Exactly one month ago, Ryan Biech pondered whether the Canucks were going to sign Carl Neill, the defenceman they selected in the 5th round (144th overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. It appears that the answer to that question is going to be a “no”, according to News 1130’s Rick Dhaliwal.
Been told the #Canucks will not sign 20 year old D Carl Neill and he will go back into the NHL draft in June. Canucks 5th rounder in 2015.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) May 5, 2017
For the purposes of the NHL draft, Neill is considered to be in his age-21 season (according to section 8.10 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement), despite the fact that he won’t turn 21 until July 6th. The Canucks have until June 1st to sign Neill to an Entry Level Contract, after which they will lose his negotiating rights. He will now go back into the draft and available for selection on June 23rd and 24th in Chicago. Similar to the spirit of waivers, he cannot be a free agent unless he was eligible to be selected during the last draft and went without being picked (section 8.9 (b)(i)) – he was not eligible in 2016 because he was on the Canucks’ reserve-list as an unsigned draft pick (section 8.6 (a)(i)). If he is not selected in 2017, he will be free to sign with whatever team he choose, as he will be ineligible for subsequent draft (section 8.4 (a)(iv)) and will thus become a draft-related free agent (section 10.1 (d)).
Now that that’s out of the way, we can ponder why the Canucks would take this route and whether it is in the best interest of the franchise.
At this point, the Canucks have 34 contracts on the books for the 2017-18 season according to CapFriendly, with another 13 restricted free agents to contend with. Not to mention they’ll probably want to either re-sign Ryan Miller or sign another goaltender, unless they want to roll with a Jacob Markstrom/Richard Bachman combo next season.
All of this means that the Canucks are going to be awfully close to the 50 contract limit and thus have to start getting pretty stingy with who they have contracts to, especially if they are of professional age, as Neill is.
There are always going to be people who are by whatever decision the Benning regime makes, and it’s not hard to get into the headspace for this one. Carl Neill had a whole lot of points in each of his three previous seasons, scoring 40, 50, and 69 points respectively. That’s a couple of good bumps in the years since he was picked.
We have to consider the context however, given that Neill was originally selected following his draft-plus-one season, and thus has just completed his draft-plus-three season. Across the CHL and USHL leagues, no group has a lower rate of pro point equivalency than QMJHL defenders. Neill had just 25 of his points come at 5-on-5 this season, getting a massive 37-point boost at 5-on-4. On top of that, defencemen playing an overage season in the QMJHL almost never amount to anything. In a sense, he was doomed as soon as they returned him there. pGPS currently gives him just a 6% chance of becoming a full time NHL player.
Another potential reason that the Canucks might be choosing to pass on signing Neill, and one that follows more from the eye test than statistical measures, is his skating. Likely the reason that he was in the QMJHL as an overager this season instead of playing in the AHL is the fact that his skating is a considerable weakness at this point. He has a plodding stride and doesn’t accelerate quickly, nor does he get up to an impressive top speed. In the Q, he overcomes this with excellent passing, admirable vision and creativity, and a hard shot. I can see why the Canucks would be concerned about him transitioning to the next level.
With his offensive output, there might have been an argument for the Canucks to take a chance and try to make sure that his skating improved to passable levels – though one would assume that they’ve already pushed that and are somewhat disappointed with the results after two years. Unfortunately, given their situations with their other contracts, they’ve backed themselves into a situation where they have to be a lot more picky with who they sign. While Dmitry Zhukenov is rumoured to be heading to the KHL next season (he will be qualified but there isn’t likely a contract to be had there yet), it seems much more likely that the Canucks will sign their seventh round pick from that same draft, Prince George’s Tate Olson. Olson’s numbers aren’t as gaudy (certainly not this season), but he has a better all-around tool box and a much more promising statistical projection, aided by the fact that the WHL is a factory for defencemen.
(edit: Apparently they aren’t going to sign Tate Olson either, so there goes that theory)
This is of course a self-inflicted limitation. We’ve complained in this space about the amount of ELC’s being handed out to long shot free agents, and why many have said that taking chances on players like Mackenze Stewart, Yan-Pavel Laplante, Zack MacEwen and Griffen Molino is a low risk maneuver, we might be seeing one of the first casualties of those contracts right now. Carl Neill’s future as a professional hockey player is a little bit suspect, but I’d certainly be more willing to take a chance on him than on players like Stewart and Laplante, who are eating up contract spots whilst not even being able to stick with an American League squad stocked with AHL contracts and PTO’s.
At the end of the day, this isn’t the type of move that’s going to get me worked up. Lots of teams let players go without signing them. The problem that I have is that there are already worse players on NHL contracts in the Canucks’ organization. But signing Neill isn’t going to fix that – nothing can, since ELC’s can’t be bought out – so it’s just a situation that we’ll have to live with until they run their course.
That isn’t to sign I’m not going to miss him though.