Photo Credit: Winnipeg Free Press

Who does Jim Benning want?: Dissecting his Comments on Draft-Eligible Prospects

With the NHL Entry Draft just days away, there’s been significant debate over who will go where after the second pick. Unlike the past few drafts, only the top two picks have been a consensus. After Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick, there’s a handful of centres and three defencemen whose draft order can go anywhere.

Towards the latter half of the season, Canucks general manager Jim Benning made his draft needs public: a playmaking centreman or power-play defenseman. Over the past week, Ryan Biech has been writing prospect profiles for Canucks.com that contained a brief video of Benning describing specific players. Further, Ben Kuzma of Post Media spoke with the Canucks GM in his Top Five at Five series. Driven by anxiousness, excitement, and curiosity, I’m dissecting Benning’s comments simply to find out if there are any hints that he’s unknowingly leaving behind.

I do want to stress that this is merely speculation and I could be completely off base in my thoughts. There’s a lot of material to analyze, so let’s get started!

Cody Glass

Benning: “Cody’s a guy that has real good intangibles. He’s a playmaking centreman, but when we talk about the hard work and intensity and willingness to compete, he does all those things too. He’s a well-rounded two-way player.” (via Canucks.com)

Benning: “He plays in all three zones – he’s a complete player. When he has the puck, he makes his touches count and has a high rate of execution. He’s in the group of five or six guys who will fill our need for a playmaking centre – a guy who can make his wingers better by creating with vision and anticipation.” (via The Province)

I think Cody Glass is his guy and this is my reasoning:

  1. Benning called him a playmaking centre. This point is obvious because he’s said on numerous occasions that a playmaking centre is what he would target.
  2. Benning listed the qualities that make him a playmaking centre. I believe this is significant because he’s never openly spoken about what he’s looking for in that centre, let alone named a player who possesses those traits.
  3. By saying “He’s in the group who will fill our need,” Benning essentially admitted that they’d take a hard look at him – something he hasn’t said about any other player.
  4. Benning mentioned the intangibles, and we all know how much this organization loves intangibles.
  5. The Canucks flew him to Vancouver after the Combine.

The key idea to take out of Benning’s comments is that his playmaking centre is a player “Who can make his wingers better by creating with vision and anticipation.” If that’s how Benning describes his ideal centreman in the Kuzma interview, it’s likely that he does the same during scouting meetings. And if vision and anticipation are what come to mind when he speaks about Glass, a strong case can be made that he’s the guy the Canucks are targeting at number five.

Elias Pettersson

Benning: “He’s very skilled. He has real good vision of the ice, good hands. He had a real good year playing in the Allsvenskan. He’s going to need some time getting the physical strength, but he has all the tools to be a good player.” (via Canucks.com)

Benning on Pettersson: “His offensive skill and his playmaking abilities are his best assets. It’s his vision on the ice and how he can anticipate plays. He’s a tall, thin kid and will have to put on some weight and strength before he’s ready to play, but he’s a smart player.”  (via The Province)

The Elias Pettersson interest has picked up over the past few weeks, mainly due to News 1130’s Rick Dhaliwal’s report that he had also flown to Vancouver after the Combine. Projected throughout the season to go in the middle of the first round, it’s no secret that he needs to add weight to his tall, but slim frame. For the Canucks, they might see him as a possible gem who others would rank much higher should he be twenty pounds heavier.

Again, Benning went on to include the words “vision” and “anticipate” when describing Pettersson’s game – the two words he used to describe the playmaking centre he was looking to draft. This appears noteworthy because it seems the Canucks might be including him in the same tier as Cody Glass. They see the promise and potential, but all that’s missing is the strength. Don’t be surprised if the Canucks shoot for the stars and select Pettersson fifth overall.

Casey Mittelstadt

Benning: “When you talk about Casey, it’s about his offensive skill – his ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone and his release on his shot. He’s got a high-end release and has good accuracy to pick the corners.”  (via Canucks.com)

Benning: “It’s his flair for the offensive game and he’s one of those big-play players who can make a difference. He’s really good on the power play and carrying the puck through the neutral zone. He sees all the players on the ice and has a good release on his shot, too.” (via The Province)

Casey Mittelstadt is a player who’s been speculated to be the player that the Canucks are targeting. Benning had personally taken a trip to watch him play in Green Bay, but frankly, that’s all we’ve heard with regards to the Minnesota-native. Unlike Glass and Pettersson, Mittelstadt did not make a trip to Vancouver after the Combine. NCAA rules forbid NHL teams from covering the expenses of their amateur players, which means he would’ve had to pay for it himself. Frankly, it’s hard to combine his comments above with a personal visit to Wisconsin and automatically come to the conclusion that Mittelstadt is their target. It could definitely be a possibility, but I’m sure Benning has also gotten his good share of views on Glass and Pettersson as well.

Mittelstadt has fallen out of favour with many after the lack of upper-body strength he displayed at the Combine, but it’s unknown whether or not that’s a significant factor for the Canucks. Despite the results, some scouting reports indicate that he’s a non-stop player who’s consistent and always involved in the play – something that the Canucks might prioritize over his failure to do a pull-up.

If vision and anticipation are what first come to mind when Benning speaks of a playmaking centre, then Glass and Pettersson are going to be at the top of their list. Why not Mittelstadt? Simply because the Canucks GM didn’t explicitly mention those qualities when describing his game. Benning placed emphasis on his offensive skill – specifically his shot, not his playmaking ability.

Gabriel Vilardi

Benning: “He protects the puck well and makes good plays with the puck. He has the size and strength to get to the net. He plays a power-forward style of game.” (via Canucks.com)

Benning: “It’s his size and strength. His ability to protect the puck is his biggest asset. You see some of the bigger players in our division and how they buy time – that’s Vilardi’s big asset from the top of the (faceoff) circle down to get to the net. He also has a high-end release on his shot and he’s an interesting guy because he’s got a pro body already.” (via Vancouver Sun)

I believe Vilardi isn’t as serious of a consideration as the three players above are. Not only have there been minimal (if any) rumours connecting him to the Canucks, but Benning’s description of him doesn’t exactly scream “playmaker”. Rather than highlighting his vision and offensive skills, Benning pointed to Vilardi’s size and strength as the reasons why he’s considered a top prospect.

Whether it’s due to his Memorial Cup win with Windsor or his combination of size and skill, Vilardi has become an attractive option for many Canucks fans. Judging by Benning’s comments, he appears to be a player leaning more towards a Jake Virtanen-style of play rather than Henrik Sedin.

The Defensemen

Benning on Timothy Liljegren: “It’s the physical skills. For his size and strength – his ability to skate, transport the puck up the ice, his shot from the point on the power-play – he could develop into a real good NHL player.” (via Canucks.com)

Benning on Miro Heiskanen: “When you talk about Miro, it’s his hockey sense. He’s a real good two-way player, he moves the puck well, and he has good positioning defensively. He played in the Finnish Elite League all year and didn’t look out of place.” (via Canucks.com)

There were no mentions of Cale Makar in the interviews with Ben Kuzma and Canucks.com. Benning did, however, briefly mention him during an interview with Global News.

It’s been clear since February that Benning speaks very highly of Timothy Liljegren – higher than many others do. Although it was reported that the Canucks did not interview him at the Combine, it’s likely that they already had enough information to know they wanted him. Described by Benning himself as a potential power-play defenseman, I have no doubt whatsoever that Timothy Liljegren is the No. 1 defenseman on their list. A strong case can be made for Makar as well, as he arguably has the most offensive upside of the two. It was reported by a Denver-based writer that the Avalanche’s chief scout would take Makar over Heiskanen “in a heartbeat”.

Picking third and fourth respectively, both Dallas and Colorado have a dire weakness on the blueline. With Dallas being in a “win now” mode, the obvious choice would be to take an NHL-ready blueliner. I don’t claim to know their draft list, nor can I speak for them when I make this assumption, but I do want to point something out. If Dallas forgoes a defenseman and goes by their best player available, they’ve shown by taking Riley Tufte last year that they’re not afraid to draft a player out of high school. The weaker competition shouldn’t phase the Stars when deciding where to rank Mittelstadt on their list

In his past few interviews, most significantly with Pierre LeBrun, it appears Benning has put more emphasis on a centre rather than defenseman. As opposed to last year where Olli Juolevi was next on their list after Pierre-Luc Dubois, the Canucks might have two centres ahead of their first blueliner.

I’m led to believe that their draft list goes as follows:

  1. Centre>Centre>Defenseman>Centre OR
  2. Centre>Defenseman>Centre>Centre

Benning wouldn’t mention a defenseman as a possible draft target unless there were a legitimate possibility that they’d draft one, and this could only happen in a situation where the centre(s) they have ahead of the blueliner are taken. It’s the same situation as last year. If the Canucks were targeting Matthew Tkachuk if Dubois was taken, Benning wouldn’t have said they had a blueliner as a possible target. Because he did say that, however, it became fairly clear they were drafting a defenseman if their target was gone.

I’m almost certain when I say the Canucks’ first choice is a centre, and I’m merely basing this off Benning’s emphasis for a centre. Hopefully, this table breaks down my scrambled logic:

It ultimately all comes down to whether the Canucks have one or two centres ahead of (probably) Liljegren. If they have two, they’ll likely finish the day with one of them unless Dallas and Colorado both take the forwards that Vancouver had at No. 1 and 2. If the Canucks have just one centre ahead of Liljegren, then the likelihood of him becoming a Vancouver Canuck increases significantly. That situation would occur if one of Dallas or Colorado take a forward and the other takes a defenseman, and then the forward taken would have to be the one centreman the Canucks has ahead of Liljegren. As you can see, there are many different ways that picks three to five can unfold.

I want to reiterate that I’m purely speculating. I could be completely wrong, so I wouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket and trust that what I’m saying is written in stone. If I’m correct, then you heard it here first!

  • Carl Jung

    Unless the top 4 selections are all centres, I would like to see the Canucks offer #5 and #33 to the Coyotes for #7 and #23.

    Vancouver should be able to get one of Glass, Mittelstadt or (my personal choice) Pettersson at #7 and someone like Jokiharju at #23.

    That takes care of the skilled centre and defenseman.

  • Killer Marmot

    My bet is that Benning takes a centre no matter what.

    With the Sedins’ contracts ending in a year, and Sutter not appearing to be a bona fide 2nd-line centre, an elite centre is a priority. And although Petterson, Glass, Vilardi, and Mittelstadt all seem quite different, just who is the best among them is anyone’s guess — Benning would likely be happy with any of them.

  • wojohowitz

    Great job Vanessa on digging up those Benning quotes. I`ve had the impression over the last few months that Benning is fixated on Liljegren no matter who is available and that sends my blood pressure thru the roof. If Benning can get two of the top fifteen picks I`ll be happy.

    • RandomScrub

      Just making up random deals that other GM’s would have no interest in, eh? Why would ARI want Stepan over Strome? Or LA be willing to give up #11 for Baertschi?

  • freesole

    Where is Makar? He was the subject of some additional vetting by this management team after the combine and he is the most purely skilled D in this draft. If they take Liljegren, it will be a massive mistake.

    • vancouver millionaire

      Long time reader first time poster here. believe linden and the owners have already made their minds up on local guy Michael Rasmussen because they want bums back in seats and all the top guys in this draft will be long gone by 5.

      • truthseeker

        How will all the “top guys” be gone by #5? Assuming here that we’re obviously not talking about the consensus first 2.

        One of
        or Vilardi

        will be available. So I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Even if you take Petterssen out of the equation the other three are all considered the next best “C’s” in the draft. One of them will be there for us.

        • vancouver millionaire

          Nico and Patrick are the only elite top guys and we aren’t getting either. the rest are just ok in a weak draft with no guarantee of being nhl ready or bring excitement to the dwindling ticket buying fanbase. Being a season ticket holder myself, some of us have been told to expect Petterssen to be the pick. ownership is banking on the local draw ala stetcher and travis green to bring in some cash. benning and linden do as they are told from above when money is an issue, which it is for a franchise dropping hundreds of millions in worth every year since about 2012.

          • LTFan

            I can only shake my head in bewilderment when I hear a comment “for a franchise dropping hundreds of millions in worth every year since about 2012”. Where do you get this from – thin air? Sounds like you will fit in very well with some of the commentators on this site.

  • Rodeobill

    I think any of these choices including makar are ok and nominally on the same field. That’s why I dont want to see them trading up to 3, and that’s why falling to 5 this year is not that bad. There are about 5 or 6 picks in the same range after 2 that all look good. I personally hope we get Glass or Vilardi (if Vilardi was a month or two younger he would probably be talked about as the first overall in next years draft)

  • Ghost

    So where are the makar comments, he was just as high on makar in those twitter comments you used, yet you completely skipped over his makar comments for some unknown reason and landed on liljegren who sadly as much as a few van writers like him for his physical talent has poor hockey IQ once he passes the blue line and rushes the puck up the ice.

    I am just perplexed “Benning on the D” does not include makar comments where he cited prior how he would like a PP defenseman with a hard shot.

    Canucks Now‏ @CanucksNow Jun 19
    Replying to @CanucksNow
    Benning on Cale Makar: “It’s his ability to skate and jump up in the play, and his shot from the point – he has a hard, accurate shot.”

    • Vanessa Jang

      This article used his interviews with Ben Kuzma and Canucks.com. I hadn’t planned to include Makar because, up until last night, Benning had no interviews talking about him. By the time that interview aired, I was already preoccupied with some school stuff and didn’t have time to add Makar. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the No. 1 D because he has probably the most offensive upside, but I do think it’s Liljegren just because Benning has had such high praise for him dating back to February.