Will the Canucks sign Carl Neill?

At this time of year, there is a lot of housekeeping that goes under the radar. Let’s be real here, though, it’s Vancouver so not too much goes unnoticed. We keep tabs on almost everything. Of interest recently is Canucks’ 2015 fifth-round draft pick, Carl Neill.

Still unsigned at the moment, the Canucks have until June 1 to sign the young defenceman to an entry-level contract before losing his rights completely.

Way back in October, I spoke with Francois Carignon about Neill as he covered the Sherbrooke Phoenix, who Neill played for at the time. At the time, both sides had discussed a contract with the expectation they’d iron out an ELC sometime in either December or January.

It’s now April.

Obviously, plans change all the time, and this may have happened with Neill. Maybe the Canucks wanted to see how Neill handled the move to the Charlottetown Islanders.

The 6’1″, 200 lbs defenceman has played fairly well for the Islanders, posting 23 points in 31 games. He ended the season 2nd in points amongst defenceman. From first glance, the stats would suggest  Neill is worthy of a contract.

I explored that topic in January and came to the conclusion that Neill had shown enough offence flair over his QMJHL career to be worth the gamble. I did, however, mention the weakness in his game was his skating and defensive awareness.

At the time, I didn’t harp on his deficiencies enough as I wanted to highlight the positives of the draft class. But the concern about his skating abilities is valid. Suggesting that he may struggle to keep up at the AHL level is a fair conclusion.

Since that time, Canucks GM Jim Benning was on Hockey Prospect Radio on NHL Sirius XM on February 3rd, talking some of the organization prospects. Neill was brought up by host Shane Malloy, and Benning had this to say:

The thing we liked about Carl was his poise with the puck. Once he gets the puck on his stick, he sees the ice really well. He’ll hang onto the puck and make a good pass up to the forwards. We understand, with him, it’s about working on his mobility, his turning to get back there and to get pucks. We just felt that when he gets the puck on his stick, he’s smart, makes good plays with the puck and I think this year, he’s having a really good year.

He’s a good kid, a high character person. He’s worked hard off the ice. So, we are going to continue to monitor him and this year we have to decide this year if we are going to sign him or not.

Co-host for the episode, Anysley Scott asked what they needed to see from Carl Neill to make it at the next level:

We gotta make the decision as to if we think he can play at the American Hockey League level next year and keep developing as a prospect. We gotta get him signed and get him up to see what we have in him. We know this last summer, he’s worked really hard off the ice to improve his footwork, his mobility. I think it’s shown up in his game this year […]

We have our pro scouting meetings next week, Scott Walker and Ryan Johnson will be in. They are going to give us a presentation on him. He’s a guy we have to make a decision as to if we are going to sign him or not.

If you would like to listen to the part about Neill, it starts just shortly after the 12:30 mark.

When listening, Benning does praise Neill for his offensive instincts and adds ‘We gotta get him signed and get him up’, but does a few times mention that they have to make a decision on whether to sign him or not.

That interview was almost eight weeks ago now, and the organization have been active since.

The Canucks signed Jalen Chatfield from the Windsor Spitfires last month, and are interested in UFA Dareen Raddysh from the Erie Otters. Both of which have to turn pro next season.

Neill’s teammate, Guillaume Brisebois will also likely turn pro next season.

All three of the players are known for their skating abilities and transitioning with the puck on their stick.

Even if the Canucks are unable to sign Raddysh, Chatfield and Brisebois will be heading to the professional ranks. Jordan Subban (if he’s still with the organization), Ashton Sautner, and Anton Cederholm are all under contract for next season. Cederholm may get loaned out again to another team.

Furthermore, Andrey Pedan and Evan McEneny are pending RFA.

The Canucks will also need to make a decision on 2015 seventh-round pick Tate Olson.

Then there’s the matter of other defencemen joining the Canucks through free agency or the Comets adding players like David Shields.

That’s all to say that it may become crowded down in Utica, and a decision needs to be made on who to retain.

Lastly, the Canucks are currently sitting at 32 contracts for next season with 15 pending RFA (including the players mentioned earlier), so decisions have to be made. Tough decisions.

This management has shown a willingness to cut players despite high scoring numbers because they don’t see them being able to translate those numbers to the NHL level. If their concern about Neill’s skating is enough that they are worried he won’t be able to hack it at the AHL level, they may decide to let him move on despite his high production.

They hoped for improvement over the two years since they drafted him, and have reached a point where they haven’t seen enough improvement to warrant further commitment.

The most recent pull of pGPS shows that 6.3% of comparable players to Neill went on to becoming NHL regulars. That number is higher than some of the recent UFA signings they have done.

The deadline for signing Neill is June 1st, so there is still time to get a deal done, but there is some validity to their concern, and with their signings, interest in UFA’s and other draft picks it could be left without a contract.

The optics of letting the second highest scoring defenceman in the QMJHL won’t be good, though.

  • Hope to see Carl in Utica next season. He plays the right side, so this makes him more valuable. If Subban gets traded, Carl slots right in.

    Lots going on with our young players, lots of important decisions to be made by management.

  • Jabs

    The harsh reality in pro sports is that every prospect or draft pick doesn’t end up getting signed and turning pro. Neil has been a favorite given that he has scored a lot since being drafted and even played on his own team for a while but in training camp he has looked really slow, especially transitioning.
    It may be best to explore the possibility of saving a contract and trying to slip him through such that Utica signs him to see how his game translates professionally.

  • Fred-65

    To be honest these are low priority players with a slim chance of ever playing and NHL game. Looks to me that Chatfield has overtaken Neill. It’s all in the eye of the beholder ( Benning & Co. ) I suspect the differences are small between him and others. Reality is the guy should be looking around for opportunities else ware.

  • wojohowitz

    I haven`t seen him play but is he Dana Murzyn slow? Maybe he projects like a Brent Sopel – great with the puck but not mobile enough and both those guys had a NHL career.

    • theminister

      Maybe not a bad comparison to Sopel but he played in a very different NHL. The ultimate question to me is what the NHL will be in 4-5 years, and does he project to fit? Maybe but definitely room for doubt.

      • Fred-65

        I liked Sopel although I realize many didn’t. He paied up well with Ohlund and they were a great duo for many seasons. Then again Sopel played a very prominent role for Chicago when they won their first of many SC with this group and there was no one better than Brent keeping the puck in play at the point. I used to love Ohlund and him doing that cross over move on the PP always screwed up the PK 🙂 Interesting his comments recently about his his demons

        “The 12-year NHL veteran, who finished his hockey career with the Chicago Wolves, said it wasn’t until he had his oldest daughter tested that he realized that he, too, had dyslexia and dysgraphia. “I could barely read or write, but I never thought it was because I had a learning disorder. I thought it was because I was an idiot,” he wrote.
        He said the disorder led to alcoholism, an addiction he fed during downtime as a hockey player.” He was on local radio and wrote an article for The Players Tribune

  • Neill didn’t stand out at the last training camp but he could be the next Kevin Connauton: depth offensive defenseman with some trade value. If signed and eventually traded, at least we’d get back some value for the 5th round pick.

  • OMAR49

    Optics shouldn’t be a factor when building a team. He may be the 2nd higest scoring D-Man in the QMJHL but if the guty can’t skate or defend then he won’t do us much good. Signing someone who might be a good depth D-Man when we have so many others who can fill that role makes no sense. He was a 5th round and the chances he would ever make the NHL were always very slim. I say, save the contracts for someone who may have more upside

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    A part of me hopes they don’t, just so I don’t need to hear anymore of the funny-for-a-week, dragged-on-for-two-years inside joke about how he plays for the Utica Carl Neills or the Vancouver Carl Neills.