Jim Benning speaks: on Horvat, Gudbranson, Virtanen and More

The rollercoaster continues for the Canucks as they alternate wins and losses. The team currently sits 28th in the NHL with the 29th Avalanche and 30th Coyotes having played two games less and three points behind. The ups and downs have made it hard to determine exactly what type of team the Canucks are. The season so far has had its shining moments, but also some equally dull ones. 

Jake Virtanen has been under the spotlight for quite some time now, and the long-waited match-up against Toronto has also arrived. Erik Gudbranson has not met expectations, while Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin have arguably exceeded them. Earlier today, Canucks General Manager Jim Benning was on TSN 1040 to talk about these topics.

The must-anticipated December 3rd rematch versus the Toronto Maple Leafs has finally come. Toronto sports media started covering Saturday’s game since Wednesday, and some journalists also arrived in Vancouver a few days early. In light of Erik Gudbranson’s not-so-friendly words directed towards Matt Martin, this match-up will be under the NHL’s spotlight. Nazem Kadri, Matt Martin, and possibly Morgan Reilly may need to keep their heads up tomorrow night, but any action that crosses the line is most definitely not in the interest of the NHL and Canucks fans.

Jim Benning on discussions before tomorrow’s game vs. TOR: “[The NHL hasn’t] said too much to me yet. We’re meeting with Stephane Quintal tomorrow afternoon before the game. (Willie Desjardins talking to the players) is going to be on the agenda for the meeting. Stephane is going to talk to us first, then meet with the coaches for the players. Tomorrow night, there’s two points on the line. We just want to play the game and try to win the game.”

Jake Virtanen has played a total of 20 games with Utica, including their 2014-15 Calder Cup playoff run. In that handful of games, he has three assists and 0 goals. This season he has two assists in seven games – not exactly the numbers one would like to see out of a 6th-overall pick. You can argue that keeping Virtanen in Vancouver last year was not the right move regarding his development, and sending him down this year may be to make up for that mistake. He has yet to take off in the AHL, despite the two or three shots that he has been averaging per game. He’s been playing a line alongside the red-hot Darren Archbald and Curtis Valk, which means he is the last member of that trio who needs to get produce. 

Jim Benning on Virtanen: “He’s playing good. All reports on him are that, with the practice time and stuff, he’s  working hard in practice and playing good in games. He hasn’t scored yet but he’s playing good. His overall two-way game is improving and I think he’ll start scoring in the future. We want to be patient with him. With the compressed NHL schedule, there’s not a lot of practice time. Down there, he gets to practice three days a week then play three days a week. We want to be patient with him and let him develop.”

During the off-season, the acquisition of Erik Gudbranson was supposed to make the Canucks a “tough team to play against.” So far, it appears to have been the opposite. Aside from his monstrous fight vs. Zack Kassian, his aforementioned physical presence has not been displayed as often as expected. He is tied for a team-low plus/minus with a -13 through 24 games. The combo of he and Ben Hutton do not seem to be meshing well and in-sync. Despite the fantastic and mature character that he is, it’s safe to say the reaction he draws from fans is similar to that of Luca Sbisa’s from years previous. However, it would be wrong to jump to conclusions because even a player such as Sbisa has been able to step up his game and look less of a liability. The adjustment from the east to west, new teammates, and new systems is not one that we can all see on the ice, but it would certainly be a good reason as to why he has not come as advertised.

Jim Benning on Gudbranson: “In some games, he’s come as advertised. He’s played physical, moved the puck, and given us a physical presence on the back-end. Any time you trade for a new player, there’s an adjustment period – playing with new teammates, playing a new system, the marketplace. I think he’s adjusting and I think he’s going to keep developing and turn out to be a good player for us.”

One of the two silver linings so far has been the play of Bo Horvat. In some eyes, he has exceeded expectations and shown to be a constant threat. In others, his development from season-to-season has come as expected. He’s been one of the shining lights in a tunnel that is sometimes dark and sometimes bright. Despite being the ‘3rd-line centre,’ his play shows much more than that. He’s been impressive; it’s as simple as that. He’s played consistent hockey and shown signs of what-could-be a solid No. 1 centre. Last night, it’s fairly clear that Willie Desjardins did not deploy Horvat’s line in the proper way. 

Jim Benning on Horvat: “They’re been an important part of our last three weeks, that Baetschi-Horvat-Burrows. line. Willie is aware that they’re playing good for us and tries to get them out there as much as he can. For whatever reason last night, he only played 15 minutes. He’s an important guy for us to get to where we want to be, this year and in the future.”

The second of the two silver linings has been the play of Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin – two completely different types of defensemen. One is small, and one is gigantic; One is offensively-minded, the other defensively. However, both have turned heads and impressed in ways that have exceeded expectations. With key injuries on the blue-line, they’ve taken the increased ice-time and roles and succeeded. The Canucks’ future on the back-end may not be as bad as originally thought.

Jim Benning on Stecher and Tryamkin: “Those are two guys that have played very good for us. With Troy Stecher, we didn’t know how fast he was going to adapt to the NHL game. He’s taken off where he left off at training camp, he’s been excellent. He’s agressive when he gets the puck on his stick, he’s hard in the battles, he likes to get his shot on the net. With Nikita, we did some work with on off the ice, conditioning and stuff. For a 6’7 player, he has the long reach and has been good defensively for us. Both players have been good for us, and with the injuries to Edler and Tanev, we needed them to step in and adjust right away. So far, they’ve showed that.”

Injury updates

Anton Rodin: “He’s making progress, he’s skating on his own. His rehab continues, but there’s no timetable as to when he’ll be back.”

Tanev: “He’s been skating, he’s week to week right now. It’s one of those injuries where some days he comes in and feels real good, other days not too good.”

Boeser: “He has a bone bruise in his wrist. Their thinking on it is they’re going to keep him out of last weekend’s games and see where it’s at. We’ll go from there.”

Source: TSN 1040

  • Steampuck

    Would Gudbranson having a subpar year be the worst thing to happen? Lower contract hit in the summer? I also buy the adjustment thing: so much of being a professional athlete is handling the mind-numbing boredom of traveling and waiting. Doing that in new surrounds takes some getting used to. I’d apply that to both Gudbranson and Virtanen (in different contexts). Patience, as ever, remains the order of the day.

    • TrueBlue

      This is a nice thought… the saving grace of an adjustment year from Gudbranson lowering his price, signing a friendlier 3-4 year deal, then having a breakout year. I could get behind that.

  • Jimjamg

    If Gudbranson is expecting a $5 mil contract as Florida seemed to think then we are going to have a problem. He certainly hasn’t played at that level. Hopefully a bridge deal can be worked out so he can prove his worth, because he is a lot less physical than I thought he was going to be and a lot more of a defensive liability. Any time you can be reasonably compared to Sbisa is not a good thing, even though Sbisa has showed a lot of improvement this year.

  • HuttonsSmile

    The Canucks are just being destroyed with injuries. With the amount of people in the press box or at home we’ve been doing OK. Guys like Stetcher and Horvat have turned into real quality players. Whether or not it was the right choice to get players like Eriksson and Guddy instead of a full blown tank is up for debate but you can’t deny the fact that the Canucks are better this year. Playoffs? No. But I want to see the Canucks a completely healthy team. Maybe we could surprise a few people.

    • crofton

      It would be nice. I’m not sure what team could have their top D pairing and one top winger out and be doing as well as Vancouver. They looked kinda bad against the Ducks, but then for awhile they made the Ducks look equally ineffective. Not for a long stretch by any means, but their last two games, I couldn’t help wondering 1 how Minny is a top team in the west and 2 how the Ducks could be ahead of Vancouver. Seriously. With all those important players out for Vancouver, it should have been a gazillion goals against.

  • Fred-65

    From what I can glean Canucks management are nice, the coach is nice, the players are nice. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to win much. This management has been at the helm for 3 years come the end of the season and the future is no better. First round picks Virtanen seems like a lost cause as was McCann that doesn’t seem to be a great endorsement for a GM who’s strength is scouting. There is high hope for Boeser and Juolevi but we won’t know until they start to play. If neither of those two make the team next season ie they’re not up to it, I suspect there will be a change because it is scouting and building the team that JB has sold to Aquaman

    • crofton

      Pretty sure Boesser will make the team and, if you hadn’t noticed, most defensemen take longer to develop, so I won’t worry if Juolevi is not on the roster next year. Are you actually suggesting Benning is worse than or at least no better than Mike Gillis? hmmm

    • Bud Poile

      Two months into this season and after one injury-laden,lost season under Benning Fred is willing to write off management.

      After six years of the previous regime’s draft picks we have Gaunce,Hutton and Horvat on the permanent roster.Gillis’ picks should dominate this team right now.Gillis’ picks should be in their prime.

      Without the loss of Schneider there would be Gaunce,Hutton and a call-up in LaBate.

      If you are looking for a scapegoat,Fred,you have overlooked the obvious.

  • wojohowitz

    You don`t have to go back three years to question management`s decisions. In only the past three months did they handle these players correctly; Stecher, Tryamkin, Larsen, Rodin, Virtanen and Biega.

    Stecher: when they sent him down asked; WTF do I have to do to make this team?

    Tryamkin: maybe I should just go home if they are not going to let me play.

    Larsen: I`ve been sick, very sick. I`m playing too much and losing weight.

    Rodin: played 4 out of 5 pre-season games and hasn`t played since.

    Virtanen: I don`t know, they don`t talk to me.

    Biega: you made the team, congratulations.

    • DJ_44

      The only example they have not handled well was Virtanen, who should have been down in Utica after camp.

      Stecher was not going to displace established NHLers out of camp. Sending him to the AHL was the correct move (no waivers). It was also the correct move to call him back wdhen injuries hit.

      Tryamkin: He came in out of shape, but worked hard with staff and now looks like he will be a fixture on the blueline moving forwards.

      Larsen: Not sure how they mishandled him. A virus is a virus

      Rodin: There is no evidence that not playing at camp, or in the pre-season would have helped. The injury (specifically the type of injury) flared up and Rodin and the staff decided that too much strength was lost.
      It was not a classic knee injury, but a severed tendon. I am sure he was evaluated after each practice and game.

      Virtanen: Agree he should have been in Utica from the start of the season.

      Biega: He is the insurance policy for the expansion draft; and getting paid to be one.

  • Roy

    The one thing I like about the team right now is that everything, except the possibility of a winning streak, is a mystery.

    Tanev back? Rodin ready? Sbisa has a great/terrible 60 minutes? Burrows looks five years younger? Fin with the Sedins? Someone gets injured? Who is the next call up? Tryamkin put who in the hospital? Which team is the new mortal enemy this year? Hutton wins OT on a penalty shot? Literally every game is a new twist.