Things have already changed.
The organization signed Jake Kielly from Clarkson University this week and it already creates a different picture of what to expect. Now, as we move onto the defence, things changed even more so in the past week on the backend. Which is a good thing because one of the major criticisms of the organization last summer was coming back with the same defensive group that struggled in 2017-18.
At the very least, they look poised to make changes in the prospect pool after adding some depth via the NCAA free agent route.
Let’s dive into the defence to see where it stands now and how it could change even more.
The Canucks have the following defencemen signed for the 2019-20 season:
|Quintin Hughes||Troy Stecher|
|Olli Juolevi||Chris Tanev|
|Ashton Sautner||Alex Biega|
|Guillaume Brisebois||Jalen Chatfield|
The only lock on the left side at this moment is Hughes with Sautner and Brisebois pushing for full-time spots as depth defencemen. There are a bunch of pending free agents that will make the everything a little clearer by the end of this exercise.
The right side appears a little more set with incumbents Stecher, Tanev, and Biega all signed through the 2019-20 season. There is reason to believe they will look to improve that side but those three could hold down three of those four spots.
Chatfield and Eliot will almost certainly start the season in Utica next year with hopes of being a call-up option when injuries occur. We can’t expect Olli Juolevi to make the leap to the NHL after missing the majority of this season with an injury and thus he would likely start the year in the AHL.
Pending Free Agents
- Unrestricted Free Agents: Luke Schenn, Alex Edler, Evan McEneny (Group VI)
Two defencemen in the Canucks current two six are pending free agents and the Canucks are reportedly interested in bringing both back for another season. Edler provides the team with a stable force who can eat up minutes, handle powerplay and penalty kill duty, and provides a veteran presence. The only issue is his age and injury history when looking at the contract to keep him.
Luke Schenn has been good in his limited time with the Canucks and provides them with the grit on the backend that they desire. If the deal is a one year deal under the maximum buriable ($1.05M per), then there is no harm in keeping him in the fold.
Despite having a strong season this year with the Comets, it appears that he is not in the long term plans for the organization and will likely pursue other options after becoming a Group VI unrestricted free agent this summer.
- Restricted Free Agents: Ben Hutton (Arb. rights), Derrick Pouliot (Arb. Rights), Josh Teves, Brogan Rafferty
Off the top, Teves and Rafferty won’t be going anywhere and will be signed to new contracts at some point this off-season without the constraints of the entry-level contract system. You can expect both to start the season in the AHL with hopes of quickly ascending the depth chart.
Rafferty is an intriguing option on the right side due to his style of play and willingness to be physical, which could aid him being a callup option quicker than some of the other guys.
It’s fair to believe that we have seen the last of Pouliot with the organization. If the Canucks provide him with a qualifying offer, Pouliot’s representation would likely file for arbitration and the Canucks would be forced to accept it (as it will be below the threshold to walk away). Given that, they likely don’t qualify him and is free to walk as a free agent.
Given the Canucks desire to make changes on the backend, their desire to bring back Edler and Schenn, and the contract that would need to get done to keep Hutton, you’re able to conclude that Hutton may be a piece the Canucks move to shake things up. He’s had a decent season overall that suggests he can (and will) be an NHL defenceman but his impact may be limited.
With all that laid out and assuming the Canucks re-sign Edler, here is how the Canucks depth chart looks:
|Alex Edler (UFA)||Troy Stecher|
|Quintin Hughes||Chris Tanev|
|Ashton Sautner||Alex Biega|
Being conservative in terms of their prospects making a leap and assuming that they move on from Hutton, the organization has the ability to add talent with a whole new pairing. If they re-sign Schenn, then he can slot into the third pairing right side with Hughes or another addition.
Here’s the framework on how Utica could look to start next season (don’t read into the pairings/depth chart):
It’s a good balance of players with professional experience and then NCAA prospects that are coming in to close out this season. It would create some healthy competition among those players working towards being the first call up option.
Lastly, unless he blows the doors off at training camp, Jett Woo will head back to the WHL for his D+2 season. He is eligible to represent Team Canada at the World Juniors and could possibly be moved at some point in the season by Moose Jaw to a contender in the WHL.
There may be some hesitation to move Hutton but given the reported desire to bring back Edler and Schenn, it’s not unreasonable to think he is the odd man out. This team has not been good enough over the last few years and changes will have to be made.
If Schenn is signed, then maybe that bumps Biega or Sautner down to Utica to start the year as I think adding two defencemen via free agency and trade will be the best approach. You can’t just make one change and then expect completely different results.
It will be interesting to see how the organization handles this summer as it’s becoming abundently clear how important this off-season is and how it can shape where the team trends over the next few years.