What He’s Saying: Jim Benning’s Prospects Update

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 1.19.56 PM

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher – USA Today Sports

We know Brock Boeser, Olli Juolevi, and Thatcher Demko. We’ve heard plenty about the Canucks’ top three prospects, but not much about the rest of the list. Jim “Draft Guru” Benning came into Vancouver with quite the drafting pedigree. During his tenure with Buffalo and Boston, Benning managed to snatch some mid-round gems. Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, and Dennis Wideman were all 2nd to 7th-round picks who have had rather successful careers.

Prior to Jim Benning’s hiring, the the depth prospect cupboard was sub-par. Three year’s in, it’s been filled. It’s not necessarily full (or even close to full), but it’s a heck of a lot better than it was before. This weekend on Hockey Prospect Radio, Jim Benning have us an update and scouting report on some players who may not be getting very much publicity.

In the late rounds, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. Each player has flaws and aspects of his game that need some tuning. I know it’s been spoken about a lot but intangibles do matter. Not necessarily to the extent that some might believe, but character is important not only during the developmental phase, but also throughout one’s career. If a player has that will and determination to make it to the NHL, he can make it happen through hard work.

Jakob Stukel

Jakob Stukel is fast. I’ve watched the Calgary Hitmen play a few times this season and his speed stands out. He also has a decent shot, but it’s his hockey sense that hasn’t caught up. When the Canucks drafted him in the 6th round last year, it seemed like he was just starting to come into his own. The trade from the Giants to Hitmen sparked a massive jump in point production, but unfortunately it’s fallen off this season. With 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists) in 50 games, the 19 year-old isn’t tearing it up on an average Calgary Hitmen team.

“One of the reasons why we drafted his was because of his speed. That’s the way the game is going now – having speed on the wings. He’s a fast player, he gets to the net with his speed. He’s had a bit of a slow season this year, he’s a streaky scorer. He worked pretty hard this summer. He sees how fast the players are in the NHL and he understands he still has a lot of work to do. We’ll see what we have with him.”

Brett McKenzie

I wouldn’t call McKenzie a steal, but the Canucks certainly got value snagging his 194th overall in the 7th round in his D+1 year. McKenzie plays on North Bay Battalion team that emphasizes defense, and that shows in his game. His game is very well-rounded and he projects to be a bottom-6 NHL player. Nothing specifically jumps out with his skill-set, but he’s a very steady and dependable player. With 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) in 49 games, McKenzie currently leads his OHL team in scoring

“I talked to Scott Walker and Ryan Johnson last week and they’re happy with his development. He’s a big body guy that likes to get to the net. He has to continue to work on his skating, his first three steps. He has good hands around the net, he plays the game the right way. He has the chance, we think, to develop into an NHL player. If he can pick up his skating and quickness, we believe he’s going to continue to develop and he’ll score at the American league level, and at some point, hopefully develop into an NHL player. At the end of the day, we like his overall package.”

Carl Neill

Selected as an over-ager in the 5th round, 144th overall in 2015, Carl Neill’s offensive production has turned heads. Currently 3rd in QMJHL defensemen scoring, Neill has 54 points (12 goals, 42 assists) in 50 games. He was recently traded to the very good Charlottetown Islanders team to help them push for the championship, which goes to show how valuable he is seen in the league. The Canucks could certainly use a defenseman who puts up his points, but to say he’s the next Erik Karlsson is highly highly unlikely. Nonetheless, he has offensive instincts that set him apart from other defensemen.

“The thing we like about Carl is his poise with the puck. Once he gets the puck on his stick, he sees the ice real well. He’ll hold onto the puck and make a pass up the ice to the forwards. With him, it’s about keep working on his mobility, turning to get back and get pucks. When he gets the puck on his stick, he’s smart and makes good plays with the puck. He’s a good kid, he’s a high-character person. He’s worked hard off the ice and we have to decide this year if we’re going to sign him. If we think he can play in the American Hockey League and keep developing, we have to get him signed. He’s worked really hard off the ice to improve his footwork and mobility. He’s got good offensive instincts.”

Adam Gaudette

Adam Gaudette might just be the face of Canucks mid-rounds picks if everything goes as planned. Drafted in the 5th round in 2015, Gaudette’s draft year point production did not stick out. He had 30 points in 50 games in the tier 2 United States Hockey League, which seemed more worthy of a 6th or 7th-round pick. Boy were we wrong. His freshman season point totals turned heads, and now he’s genuinely getting everyone excited. He has 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) in 26 games. Wow. And he’s only getting better too.

It’ll be hard to predict whether he’ll sign with the Canucks this year, mostly because he could still use another year of getting stronger. Should he stay with Northeastern for his junior season, he’ll be a leader on a team that loses the likes of the highly-touted free-agent Zach Aston-Reese and maybe Dylan Sikura.

“He’s a player that we’re really excited about. We think he can grow into a 2nd or 3rd-line NHL centreman. He’s got good size, he’s smart, he’s strong. He’s strong on the puck, protecting the puck, making plays. He continues to get better. That was a really good pick by our scouts – they followed him, they knew him going into the draft. When we drafted him, he was 170 lbs. As he’s gotten stronger, his skating has really improved. He’s got his confidence, he’s a big part of the Northeastern team. The sky’s the limit for him. He can turn out to be a player who can score points at the NHL level and can play a good, two-way game. He wasn’t physically strong (in his draft year), but we could see how smart he was. I think he’s about 190-195 lbs now so he’s gained 20 lbs of muscle. When it’s time to sign him, we’re going to sign him and get him up and going.”

Tate Olson

Last season, Tate Olson looked to be a diamond in the rough. Putting up just 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists)  in 50 games this season, he’s having a down year. He’s a throwback defenseman who exemplifies Benning’s common saying of “hard to play against.” Strength is his biggest weakness, though he has managed to bulk up to 190 lbs on his 6’2 frame. I’m not sure you could compare this season to last season and immediately call him a bust. He’s smart, and he makes the right players with and without the puck, which is exactly what an NHL defenseman should be able to do.

“In his draft year, we really liked his hockey sense. He reads the game really well, his defensive awareness is good. He has poise with the puck and had a really good year last year. This year, his numbers aren’t quite as good but we see improvement in his two-way game. For him, it’s going to be about working off the ice to get stronger so he can handle the size and strength (of the pro game). He’s a kid that’s focused, I know he wants to do well. He’s been working hard off the ice to get the strength that he needs to be an NHL defenseman. For a 7th-round pick, he’s another guy, we feel, has something in his game that he can keep developing. 

None of the Canucks’ mid-round picks are perfect. None of them are sure-fire NHL players. It’s how they develop and how they work that will get them to the summit. Pavel Datsyuk has flaws, and so did Henrik Lundqvist, Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn, and even Pavel Bure. In no way am I saying Jakob Stukel is Pavel Bure, it just goes to show that there are success stories out there. For now, we have to trust in Jim Benning and hope his late-round picks can turn into NHL players.

  • Freud

    Lucic and Marchand were drafted before Benning got there.

    In fact, Boston went into the 2006 draft without a GM, as Chiarelli and Benning did not join the team until July.

    Which seems to point even more to the fact drafting after the first round is not a talent, but rather luck based.

    • Dirk22

      Not only were Lucic and Marchand there, but so were Bergeron, Krejci, Chara and Tim Thomas. Essentially the core of the team. Remember this anytime anyone points to Benning helping to turn around the Bruins.

        • Locust

          Being critical of the constant anti-Canuck bias, on a Canuck site isn’t whining.

          Writing like a douchebag just to promote hits and views caters to the little frustrated athelete wannabees that have mommy issues ….

          There are a number of those here, as you well know.

          The rest of us want critical and fair analysis and discussion. That doesn’t really happen here as CA has chosen to cater to those that have probably never put on a pair of skates and the “journalism” is more akin to the comic book crowd than actual fans and people that care about hockey and particularly their team.

          Why should the douches win.

          I will keep being critical until it changes.

          You’ll get over it…..

  • Lumme21

    No mention of Guillaume Brisebois? They were pretty high on him when they traded Lack to get the pick used on him, and he plays on the same team as Carl Neill. I haven’t listened to the interview, but if he was omitted I find that kind of odd.

  • Killer Marmot

    In the late rounds, there’s no such thing as a sure thing.

    Ain’t no sure things in the early rounds either. Remember Claude Gauthier, Andre Veilleux, Rick Pagnutti, and Gord Kluzak?

    No, neither do I. But all were #1 draft picks.

    Well written article, by the way, except for that last sentence which was mangled.

  • Dirk22

    I don’t understand how Benning gets this scouting guru label?

    Look at his picks in Boston. Their best pick by far was Seguin but that’s a #2 overall pick that my dog could have handled. They got Hamilton at #9 – again a top 10 pick.

    After that their best picks in the 7 drafts Benning was there: Ryan Spooner, Joe Colborne, Michael Hutchinson, Jordan Caron, Seth Griffith…

    Even when you compare the Bruins picks to the Canucks picks (which are an obvious bone of contention with Gillis) they both have the same amount of players taken from drafts 2008-13 who have played 100 NHL games…5! Add in the 2007 draft for Benning and the number stays the same! Take away that #2 pick and the #9 pick and that’s looking really ugly.

    But he’s a draft guru right??

      • Fred-65

        White lie …. in todays parlance that is “Alternate facts” but little white lies sound better….tell Kellyanne Conway just up her street.

        Yeah surprised no mention of Brisebois he seems to have become a little invisible in many reports on radio and press ?

    • Freud

      Also, why does Benning get credit for Boston picks?

      Gilman was the acting GM in May and June of 2014, just before the historic 2014 draft. A draft in which, I am told, draft guru Benning selected 6 sure fire NHL stars. Gilman was also the assistant GM at the time of the draft.

      So I assume Gilman is actually the reason for that draft? Glad he’s still in the front office.

      • Bud Poile

        “Also, why does Benning get credit for Boston picks?” Freud

        Benning was hired as Director of Player Personnel in 2006 in Boston for his scouting and player development acumen history.He was given the Assistant GM position one year later.

        Gilman was hired as a number cruncher.

        ‘Benning serves as an advisor to General Manager Peter Chiarelli on all matters pertaining to player evaluation, trades and free agent signings, in addition to assisting the General Manager in overseeing all individuals in their specific duties for the Bruins.

        Benning, in other words, has been a key part of the brain trust of one of the league’s most successful franchises and has also had a chance to watch one of its best general managers day-in and day-out for eight seasons.

        He has also paid his dues. He started near the bottom of the NHL’s managerial food chain and worked his way up. Over 20 years, starting on the amateur scouting job, he has been consistently advanced by the organizations he has worked for; it’s hard to believe that kind of career was sustained by anything other than merit.’


    • Vanessa Jang

      That’s why I put “draft guru” in quotations. His drafting has been far better than what Gillis’ group brought to the table, but I do think his ability might be a little overstated. Obviously only time will tell though

      • Pat Quinn Way

        Vanessa, Mike Gillis was all in on winning a Stanley Cup for the franchise during many successful years and therefore didn’t have the luxury of high picks. During his tenure our top picks were 22nd, 115th, 29th, 26th and the Bo Horvat pick at 9 which is hands down better than any of Benning’s choices so far.

        Benning has picked 6th, 24th, 23rd and 5th and still not hit a home run, so please don’t be fooled or swayed by the many falsehoods that run through this deluded and divided fanbase.

        • Vanessa Jang

          High pick doesn’t always result in NHL stars, let along players (just as someone said before). Gillis drafted 32 players with the Canucks, and only TWO (Horvat & Hutton) have turned out to be NHL regulars. If 2/32 doesn’t raise red flags to you, I don’t know what will. Yes, the later-round picks are more luck than anything, but a lot of teams have managed to get NHL players out of there (Saad, Klingberg, Barrie, Gaudreau, etc……). That’s something Gillis couldn’t do and wasn’t even close to doing. You can’t blame the lower draft positions for the poor drafting – that’s on the scouts and management.
          I completely agree with you with regards to the Horvat pick – it’s the best one we’ve had from both regimes. But you can’t discount the solid prospects we have in Boeser, Demko, Juolevi, and even Gaudette. Benning’s brought depth to our prospect pool and that’s something we never had with Gillis.

          • Bud Poile

            Vanessa,the voice of reason.Thank you.

            Gillis pulled two regular roster players out of 42 picks-giving the other ten away to ‘win now’.Gillis with his 5% success rate sunk his own future along with this club’s future.We can add to his % with Cody and Brendan so about 9% success rate. However,losing both starting goaltenders for Horvat eliminates Horvat, bringing him down to about 7%.

            “In the case of the Keith Ballard trade, Mike Gillis made the right bet and lost. And he didn’t just lose, he lost spectacularly. This was a bold move that misfired enormously, especially when you consider that the Keith Ballard trade cost the Canucks a top-line scorer, a legitimate NHL grinder, a first round pick and (indirectly) a quality top-four defenseman.” Thomas Drance


          • TheRealRusty

            Vanessa. I would content that all picks past the first 10 picks are more educated guesses… If the Calgary staff were that great, they won’t have waited until the 4th round to pick Johnny Gaudreau.

          • LTFan

            Well said Vanessa. I was never a fan of Gillis.
            Probably there was some interference from the owners which tied his hands to some degree.

            Going back for a long time, the Canucks drafting has never been that good. That is on the scouts.

            What Benning seems to bring to the organization is someone who knows what he is doing. He has made some good picks after Round 1. His Round 1 picks, so far, have not produced anything and that is disappointing. Hopefully Boeser and Juolevi (Round 1 picks)can make the team next season and raise the overall quality of players on the Canucks. Some of the other players mentioned, in the following years, after getting some good experience in the AHL.

            IMO we are on the right path to a more competitive team.

        • Killer Marmot

          Gillis’s ineptness at drafting can not just be blamed on lack of early draft picks. In his first four years as general manager, the best pick he made was … Cody Hodgeson. No other pick played more than 175 games in the NHL.

          That is appalling.

        • Whackanuck

          Whoa, unless one is comparing the same development period the results will be skewed. Especially if the [Benning] picks are mostly still of junior age.

          It’s also Bennings first job as GM. Who had the final say on picks in Boston? Or trades. In the infamous Seguin trade video I don’t recall Bennings voice-could be wrong here.

          However if one wants more meaningless comparisons, let’s talk about the same 6 year period in the rebuttals and let me point out that during 6 years Benning scouted for Buffalo 18, yes 18 players played at least 100 games, many of them in 300, 400, 500+. But we can give Don Luce the credit for that!

          What’s with the Benning hate over drafting today?

      • Dirk22

        Wasn’t taking a shot at you for writing it – the phrase been said by many over and over – on here, the radio etc. How he got that label is what is unclear. As pointed out, certainly not from his Bruins days….so Buffalo?

  • Bud Poile

    In 2006 Benning became the assistant GM of the Bruins.

    Under his tenure the Bruins have drafted Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Joe Colbourne, Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton.

    Notable trades in his tenure as Bruins’ assistant GM:

    -traded Andrew Raycroft to the Leafs in exchange for the rights to Tuukka Rask.

    -traded up in the 2006 Entry Draft to get Brad Marchand

    -Acquired Andrew Ference and Chuck Kobasew from the Flames in exchange for Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart and a draft pick (2007)

    -Acquired Johnny Boychuk from Colorado in exchange for Matt Hendricks (2008)

    Acquired Mark Recchi from Tampa for a couple of bums (2009)

    -Traded Phil Kessel to the Leafs in exchange for 3 top draft picks. 2 that are of current significance: Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton

    -Bruins win the Stanley Cup


    • Chris the Curmudgeon

      Out of curiosity, wasn’t Benning also the assistant GM when they traded Seguin away? Maybe that one could get be chalked up on the negative side of the ledger?

    • Freud

      One more time for ol’ Bud.

      Chiarelli was not permitted by the NHL to join the Bruins until July 1, 2006 as he was still under contract with Ottawa.

      Chiarelli hired Benning, so Benning also joined Boston after July 1st.

      The draft in 2006 was in June, before Chiarelli and Benning joined the Bruins.

      Asst GM Jeff Gorton made the picks for Boston in 2006.

      This is all available with a simple google search.

      Quoting an ignorant and incorrect article from nucksmisconduct does not change those facts.

    • Dirk22

      Official fact checker for Bud ‘Fake News’ Poile.

      Lie #1: “Under his tenure the Bruins have drafted Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Joe Colbourne, Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton.”

      Truth – Benning wasn’t working for the Bruins when they drafted Marchand and Lucic. He was hired LATER that summer (July 25th). Jeff Gorton was GM.

      Lie #2: “Notable trades in his tenure as Bruins’ assistant GM:

      -traded Andrew Raycroft to the Leafs in exchange for the rights to Tuukka Rask.

      -traded up in the 2006 Entry Draft to get Brad Marchand”

      Truth – NOPE, that was Gorton making those trades. He traded for both Rask and the pick to get Marchand.

  • Dirty30

    Is that the same Derek Roy who Gillis gave up the last remaining Canucks draft pick for and who basically then played backwards into Canucks obscurity?

    I don’t think Vrbata, Higgins or Prust managed to be as futile as Derek Roy’s time as a Canuck.

    Must have missed Vanessa’s sarcasm font ….

  • Hockey Warrior

    Excellent points by FREUD and DIRK – take note Benning brigade. Indeed, it seems LOST on most here that CHIARELLI was the Bruins GM calling the shots NOT Benning and you CAN CLEARLY see the gulf in CLASS between the two when you LOOK at what Chia has outstandingly done in EDMONTON so far compared to what Benning has underwhelmingly done in Vancouver.

    Guys, let’s also remember that this so called ‘draft guru’ has had more MISSES than HITS on draft day since he arrived in Van… being a keen Draft Day expert myself, here are Benning’s TOP picks compared to the ones i actually chose each year of his so called ‘draft guru genius’ …


    Me – Nik Ehlers NHL PROVEN

    Benning – virtanen


    Me – Travis Konecny NHL PROVEN

    Benning – Boeser

    2016 Matt Tkachuk NHL PROVEN

    Benning – Juolevi

    GMJB Draft Guru… my a$$

    • Hockey Warrior

      Suck it up Bud the DUD, your boy BENNING is as FAKE as you and your other id CROFTON, and you just can’t handle the TRUTH. Jimbo WASN’T WORKING for the Bruins when Looch and Marchand were acquired! L-O-L

      Oh, also I see you still haven’t answered that question you were asked about being a Canucks supporter during the GILLIS/AV years and whether you were cheering for the Canucks during the 2011 CUP FINAL??… is that because you were cheering… for BOSTON…. BUD?

  • Pat Quinn Way

    Wow Incredible revelations that Benning and Chiarelli weren’t hired when Boston drafted Lucic and the Rat, I did not know that!

    It also goes to show that the internet is not always a reliable source for young journo wannabes to research the true facts of a story.

    Hey, how ya doin’ Bud, still dreamin that Pat Quinn had a hockey school in Langley during his two short years here as a player? bahahaha!!

    • Bud Poile

      “Hey, how ya doin’ Bud, still dreamin that Pat Quinn had a hockey school in Langley during his two short years here as a player? bahahaha!!”

      Don’t call me a liar when you haven’t even the slightest clue what you’re blathering on about.

    • Bud Poile

      Former Canuck.Watched him play.

      Honest and hard-working.

      Paid his dues,something most posters here don’t understand or won’t accomplish for another 30 years.

      My generation calls it respect.Your generation calls it a healthy or unhealthy hard-on,which defines your lot rather well.