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Building the 2019-20 Vancouver Canucks: Defence

Last week, we started to take a look ahead to what the Canucks have in net for next season and predict what might happen.

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.

Already Signed

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
Mitch Eliot
Jett Woo

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.

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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.

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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.

Depth Chart

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):

Teves Rafferty
Juolevi Chatfield
Brisebois Eliot

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.

Closing Thoughts

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.

  • Killer Marmot

    The surprizing suggestion is to move Hutton. Hutton’s stats are okay (although not great) if you ignore the time paired up with Erik Gudbranson. And in the highly improbable event that Edler is injured, the Canucks would be left with no veterans on the left side. For these reasons, I’m skeptical that Hutton is going anywhere.

    • North Van Halen

      Boy Genius did a piece on Ben Hutton in the Athletic, basically said it’s time to sell as high as you can on old Ben because he is not good at defence. His WAR is actually worse than Guddy’s over the last 3 years. Despite his above average ability to break up plays before they get to the zone and how well he moves the puck, his gap control and lazy feet in the defensive zone allows too many quality chances against.
      Apparently Green was right about what he saw in Hutton all along. Unlike like last year, Ben hasn’t lazied his way into being unmovable, so I think Ryan’s right, Ben is going to be moved this summer.

    • Wiseguy

      I expect Hutton to be moved as well and his spot being filled with a veteran Benning signs this off season. Benning has stated recently that a main focus going into next year would be improving defence, you probably wont accomplish that with prospects even if they come from the college ranks, my feeling is he will get a proven vet for the left side.

    • MM

      Hutton’s probably gone, but they may go down the path of not qualifying Hutton, and then re-sign him to a lesser amount. I think the price tag on him is too steep for what he brings to the table.

  • Bud Poile

    Hughes is the heir apparent and could be on the second unit pairing next season if they move Hutton.
    Hutton brought all of five goals this season playing second d pairing minutes.
    Brisebois and Sautner have shown that they can fill in for the 3/4 slots.
    Then there is Joulevi pushing for a spot.

    • Kootenaydude

      Stetcher put up 2 goals all season and 1 of those was an empty netter last game. The guy has the worst shot in the league. Every defenceman on this team should be moved it means improvement for this team

    • argoleas

      I don’t believe they will got for any UFA to fill that RHD spot. Schenn will be their 3RD. Maybe not full-time, but often enough, with Biega, and maybe Rafferty spotting in. If they do go for a UFA, 2020 may be their target year if they want someone to upgrade on a departing Tanev.

      • Kanucked

        Hope you’re right. The only UFA RHD that I think might be a good fit is Stralman on a short (< 3 year) contract. Might be a good stop gap to allow for a Tanev trade and the younger players to be ready.

  • Ronning4ever

    Given injury history, what happened this year and what’s available, I can’t imagine them letting Hutton go. I feel they’ll resign Schenn for depth (if he agrees to a deal), let Pouliot and McEneny walk and sign a FA RHD. Also feel the logjam at forward next year means that they’ll roll with 7 D:

    Edler – ???
    Hughes – Tanev
    Hutton – Stetcher

    Sautner – Schenn
    Juolevi – Chatfield
    Brisebois – Eliot
    Teves – Rafferty

    15 bodies for a club that has already used 13 Dmen this year and has no NHL contracts currently in Utica.

  • argoleas

    Good overview and projection for next season.

    Hutton does present an interesting case, and that goes into the idea of what his new contract would look like and whether it is worthwhile for Canucks to lock themselves into a longer term deal (although I can’t fathom them giving him more than 3 years) that may block the ascension of a Juolevi. Now, I suppose they may still extend Hutton and just trade him later, providing some near-term insurance while Hughes completes his rookie season and Edler does Edlering and gets injured for 10-20 games.

    Or, maybe mgmt has way more faith in Hutton than others. We shall see in the Summer.

  • Rodeobill

    Edler seemed to take the night off last night against the sharks for some reason, Lazy penalties, outlet passes, holding it in at the blue line, and coverage. And then I remembered that it has been a while since I have seen “that” Edler. He has been really consistent for the most part this year, but I’m afraid of which Edler will show up after his contract is renewed. Strange about Hutton’s numbers, the “eye” test looks good this year, perhaps he is being asked to play a lot of first pairing minutes with less than helpful partners? He looked alright with Stecher last night. I, also hope they do not over spend on Myers in the off season. He is still probably better than any righties we have now, but Victor Hedman he is NOT, and probably will be looking for more than he is worth. I often watch the Jets (my second team), and although he is big and has some skill, he does make a lot of mistakes. At best he is “pretty good,” but not a game changer, and if we are going to spend, that’s what we need.

    • bobdaley44

      Edler’s played a ton of heavy minutes this year and you’re ripping him for a night off on game 80 of a mean nothing game? Hutton’s eye test does not look good. Guy can’t play D hard enough or smart enough. He’s gotta go. Edler, Hughes and Juolevi should be your left side next year.

      • Bud Poile

        Well,you are correct ,Bob, as that is what Benning has already said:
        “If we can start next year with Hughes and Juolevi, that can help change the look of our defence.” Jim Benning

        • ClassOF2011

          Yah, and we must always believe what Benning ‘already said’ right Dud?

          “This is a team we can turn around in a hurry” – benning
          “Sutter and Gudbranson are foundational players” – benning
          “Eriksson is an elite scorer and playmaker.” – benning
          “I’m not a patient person. We expect to win because we hate losing. I can’t watch losing hockey. I can’t.” – benning
          “The bottom line is our goal is win games and to be competitive to make the playoffs. That’s what we’re here for.” – benning Feb 14th 2018

          Tell us… how is ALL that working out for ya Dud? Are you a benning believer Dud???… *tumbleweeds*

          • Wiseguy

            You upset bro?
            I for one am pretty happy with the up and coming talent JB has assembled during his time here without so much a sniff at a 1st over all. If memory serves me correct only a couple teams publicly let it be known they were going to lose for 1st overall (Buffalo and Leafs) and trust me they weren’t the only teams looking to do that over the years. Teams typically speak of competing to win games even while knowing they are in a rebuild, its just the way its been done in the NHL.
            I also believe the narrative that they had hoped to make one last push while the Sedins were playing and I wont fault them for that and then fairly quickly switched to the rebuild.
            We don’t live in a perfect world, real life should have shown you that much?

        • DJ_44

          Fox is eligible to become a UFA in 17 months, not this summer. You would not trade for his rights unless you know he will sign.

          Seeing as how you cannot offer him more money that other teams, there is little incentive for him to choose a team other than where he wants to go — other than playing next season of course — and then why not Carolina, since they could have burned a year of his ELC this season?

    • Holly Wood

      @ Braindead. I recall reading when Ron Francis was removed from the GM post in Carolina that the new Hurricane owner had some very different views from Francis. One of them was all the draft picks utilized on defencemen as he felt the team needed offensive help. Carolina has a stockpile of young defencemen in their system and it’s noteworthy that their AHL and ECHL affiliates are leading their respective divisions. Carolina may indeed be willing to deal away Fox or another good prospect. (In a perfect world they are interested in young under achieving Russian wingers) plus another asset

  • Kootenaydude

    Definitely sign Hutton. See how things go. Then trade him or one of our expendable left defencemen when other nhl teams get injuries. That way the Canucks can get maximum return for their player. Nothing wrong with a surplus of defencemen. I think Beiga would get claimed if he got put on waivers.

  • Ser Jaime Lannister

    Canucks need to make some bold moves and fix this awful D. Jets, Leafs and the Golden Knights are going to have some salary complications…time to exploit that by taking some salary back for a sweetener.

    2 Round pick and Troy Stecher for Collin Miller (maybe a player back for salary relief)

    1 Round pick (if its top 10 we keep and use 2020) 2 and 3 round pick plus Tanev plus Gadjovich for Jacob Trouba, Andrew Copp and we take back Dmitry Kulikov.

    Edler – Trouba
    Sautner-Beiga (no one tied up to term on the bottom pairing) giving options for our AHL or College FA to fight for a spot or get first call up.

    make some fu#$%ng moves please we need this team to turn the corner next year!

    • Braindead Benning

      Dude that Tanev trade proposal is a bit rich man, i get what your saying but, i think you could get a better deal with the players & picks you included?

    • Defenceman Factory

      Really like your thinking on these trades. I agree it likely takes a bold trade or two for this team to turn the corner. I don’t know if the specific deals you set out are necessarily the right or best ones to make but I do believe people put too much emphasis on needing to “win” a trade or extracting maximum market value instead of focusing on the improvement to the team a potential trade would have. I can hear the criticism already if the Canucks were to move some draft picks.

      Upgrades to the Dcorps like Kingslayer has proposed elevate the performance of the whole team. Save percentage and GAA improve as would possession metrics across all the forwards as the team just plays less in its own end.

    • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

      I like you’re enthusiasm, hence my thumbs up. I’m also sick and tired of waiting for this scouting guru to figure out that if he’s so good at scouting and drafting, why not accumulate more of those draft picks. Its like pulling teeth trying to figure out why Benning can’t be more proactive.

  • Kanuckhotep

    A lot of the blue line’s future may hinge on whether Juolevi can actually, finally make the big club. Having said this and lieu of OJ’s situation I don’t see Mr. Benning throwing money at an over inflated FA contract this summer as they wait for this present D group to prove they don’t need a Myers type. Unless Benning has something up his sleeve I don’t see Hutton going the way things appear now. But you never know.

    • LemonHart

      Erik is a heck of a good player, and likely would improve the team. But at 29 (when the new contract is signed) he’s a little on the old side for the rest of the Canucks team and would eat a massive amount of cap space to be signed. Just don’t see it being a good combination for either the Canucks or Karlsson.

  • DogBreath

    I didn’t see the game the other night but read that Hughes played RHD. If true, and he can make the transition, that would be an unbelievable bonus for the team, notably requiring fewer moves than anticipated to shore up the D.

    • Bud Poile

      Lines for the #Canucks vs. @SanJoseSharks:

      Brendan Batchelor @BatchHockey Apr 2

      • Bud Poile

        With that said,I watched the game and Hughes played LHD 5 on 5.
        I didn’t see him out on the second unit PP playing the right side.
        He has played RHD in the past and is comfortable playing there.His skating is elite so he could make the transition.
        Whether a teenager playing his off side as an NHL rookie is the wisest decision is another matter.

  • ClassOF2011

    Same old armchair delusion I see… at best under Benning you will get Edler re-signed and Tyler Myers. Here’s why…

    “I like *our defence now* and I like our centre ice. I can’t wait until the season starts.” – Benning 2017 and 2018 (same D corp)

    Back under your blankies boys, seasons over, or didn’t you notice yet?

    • Wiseguy

      Funny how you conveniently left out this years Benning qoute…
      Global news Mar 1, 2019
      “We’re going to look this summer to try to change things up in the back end, there’s work to be done on defence,” Benning said.

      • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

        Funny how you left out all the quotes from all of the media outlets and hockey writers that said unanimously that this team absolutely cannot come back with the same dismal d corps.

        Guess what? Jimbo proved them all wrong!

  • Fred-65

    Talking about defense here’s an interesting comment in THN, the article covered players who have fallen since their draft. Juolevi came in at #6

    Last year: 21st
    This year: 66th
    Given the pedigree he promised as the fifth overall pick in 2016, Juolevi obviously feels like a disappointment so far. He had off-season back surgery, and he lasted just 18 games in the AHL this season before season-ending knee surgery. It thus might feel like his development is stunted, but there’s actually been progress in his game. The Canucks are happy with his increased aggressiveness with the puck and smarter decision-making. His mobile, well-rounded game should make him a second-pair defenseman or better in the NHL – just not nearly as soon as the Canucks probably hoped.

    • ClassOF2011

      Absolute disaster pick Fred and totally inexcusable when you consider the kid had his first major surgery at age 15 and has been an injury plagued nightmare ever since… yet Benning clearly didn’t do his due dilligence.

      This kid is an absolute BUST especially consideriing NHL studs Sergachev, McAvoy and superstar Matty Tkachuk were availableto us at the same draft. ALL are going to the playoffs.

      This awful pick has set us back years, as the standings and zero playoffs show fred.

      • LTFan

        Usually disagree with ClassOF2011 but on this occasion he is right. Juolevi was a poor pick. It is unfortunate but it happens. I don’t expect that OJ will make the team next season out of camp and probably never play more than a handful of games in the NHL. I would like to be wrong – “but it is what it is”.

  • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

    My comment is not in relation to building/changing the defence, but rather, I would like to see a mgmt group actually acquire draft picks to supplement and build the defence corps, forward corps and goaltending throughout the organization as opposed to what Benning has been doing in signing NCAA players who have much lower ceilings as he continues to fill the entire organization with “support” players and “depth” signings.

    Make some trades for picks and get rid of most of the 3rd/4th liners and 5-8 dmen depth and get some damn draft picks.

    What kind of rebuild goes about for almost 5yrs with ZERO focus on additional draft pick accumulation???

    A Canucks rebuild helmed by Jim Benning. That’s what.