Photo Credit: Darryl Dyck – Canadian Press
Jim Benning was trumpeting his newest acquisition as a high-end skill player worthy of instant insertion on the Vancouver Canucks power play on Wednesday in the moments after the National Hockey League trade deadline. Willie Desjardins wasn’t prepared to go to such lengths for Nikolay Goldobin. At least not yet. And so, you can only wonder if the coach and general manager are in lock-step when it comes to how the club will deploy its players over the final 20 games of the season.
By dealing veterans Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen, the organization has run the white flag of surrender up the pole on a shot at the playoffs. Now, instead of wins and losses, the focus is clearly on player development and trying to see exactly what hockey club has in Goldobin and other young players.
However, Desjardins has shown in his three years on the job, a reliance on veterans and a reluctance to hand young players prime opportunities. It’s why the Sedins still roll out to start every power play; it’s why Alex Edler played 27:44 in a meaningless contest against Detroit on Tuesday and it’s why Ryan Miller has started 18 of the team’s last 24 games. The coach likes his veterans. He’s made that abundantly clear. As a result, we’re left guessing how he’ll handle a player like Goldobin with whom Desjardins admitted on Tuesday night he is not familiar. When asked if he would automatically plug the talented 21-year-old into an offensive role whenever he makes his debut, Desjardins was non-committal.
“I can’t really answer that until I see him,” Desjardins said. “I would think he’s probably a guy you’d look at the top three lines to give him a chance. But saying that, I think it depends how he plays. I don’t know where he’s going to be at. But I think we’d look at trying to give him a chance in the top three lines.”
Those comments were in stark contrast to the remarks Wednesday afternoon by Benning who left no doubt he wants to see his new prize prospect in offensive situations. And it’s not just Goldobin the general manager wants to see playing higher in the lineup. There are others who have waited patiently for a chance to show what they can do. In the eyes of the GM, it’s time to find out what the kids are capable of doing.
“I think we saw it last night with Boucher getting more of an opportunity and playing on the power play,” Benning said when addressing the media post-deadline. “Goldobin is a skilled power play guy so I expect him to get that opportunity to show what he can do. When you move out veteran players, somebody has to step up to fill their shoes. It’s going to be these young players we have left, it’s up to them to go out and prove that they can do it and show everybody and they’re going to earn it.”
In order for that to happen, the Canucks need Desjardins to demonstrate he can change his ways. These final 20 games are an opportunity to prove he can work with young players and help develop them at the NHL level. That should mean looking for ways to give Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi (when he returns to the line-up) a scoring winger to see the possibilities of a potential future first line for the hockey club. It should mean scaling back the ice time of the Sedins, Loui Eriksson and Brandon Sutter and giving more prominent roles to younger players at even strength and on special teams.
Benning believes he’s given the marketplace what it wants in the form of two key pieces of the Canucks rebuild. Now it’s up to the coach to carry out his end of the commitment.
“It’s exciting for our fans going forward now to see some of these young players,” Benning said. “And they’re going to get more opportunity now because we’ve moved out two veterans. So it’s going to be exciting for them to get the extra ice time, to get confidence and to show us what they can do. I think it’s going to be fun for everybody. It’s going to be fun for the fans to watch it and from the management standpoint it’s going to be good to see where these guys are at in their development and where they need to get to.”
The final 20 games will be difficult for the Canucks. Of that, there is no doubt. The schedule is tough, and the Canucks are bound to be overmatched on many nights. Wins on the scoreboard will be tough to come by, so victories for the Canucks will now be measured in ice time and opportunities for the youngsters. The general manager has done his part. It’s now up to the coach to follow suit.