Photo Credit: Vincent L. Rousseau

Report: Canucks Won’t Sign 2015 Draft Pick Carl Neill

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.

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)).

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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.

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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.

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    • Jamie E

      Or perhaps they are signed to AHL contracts with Utica that give the Canucks greater flexibility. Or not. I remember a time before the internet when we didn’t track 5th and 7th round draft picks and didn’t give a spit.

  • Neil B

    13 RFAs, including Tom Nilsson (going to Sweden), Gaertig (ECHL goalie), Shore, and Rodin (probably going to Sweden); so really 9 RFAs. And that’s assuming they re-sign Guds, Chaput, and Cramarossa. So maybe 8 RFAs to re-sign.

  • Steamer

    Stewart, LaPlante, Marino, Roy = loss of Neill, Olson, et al – time will tell, but optics are not improving for Benning & his questionable penchant for signing or drafting. The Gong Show continues. Can’t wait for Jim to now trade for Ryan Spooner to play with Eriksson, the granddaddy of all hopeless, useless signings. The tank begins here, now.

    • DJ_44

      Complete FUC. Optics are bad? They make personnel decisions. Stewart LePlante Marino and Roy are not who Neill and Olson are competing with for playoff spots: it is Chatfield and potentially Raddysh. Professional hockey people make decisions. It is what it is.

    • TrueBlue

      Guess they didn’t want to change the jerseys in Utica. I wonder if the ‘Carl Neills effect’ carries over outside of hockey? He should become a lawyer, then it won’t be weird if his name is on the door.

      Thanks for the ‘shopped pic, it’s a good send off.

  • Neil B

    If I may, I was just looking up Moneypuck’s assessment of the 2015 draft, and I noticed that, at the time, PCS gave Neill an 8% shot, which was above what was expected for that draft position.

    According to pGPS, in the intervening time he has actually dropped, rather than improved, his odds of success by 1/4, from 8% to 6%. I know, the two systems do not provide equivalent outputs, and I realize that the relative drop is much more significant that the 2% drop it actually represents. However, it clearly shows that, despite his improvement in counting numbers, Neill has actually regressed in development over the past two years.

    It seems odd to me that a supposedly analytics-driven website would abandon a critical look at Neill’s trendline in favour of a narrative that Benning isn’t running his 50-player roster well–especially when the basic facts for that narrative is demonstrably incorrect–including a player that your own website states is going to Sweden in your list of 13 players Benning needs to sign, just for instance. Of course, Jeremy is well aware of this, as he also wrote the article about Tom Nilsson.

    • Riley Miner

      Jeremy Davis has noted that the QMJHL has historically not had a high percentage of successful NHL defenseman coming out of that league; thus his baseline success % suffer the further he goes in his development in the Q. He statistically improved by leaps and bounds almost every year he played, and was the top scorer. Points usually equal success.

      Despite my defense, I there’s still a concern about his skating ability and his defensive coverage after two years of development which is rather concerning considering the way the game is heading. The organization is stressing a focus on speed, so it’s not surprising to me that Neill wasn’t signed. I was hoping they would, however. Perhaps they can give him a camp invite if he slips through the draft and sign him to an ATO in Utica.

      • Neil B

        His counting stats improved year-to-year; but let’s remember that he is essentially a defensive version of Dane Fox (currently on an ECHL contract); a man playing against 16-year old boys. His numbers should have shown an increase. The regression in his game is demonstrated that the Canucks didn’t think he would be best served playing in Alaska on an ECHL team, but returned him to juniors. It’s not specifically the Q, although that doesn’t help. He’s 20 years old (21 in July), and still playing in juniors. That’s the issue. At some point he should have graduated to some tier of minor hockey by now.

        His career in hockey, if he wants to follow one, is to either take advantage of his CHL scholarship program and play CIS hockey, or to go to tier II in Europe. Neither path requires a contract investment by the Canucks.

      • defenceman factory

        Unfortunate but it seems true. I think the articles that criticize Benning decisions are fine and when they involve appropriate analysis usually quite good. The spin of this article should be about Benning doing something right by not wasting another contract.

  • Smyl and Snepsts

    It is really a pretty simple decision for them. If you are not a very good skater you cannot play in the NHL in this day and age. He is a poor skater and at 21 is very unlikely to improve much.