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.
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) June 22, 2017
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.”
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) May 1, 2017
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.”
Nation Network 2017 Prospect Profiles: #3 – Cody Glass https://t.co/fOg4fPHf0v
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) June 16, 2017
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.
#4 on the Top 100 Draft Eligible Prospects, Gabriel Vilardi: https://t.co/pT0rc1fyK3
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) June 16, 2017
“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.
Vilardi confirmed to me that he's spoken with the Canucks as a potential pick at fifth overall. Said he models his game after John Tavares.
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) June 22, 2017
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.