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8 trade targets for the Vancouver Canucks to retool their defence

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Noah Strang
10 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks need to retool their defence. The position group has been the weakest on the team over the past few seasons and the past attempts at rebuilding it, no matter if it was through expensive acquisitions such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Nate Schmidt or cheap alternatives, have fallen flat on their face.
When the Canucks traded their first-round draft pick acquired in the Bo Horvat trade along with a second-round pick to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Filip Hronek, it signalled a few things. The first is that the team is willing to spend to improve their defence, and the second is that they want to be competitive sooner than later.
The Canucks have assets to go out and make another move this summer. They have a glut of middle-six wingers that, although they won’t fetch a huge return, do have some trade value. If they do go ahead and buy out Oliver Ekman-Larsson, they’ll also have some cap space to play with.
NHL defencemen are hard to acquire and teams are slow to give them up through trades. If the Canucks want to retool their defence quickly, they’re going to have to pay up. We saw that play out in the Filip Hronek acquisition. At the moment, the Canucks defence looks something like the following if they buy out Ekman-Larsson.
Hughes – Bear / Juulsen
XXX – Hronek
Rathbone / Dermott / Wolanin – Myers
The 2LD spot will likely be filled during free agency with a portion of the money saved in the Ekman-Larsson transaction. If they keep him, he can stay in that spot. This means that the Canucks could really use another young, exciting defenceman no matter where he plays. Here are some options from around the league.

Pricey options

Seamus Casey, RHD, New Jersey Devils
19 years old, 5’9″, 162lbs
Seamus Casey is the youngest player on this list and still has some growing and developing to do before he can step into the lineup as an everyday NHL player. However, he’s one of the best right-handed defence prospects across the entire league. He’s currently playing on a stacked Michigan University team that has a number-one seed heading into the NCAA tournament.
Casey would give the Canucks a bonafide top right-handed defenceman prospect to get excited about. He dominates games with his skating ability, using it to weave in and out of opponents in a similar fashion to a current Canucks defenceman that wears #43.
Since he was just drafted and has shown encouraging development signs since that point, Casey would likely be the most expensive acquisition on this list. However, he would be a great pickup for the Canucks and there are some reasons to believe that he might be available.
The Devils have become competitive faster than expected and the addition of Timo Meier at this year’s deadline makes them one of the league’s top Stanley Cup contenders. Casey is likely still a few years out from being an impact contributor at the NHL level and the Devils might be interested in goaltending or power play help, two areas where they still haven’t reached that elite level.
Matt Roy, RHD, Los Angeles Kings
28 years old, 6’1″, 205 lbs
As mentioned above, the Los Angeles Kings are a team with a ton of young defencemen that will be bursting onto the NHL scene over the next few years. Roy is 28 years old and only has a year left on his contract after this season. It seems unlikely that he’s going to be a part of the Kings’ long-term plans and the Canucks could offer them a chance to recoup some value rather than let him potentially walk next summer.
Roy’s contract at the moment is costing $3.15 million per season. He’s a bigger body on the right side and has shown some offensive punch this season with 24 points through 71 games despite not recording a single point with the man advantage. Roy is a solid top-four defender and pairing him with Hronek would give the Canucks a legitimate right-side defence for the first time in a decade.
Acquiring Roy would improve the Canucks drastically next season. If the team wants to be as competitive in 2023-24, and it seems they do from the moves they’ve been making, then acquiring someone like Roy helps a lot towards that goal. However, they’re going to need the other young defencemen inside the Kings organization to impress enough to make management believe that Roy is expendable.

Mid-range options

Ty Smith, LHD, Pittsburgh Penguins
22 years old, 5’11”, 180lbs
Canucks fans will surely be familiar with Ty Smith who has been linked with the organization in the past. Smith played some of his junior hockey career in Delta so hockey fans around the lower mainland may also recognize him from those days. During his NHL career, Smith has already been a part of one transaction as he was dealt to the Penguins from the New Jersey Devils in the John Marino trade.
He was drafted with the 17th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft. However, his career hasn’t progressed as quickly as other defencemen from the same draft class such as Quinn Hughes, K’Andre Miller, Nils Lundqvist, Rasmus Sandin, Sean Durzi, and a host of other names.
The Canucks could take a flyer on Smith as a reclamation project. He definitely still has the potential to be an NHL player. He’s got 15 points in 30 AHL games this season as well as four points in nine NHL games. He also has the versatility to play both sides.
“I played there (right side defenceman) my whole junior career from when I was 16 until I was 19,” Smith said in his introductory press conference with the Penguins. “But so far the first two years of pro have been on the left side for the most part.”
Jordan Spence, RHD, Los Angeles Kings
22 years old, 5’10”, 180lbs
The Los Angeles Kings have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to their defence prospects. With names like Brandt Clarke, Sean Durzi, Mikey Anderson, Spence, Tobias Björnfoot, and Helge Grans, they have a ton of great players under the age of 24. This makes them a great team to target in a trade as they could be willing to part with one of these players for the right price.
Jordan Spence isn’t in the top tier of Kings defence prospects. Players like Clarke, Anderson, and Durzi are more highly regarded. He seems likely to be the odd man out when it comes to making the team over the next few years and he’s not going to want to spend much more time in the AHL. He’s got 83 points in 96 career AHL games and quite clearly looks ready to take the jump to the next level for someone, even if it’s not the Kings.
In his brief NHL minutes, about 450 total at 5-on-5 across two years thus far, Spence has made a hugely positive impact on the Kings. He also has nine points across those 29 games, a very solid rate for a young defenceman.
Dante Fabbro, RHD, Nashville Predators
24 years old, 6’0″, 189 lbs
Dante Fabbro is another name that has been linked to the Canucks multiple times over the past few seasons. The former first-round pick seems a likely candidate to leave the Predators soon and it was a bit surprising that he wasn’t moved at the deadline.
Fabbro has already appeared in 240 NHL games and established himself as a legitimate big league defenceman. What he hasn’t done is shown that he can play in a team’s top four just yet, something that he was projected to do when drafted with the 17th overall selection in 2016.
Born in Coquitlam, Fabbro playing for the Canucks would be a homecoming. He’s a right-handed shot that is defensively responsible. He just signed a one-year extension earlier this month that will give him a cap hit of $2.5 million next season.
Ville Heinola, LHD, Winnipeg Jets
22 years old, 6’1″, 185 lbs
Ville Heinola is a left-handed, offensively gifted defenceman that appears smaller on camera than his listed height. He’s dominated at every level he’s played at except for the NHL. At the top level, he’s played 35 games across four seasons, never finding a permanent spot in the Jets’ lineup.
In a 2022 article on The Athletic, Jets’ beat writer Murat Ates published the following quote from Heinola’s agent Allain Roy about the player’s future in Winnipeg. Since the publishing of this quote, the Jets have still not found a full-time position for Heinola in the lineup.
“We’re trying to work together to find the solution,” Roy commented. “A trade is always a possibility but that’s really in Chevy’s [Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff] court. Whether he wants to keep the asset or move the asset is up to him. It’s probably more about figuring out what the best fit is with that group. The question is: when does that asset start going backward?”
The longer that it takes for the Jets to figure out a way to get Heinola in the lineup, the more likely it becomes that he’s traded. The Canucks could offer a very attractive landing spot with a surefire pathway to regular NHL minutes.

Cheapest options

Logan Stanley, LHD, Winnipeg Jets
24 years old, 6’7″, 242 lbs
Logan Stanley is an intriguing option as he would offer the Canucks a big body to add to what’s a smaller defence group, especially if Jack Rathbone joins the big leagues at some point in the near future. Stanley is a former first-round pick that has made it clear he wants out of Winnipeg. It’s been widely reported that he’s officially requested a trade.
Stanley has been unable to break into the Jets lineup and wants to go somewhere he can get a better opportunity. He’s a restricted free agent this summer.
While he is just 24 years old, Stanley has been unable to solidify himself as an NHLer and has been passed on the depth chart by multiple players. With the Jets looking for depth scoring, they might be able to broker a deal that includes one of the scoring wingers on the Canucks roster.

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