Okay, this one makes considerably less sense.
A few hours ago, I published an article passing on information indicating that the Canucks were not intending to sign 2015 5th round pick Carl Neill. Just as I hit publish, it was brought to my attention that they apparently aren’t intending to say 2015 7th round draft pick Tate Olson either.
Been told the #Canucks will not sign D Tate Olson and he will go back into the NHL draft. Canucks 7th rounder in 2015.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) May 6, 2017
While I took the Neill news in stride, this Olson news is more jarring for a number of reasons – including the fact that I used the assumption that Olson would be signed as one of the reasons that Neill was set free. Only keeping one of the two defencemen picked late in 2015 made some sense. Keeping none of them is a bit perplexing, especially given recent events.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) April 20, 2017
All hail the once Luxurious Defence. In the past two weeks, the Canucks have essentially lost six defencemen off of their depth chart, with Tryamkin and Larsen fleeing to Russia, Chad Billins and Tom Nilsson returning to Sweden, and now two more junior defenders being let go by the Canucks themselves. That’s a huge hit, even if only one of those would currently be considered an NHL defenceman (sorry JD, I’m not counting Larsen in that category).
The Canucks now have just 13 defencemen under contract for next season, while Erik Gudbranson and Evan McEneny, who are RFA’s, make 15. Of those 15, only nine have played an NHL game before, and only seven have more than 15 games. Add to that that we fully expect to lose Luca Sbisa in the expansion draft in June, and that the market (if not the team) seems fully on board with trading Chris Tanev, and the Luxurious Defence looks awfully thin.
Tate Olson was no lock to make the NHL – he was a seventh rounder after all, and they achieve NHL success barely 10% of the time. But Olson did have a pretty substantial breakout season in 2015-16, scoring 47 points in 67 games. The Canucks were quite impressed and lathered him with praise, while TSN’s Craig Button went as far as to rank him as one of the Canucks’ five best prospects. The Canucks sent him into the offseason with the advice that he needed to work on his two-way game. He did that, and in 2016-17 he produced considerably fewer points – just 26 in 65 games. His percentage chance of NHL success, a gaudy 30% in 2015-16, fell to a paltry 7% at the conclusion of this season. A disappointing campaign both personally, and for his team: the Prince George Cougars were supposed to be a power house in the WHL, but instead they bowed out in the first round.
Prince George Cougars defenseman Tate Olson tells me that he was dissapointed that the #Canucks did not sign him. He goes back in the Draft.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) May 6, 2017
It’s been pointed out that the snubbing of Neill and Olson could indicate that the Canucks have high hopes of landing a CHL or NCAA free agent this off season. Popular targets include Erie’s Darren Raddysh (who I profiled intensively here) and Will Butcher, who was awarded the 2017 Hobey Baker Trophy and just captained the University of Denver to an NCAA championship. Butcher was a 2013 draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche, but he doesn’t seem likely to sign there and will become an unrestricted free agent on August 15th of this year.
Both Raddysh and Butcher represent much better bets of panning out, from a statistical perspective at least. Raddysh’s pGPS percentage of 38% would be among the best in the Canucks’ prospect pool. Butcher’s percentage of 11% is less impressive, as is usually the case with 22-year old’s coming out of college, but it’s still technically an improvement over both Olson and Neill. Troy Stecher’s projections weren’t all that rosy coming out of college either, so there’s a lot to be said for digging a little deeper. Either one would be a very welcome addition to the Canucks organization.
Of course, that feels an awful lot like counting your chickens before they’ve hatched. Neither one is exclusively the Canucks’ to bargain with, and neither is available to sign right now. Butcher, because his rights are still held by Colorado for another three months, and Raddysh because he’s in the middle of an OHL Final (he’s technically allowed to sign with an NHL team right now, but he’s a little preoccupied).
There’s hardly any need to rehash the fact that the Canucks put themselves in this position by signing low reward players to Entry Level Contracts over the past few seasons, since I just went over it in the Neill article, but the same logic applies, so think about it again. If the Canucks land one (or dare I say both) of Raddysh and Butcher, then this blow will be considerably lessened. Otherwise, that once promising(ish) defence looks to be in tatters.