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Benning Speaks: The Canucks Plans at the Draft

The Canucks made general manager Jim Benning available for the media today, and he was candid about a number of draft-centric topics.

In a 15-minute scrum, a troupe of reporters peppered the scout by trade on the players he’d consider with the fifth overall selection and the process that would lead them to each decision. It sounds like everything is on the table.

Benning wasn’t shy about their plans, walking a fine line between candour and posturing as he revealed their strategy for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. It all starts with the fifth overall pick. The only question is whether that will be where they pick when the ball gets rolling on Friday. Everyone’s talking about moving up to three — what about moving down?

“Depending on how the first four picks go, that’s something that we’ll look at,” Benning said. “Whether that happens or not, I don’t know. We really like two or three players, so [depending on] who goes before us that’s a possibility.”

It’s noteworthy that Benning concedes he’s playing a waiting game. Naturally, that indicates they’ve accepted that they won’t be moving up — whether it’s third, second or first overall. Benning seems content with the notion that he’s not picking any higher than fifth.

“I don’t think [moving up] is a possibility with where we’re at as a team. We don’t want to give up picks or prospects to move up.”. Benning continued “losing Luca yesterday, we have to keep the defencemen we have for next season. I don’t really see that as something that’s realistic.”

If the Canucks are going to jockey for position, it sounds more likely to happen at the end of the first. Benning revealed that they’ve considered using the combined leverage of their 33rd and 55th overall selections as ammunition to move back into the 20’s.

Yeah, we’ve talked about [moving back into the first round with the 55th overall pick]. We’ve identified players that, if they’re there from 20-30, and there’s a way to get back into the first round to select those players, we’ll look into doing that.

Should the Canucks retain their 55th pick, don’t be surprised if they use it (or another selection) on a goaltender. Benning confirmed a Matt Sekeres report from earlier this week which suggested the Canucks could use a “relatively high pick” on a goaltender.

“We’d like to take a goalie somewhere in the draft.” Benning told Canucks Army. “Depending on if there’s somebody that we like, we’ll take a goalie.”

Assuming the Canucks remain at five, though, it sounds like they’ve a handful of players to consider, which speaks to the variance in this draft past the second overall pick. No two draft boards are alike, from analysts to the teams themselves.

When approached about how the Canucks can address an organizational need at centre, Benning conceded “there [are] three or four players that we feel fit that [as a] playmaking centre.”

It’s no secret the Canucks value Portland Winterhawks centre Cody Glass. The Canucks followed the rangy, two-way centre for much of the season. Is Glass a player the Canucks would consider with the fifth overall pick? Benning wouldn’t reveal that much, but his answer speaks to

“I think he’s good in all three zones, and the thing with [Glass] is his execution rate with the puck when he has the puck on his stick [and his] ability to make a play that leads to a scoring chance is high. So he’s a player that we like.”

What if Glass isn’t available? Well, the centre they might be targeting with that pick could catch you by surprise. When asked about the prospect of drafting Timra centre Elias Pettersson, Benning sidestepped the question to get right into how he feels about Windsor Spitfires forward Gabriel Vilardi.

“Vilardi is in that group [of playmaking centres]. Vilardi’s strong on the puck, he makes plays with the puck from the top of the [faceoff] circles down — I think he’s really good.”

I had a chance to speak with Vilardi not long after Benning’s media availability, and he confirmed that the Canucks have engaged him in discussions at the combine and leading up to the draft.

That’s a break from the company line. The Canucks have either been connected to or gone at length to express their interest in a handful of centres — Vilardi’s name never came up, until today. Their primary issue with Vilardi, as I understand it, is his skating. They’re not alone in holding that concern.

If there’s one reason I’d caution against looking too far into the Canucks sudden and perhaps convenient connection to Vilardi, it’s that these are the times of obfuscation. Remember when the Canucks spoke fondly of Matthew Tkachuk at every occasion last year? Far as I can tell, he wasn’t even in consideration. It’s all about throwing teams off the scent.

Benning admitted that it’s an exciting time of year for the Canucks. The longtime scout is excited about the prospect of picking four times in the first 64 picks of the draft — a company line he’s all too happy to tow.

The Canucks have the potential to add a significant building block for their nominal rebuild. Better still, they’ve explored contingencies for their later picks to get as much value with each pick as possible. They’re prepared. For the first time in years, they have the draft capital to showcase it.

  • Rather than moving up from #33, I’d rather see Benning focus on upgrading the #55 to a #32-45 pick using his 3rd or 4th round picks. In this “weak draft” (which Shane Malloy preferred to call “average”), the value of a 1st round pick isn’t as high since there are quite a few 1st round ranked players that have a good chance of slipping to the 2nd round. Malloy doesn’t think there is an NHL player beyond #45-50.

    This year’s draft reminds me of the 1999 draft where there were very few players that became significant players (e.g. out of 272 players drafted, only a dozen players like the Sedins, Zetterberg, Vrbata, Erat, Havlat, and Connolly really made it).

  • Carl Jung

    Vegas is probably best situated to get the 3rd pick from Dallas.

    They can offer Methot and one of their mid 1st rounders.

    McPhee could walk away with a top centre and defense prospect very easily.

    They coul

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    It’s “toe the line”, JT.

    I think not trading Tanev is a big mistake. He’s worth at least a first round pick and JB seems to have scouted this draft extensively. Why not add some bullets to that gun instead of still worrying about “competing” next season, which won’t happen with or without Tanev.

    • Neil B

      It’s possible that he’s waiting to see how our ‘nearly ready for showtime’ D prospects are. If more than one of Pedan, McEneny, or Subban (or Juolevi/possible D taken in this draft) are able to make a good camp, then we might see him try to move Tanev at the deadline, like a number of folks here have been pressing for. If he could get a middle-round pick for Tanev in the 2018 draft, that might work out better for us, long-term. It does mean having to deal with the limited NTC, though, which is something I’ve suggested we avoid. Even though it’s not horribly restrictive, it’s still a potential choke-point.

      • Donald's Hat Trick

        Buyers for Tanev at the trade deadline at best are going to be able to offer middle of the first round picks, and since he has a say in where he goes the odds are that pick will be late in the first round. Furthermore, given his injury history Tanev could be hurt or just back off injury and that would hurt is value further. The Canucks have got to get something done now. Hopefully Benning has had PR coaching and what he’s telegraphing is just misinformation.

        • Neil B

          Oh, I agree that we should trade him before the NTC kicks in–preferably today. I’ve even mentioned that in the posting above. I hope that you’re right, and he’s just trying to let everyone know he’s not afraid to sit out a bad trade (cough Dallas cough).

    • The Math Professor

      Everybody wants to trade Tanev and repeats the same tired arguments. Are these the same people who a year ago were aping the idea that Erickson was the best free agent to sign? Please give this a rest

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    I think Canucks should trade Tanev to Vegas for their 4th overall draft pick, a defencemen, and perhaps a 3rd/4th draft pick. Vegas can then use Tanev or Methot to negotiate with Dallas for the 3rd overall pick, without having to compete with Canucks, like in the Russell vs Hamhuis debacle.

    • Neil B

      Interesting take. I think I’d throw a prospect in with Tanev, though, and see if I could get Reilly Smith instead of a D. I think he’d be an ideal second-line partner for the Sedins at this point in their careers, and that contract isn’t that bad if he’s taking top-6 minutes. Plus, when we’re ready to move Tanev, we really need to be graduating prospects, not bringing in outside help.

  • Steamer

    Interesting comments. Pettersson, Glass, Vilardi – all possible, as are Liljegren & Makar – & who knows who else? Like to know which player(s) interest them in the late first round. Such variance this year depending on ranking-source – some players range 30-50+ places! One more sleep:)

  • TD

    The thing about bigger players like Vilardi is that the skating often lags behind. The smaller players are often better skaters and puck handlers at a younger age while the larger players look awkward. Vilardi is an August birthday making him one of the youngest players in the draft. At 6’3″ 200+ pounds as a 16-17 year old he was probably awkward. Over this past year his skating has improved significantly. If he continues to improve, which is normal for the bigger kids, then he could end up as a dominant player in a similar mould to Getzlaf. Sounds pretty good. CA often focusses on the player in junior and not what they will become. There are lots of smaller dominant players in junior. Their struggle is to put on some muscle to allow them to compete in the NHL. The larger players need to improve their coordination and skating. Almost every player drafted needs to improve somewhere.

  • Killer Marmot

    They’re prepared. For the first time in years, they have the draft capital to showcase it.

    Well, three years. In 2014, the Canucks had two first rounders but no fourth rounder.

  • Minum Crotchett

    When the interviewer brings up Pettersson, Benning switches gears a bit and starts talking about Vilardi. He seems to have more head movements and a higher level of agitation as he responds to the question. He also looks up to the right as his detailed response discusses somehow avoids talking specifically about Pettersson. Based on this interview, it seems to me Benning is most interested in Glass. And if Glass is not there at #5, he might look to trade down for the purpose of picking Pettersson or a defenseman.

  • Gored1970

    See what the NYI’s want for Hamonic (Virtanen and the 33rd or the 33rd and 55th) then trade Tanev to Dallas for 3OA, the rights to Nikushkin (sp?) and Lehtonin or Niemi.

    • Neil B

      If Tanev is worth #3 overall, is Jake +33 enough to get Hamonic? If so, then surely Dallas can make a similar offer with Nichuskin as the lead bait.

      It’s sounding more & more like the Tanev-to-Dallas that we’ve all (myself definitely included) been hyping online isn’t going to happen. If, by some miracle it did, I’d rather just throw money at a Stone/Girardi/Franson on a 2-3 year deal.

  • I could see NYR trading the #7 and #21 for Canucks #5 and #33 if Makar and Heiskenen are gone by #5. NYR gets first shot at Vilardi, Glass, Mittelstadt, and co. We still get a Top 10 player (e.g. Petterson, Necas, maybe Glass) and a shot at a Top 15 that drops to #21 (e.g. Valimaki, Liljegren, Foote, Suzuki, Yamamoto).