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.