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Photo Credit: © Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Jim Benning Five-Year Rewind: The Forsling Incident And Other Minor Transactions

It’s been a minute since our last edition of the Jim Benning Five-Year Rewind, so we’ll start by explaining the premise of this little project.

The 2019/20 season marks GM Jim Benning’s sixth with the Vancouver Canucks, and that allows us the benefit of five full years of retrospection on the earliest moves of his tenure. The Rewind is intended to be a sort of rolling history that keeps track of how each of Benning’s various transactions look with a half-decade’s worth of hindsight.

Last time around, we took a look at the hiring of Willie Desjardins, and before that it was a two-parter on his first dalliance with free agency.

Today, we’re here to ring in 2020 by examining the handful of minor deals that Benning closed out 2014 and opened 2015 with – though at least one of the moves garnered a major reaction from the fanbase.

First up is perhaps the least consequential, a November 20, 2014 transaction that sent Kellan Lain to the Edmonton Oilers.

The Trade

To Edmonton:

Kellan Lain

To Vancouver:

Will Acton

 This quite literal minor league trade between two Pacific rivals drew a little attention because of the inclusion of Kellan Lain – the quite literal centerpiece of the infamous five-on-five opening faceoff brawl with Calgary the season prior.

Neither Lain nor Will Acton would play in the NHL again following this trade, and neither of them stuck around in their new organizations for long. Acton finished the season with the Utica Comets – including playing nine games on their way to the Calder Cup Finals – and then left for the DEL, where he remains to this day. Lain, meanwhile, played only two games for the Oklahoma City Barons post-trade before being injured. He moved on to the Iowa Wild and then the Comets again the following season under an AHL contract, and then back to the Edmonton organization again for one last season with the Bakersfield Condors in 2016/17 before leaving professional hockey.

Their AHL stats post-trade aren’t all that consequential, but here they are anyway.

Post-Trade Stats (Regular and Postseason Combined)

Player League Games Goals Assists Points PIM
Kellan Lain AHL 20 2 1 3 23
Will Acton AHL 54 12 10 22 28

There’s certainly an argument to be made that the Canucks organization got more out of Acton than Edmonton did out of Lain following this deal. While injuries were a factor for both players, Acton played a valuable role on a Utica team that earned some important playoff experience for Jacob Markstrom and Jake Virtanen. That’s definitely worth more than Lain’s two games with the Barons.

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Overall, however, this was a minor league trade with minor league consequences, and we’ve probably already dedicated too many words to it.

Just five days later, on November 25, Benning made a deal that seemed at the time like it may have implications at the NHL level.

The Trade

To New York Islanders:

Alexandre Mallet

3rd Round Pick in 2016

To Vancouver:

Andrey Pedan

At the time, the 21-year-old Pedan was still very much a legitimate big league prospect – even if he was having difficulty cracking a deep Bridgeport Sound Tigers blueline. The Islanders themselves had spent a third round pick of their own to draft Pedan back in 2011, and that’s exactly what the Canucks sent in return for him.

The inclusion of Mallet – whom Vancouver had inexplicably spent a second round pick on in 2012 and who would not even crack an AHL roster following this trade – was mostly to balance contract limits. These days, Mallet plies his trade in the Czech Extraliga.

In the end, Pedan performed about as well for the Canucks as the average third round pick. He put up some decent numbers for the Utica Comets through three seasons and earned a couple cups of coffee in Vancouver – with injuries holding him back from accomplishing more. He also provided some serious toughness to the Comets, though fighting was also the source of his most serious health concern – a concussion that kept Pedan out for the entirety of the Comets’ playoff run in 2015.

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His stats with the Vancouver organization are as follows:

Andrey Pedan 2014/15-2016/17 Stats

League Games Goals Assists Points PIM
AHL 139 15 30 45 257
NHL 13 0 0 0 18

As a fringe NHLer who has since moved on to the KHL, Pedan does not represent an ideal return for a third round pick, but he does represent a pretty typical one. Many players drafted in the third don’t even come as close to big league success as Pedan did.

Of course, the Canucks didn’t trade an average third round pick, they traded a specific one that was eventually used to draft a specific player – and that’s kind of a funny story.

In March of 2015, New York flipped the pick along with Chad Johnson to Buffalo in exchange for Michal Neuvirth. A couple months later, the pick ended up in the possession of the Pittsburgh Penguins as compensation for Buffalo’s ill-fated hiring of Dan Bylsma.

Then, later that summer the pick came all the way back home to Vancouver as a conditional part of the Brandon Sutter/Nick Bonino swap.

Finally, at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft the Canucks used the pick to select Will Lockwood. Like Pedan, injuries have hampered Lockwood’s career – and at this point he looks to have even less of a chance of earning any NHL games. In fact, it’s entirely possible that Vancouver won’t even offer Lockwood a contract following a poor 2019/20 showing for the Quinn Hughes-less University of Michigan.

This one looks an awful lot like a wash.

The trade that really made waves on the Lower Mainland, however, was to come at a later date – January 29, 2015, to be exact.

The Trade

To Chicago:

Gustav Forsling 

To Vancouver:

Adam Clendening

Still 18 at the time of the trade and in the midst of a strong Draft+1 campaign as a rookie in the SHL, Forsling had crept up the Canucks’ prospect chart following his fifth round selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

Clendening, meanwhile, was 22 years old at the time of the trade and still having difficulty cracking the Blackhawks’ lineup. Having been selected 36th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Clendening was once thought to have more NHL potential that Forsling – but it seemed to most that that time had passed by the time this deal was made. Jim Benning framed it as a trade of future assets for more immediate help on the blueline – but it was help that Adam Clendening was woefully unable to provide.

Clendening lasted just 17 games for the Canucks, although he also played an important role in the Utica Comets’ eventual run to the Calder Cup Finals. He left the organization as a throw-in for the Brandon Sutter/Nick Bonino trade the following summer.

Forsling, on the other hand, leapt right from the SHL to the NHL in 2016/17, playing 38 games for the Blackhawks as a 20-year-old rookie. Each player’s respective statline with their new organizations following this transaction do not paint Clendening in a favourable light.

Adam Clendening 2014/15 Stats (Regular Season and Postseason Combined)

League Games Goals Assists Points PIM
AHL 34 4 9 13 54
NHL 17 0 2 2 8

 

Gustav Forsling 2016/17-2018/19 Stats (Regular Season and Postseason Combined)

League Games Goals Assists Points PIM
AHL 66 4 16 20 26
NHL 122 8 19 27 42

It should be noted that, of the two, Clendening is meant to be the offensive specialist while Forsling is more of a shutdown defender – yet Forsling scores more and takes fewer penalties.

There can really be no doubt which organization got the most value out of this trade – it was Chicago, who got three partial seasons of NHL-quality defending from Forsling.

Benning was successful at shipping out future potential, but did not succeed in acquiring an NHL-ready defender in return – as Clendening only made a suspect Vancouver blueline all the more porous. This one was an unmitigated loss.

With that being said, though, it should be mentioned that Clendening has since gone on to play 69 NHL games for five different franchises since leaving Vancouver, and he remains on the fringe of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ roster.

After continuing to go back and forth between the Blackhawks and the Rockford IceHogs for three seasons, Forsling was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes along with Anton Forsberg in exchange for Calvin de Haan and Aleski Saarela. With the Hurricanes’ notorious blueline depth, this resulted in Forsling being waived in late September – but he passed through unclaimed and has been playing for the Charlotte Checkers ever since.

All of which goes to show that, although this trade was a flop for Benning, it wasn’t the catastrophic blow to the franchise that many believed it to be at the time – with Forsling now settling in to a presumably Adam Clendening-esque career moving forward.

A month ahead of the 2015 Trade Deadline, Benning made one more addition to the roster, this time turning to the waiver wire.

The Waiver Pickup

From Arizona:

Brandon McMillan

On the surface, a player being waived by the basement-dwelling Coyotes of 2014/15 might not have looked all that enticing, but the 24-year-old from Delta did bring a modicum of depth to a forward corps that was lacking it. McMillan never advanced beyond the fourth line of the Canucks, and spent more time in the pressbox than not, but he also managed to score a playoff goal for Vancouver – a memorable accomplishment for the local kid.

Brandon McMillan 2014/15 Stats With Vancouver

  Games Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular 8 0 1 1 0
Postseason 2 1 0 1 4

McMillan may not have amounted to much of a difference-maker, but he did make for a serviceable warm body on the last Vancouver playoff team to date. That’s got to count for something, and the Canucks have certainly made worse claims off the wire before.

During the 2015 offseason, McMillan made the jump to the DEL, and then to the KHL from there following a single season. He recently moved from Dinamo Riga to Avangard Omsk.

Conclusions

Ultimately, this is a collection of minor trades that – despite the lack of foresight displayed on the Gustav Forsling transaction – have had little-to-no long-term impact on the team. Taken altogether, Benning’s Canucks probably came out of this series of transactions on the losing end in terms of asset value, but it’s tough to say that any of it really mattered in the end.

There’s something to be said for the role that Adam Clendening and Will Acton played on the 2015 Calder Cup finalist Utica Comets, and for the importance that playoff run played in the eventual development of Jacob Markstrom into a legitimate NHL goaltender. But it’s impossible to measure how much of an impact they really have – and if it outweighed the additional stability Forsling may have brought to the Vancouver blueline during some of the franchise’s darkest days.

One might go as far as to argue that Benning’s targeting of Clendening was further evidence of his troubling trend of overrating older prospects, but it also appears to be where that trend more-or-less stopped – and some might even see it as a lesson learned for the rookie GM.

In any case, this was anything but a definitive chapter in the story of Jim Benning’s tenure with the Vancouver Canucks – but one that we hope was still worthy of a brief look back anyway.