about it if we had Ehlers, Nylander or Keller in the pipeline, but we don’t, and the only hope for a viable replacement for Henrik is in the next draft. We have to come to grips with the fact that the Sedins are starting to break down and there is no up and coming first line. Boeser gives a bit of hope but that’s about it. Keep in mind, I am talking about winning Cups, not being a bubble playoff team.

          • Dirty30

            How does Ehlers solve the Henrik problem, Ehlers is a LW. Nylander and Keller have size / physicality reservations. Toronto is already looking to play Nylander as a winger. If we kept McCann, we wouldn’t have such concern about replacing Henrik because we could roll McCann and Horvat. That’s where Benning dropped the ball because he got rid of McCann before he had Dubois.

          • BigDeal

            I don’t know if JB dropped the ball or not. Maybe with the way things unfolded, if he could have dropped a few picks and chose another centre, instead of Dubois, who still might end up being a winger, we might be a little better off?

            McCann could still end up as a winger.

            With the price of dmen, as long as Gudbranson is resigned at a reasonable cap hit, I’ll be okay with that trade.

          • BigDeal

            McCann was doing everything he could to be a Top 6 centre, I was shocked to hear how much muscle he put on before he was dumped. McCann was desired immediately by other teams, even right after the Canucks drafted him and Benning quit on him after less than a full season. And we had to send draft picks with him. This only supports the notion that Benning is the patsy in every trade. Not to mention that Benning has created a logjam in RD with Stecher and Tryamkin ready to make the jump to the NHL.

          • BigDeal

            When you say JB “quit on him”, I don’t look at it the same way. He traded him for Gudbranson, and you have to give to get. The team on the whole had been lacking grit, it was apparent in the playoffs the year with Calgary and it was apparent last season.

            I like McCann, but I don’t think he will ever be a #1 centre in the west, and it still remains to be seen if he will stay at centre.

            Can’t see how JB is the patsy in that trade, the market dictates the price of dmen and what was paid after indicates JB paid a reasonable price.

          • TheRealPB

            I like McCann. But in addition to the fact that we weren’t going to get a good talent in Gudbrandson without giving something up, McCann is not the answer to our or anyone else’s C depth at the moment. He can’t win a face-off and his zone coverage is not the best. If he does make the Panthers he’s in tough to crack the top nine on the wing and more likely fourth line (but Crouse will make that tough and I think Marchessault too). He’s certainly not displacing any of the top centers for the Panthers and if he was here he’d be fighting with Granlund for the 4C spot.

          • BigDeal

            “We have to come to grips with the fact that the Sedins are starting to break down and there is no up and coming first line.”

            continue to draft and develop, coming to grips is staying the course and as JB said in a recent interview, he wants to keep more picks from here on out.

    • JuiceBox

      Its no secret Sbisa is awful and its no secret JB is trying to trade him. Its all about optics. JB can’t coming out saying one of his own players was awful and shouldn’t be in the line-up etc etc.

      JB really has no choice but to say “he was good for us”

  • Dirty30

    I don’t know if “depth” is the right word for the forward group, at least in the sense of known scoring ability. I’m hoping we see Bo, Sven and Jake all take the next step and produce more though. Rodin will really be interesting to watch – kind of makes the pre-season a really interesting one.

    I’m not in the Sbisa hate club, I think he’s being treated very unfairly if you look at his actual stats, but having said that I think Benning is playing him up a bit in the media for a trade.

  • BigDeal

    Good article Vanessa.

    Now that Vanessa is here, does this mean we can get rid of that weasel Jeff Vellette?

    No offense to any weasels out there. I should have emphasized that Jeff Vellette is lower than a weasel.

    Yes, Vellette is lower than the crud you find at the bottom of any barrel.

  • andyg

    A center is so obviously whats needed not a winger.

    There is so much competition on the wing already with Rodin, Etem, Virtanen, Gaunce, Dorsett, Burr, Grenier all fighting over 4 spots in our bottom 6 and pushing to leap frog Baertschi Hansen on the depth chart. This is a good problem to have.

    At centre it looks like. Bo Granlund ………………… Guance? Cassels

    Compare that with last season where management proclaimed that loosing Sutter was key to us missing the playoffs. We had Bo Horvat, McCann, Vey, Cracknell, and acquired Granlund because we were short on depth.

    We literally don’t have a single player looking to push for a nhl job at centre beyond our top 4 this year. I’d say that is our biggest problem. we have guys pushing for not only bottom 9 but middle 6 positions at wing.

  • BigDeal

    D take longer to develop than forwards. So let’s say we’re 4-5 yrs out from really being Stanley cup ready. Jules will hopefully be a top pairing d man by then and we’ll likely crap the bed at least once more for a top 5 pick. That pick can be a close to NHL ready forward.

  • andyg

    Gaunce is working his but off. Working on his skating again this year. He could be the 15 goal scorer.
    There is always potential for needs to be filled internally. That’s why you have a development system.

  • andyg

    what’s with all the angst about dealing McCann? We traded away a potential third line centre and the hand wringing continues….please.

    On deals like that, just going to go on a limb here, management probably understands the value of the player better then the fans do.

  • andyg

    We don’t have good centre depth on the farm but it’s not like Cracknell and vey are a huge upgrade on Megnya/Chaput and Zalewski. Gaunce also showed last year he can still and probably should be playing in the middle.

  • andyg

    McCann is never going to be a center in NHL unless he can start winning face offs teams cannot be chasing to regain puck after losing the face off. Muscle mass is not going to help him win a face off. He likely won’t make it on the Panthers lineup next year he will then be lost and forgotten and if he is a pouter he may end up being washed up and being one of those stories of how much his personality and attitude killed his career.

  • JuiceBox

    To say Sbisa is hands down “awful” is a bit unfair. Sbisa is just overpaid – as a solid third pairing d-man who could move up in a pinch he certainly has the talent and skill for the job.

    I don’t think the Canucks should make another move until they properly assess what they’ve got with the changes they’ve already made. Currently they have players fighting for spots on the forward lines and defence, but the real logjam is on defence. If they could trade a d-man for a pick (say Sbisa for a 2nd), I’d be happy with that because due to contacts the Canucks are more than likely going to lose a player to waivers. Asset management, JB, learn your lessons!