Jim Benning added depth to the Canucks this past offseason, and it’s paying off now when they need it most
7 months ago
We understand that talking about the “little things” is a bit of a faux pas in the post-Loui Eriksson era of Vancouver Canucks hockey. But so long as they’re not attached to a $6 million contract, sometimes the little things really can make a big difference, and that’s definitely true for the 2021/22 Canucks as they tear through the final stages of the season.
Plenty of attention was given to the big moves that outgoing GM Jim Benning made this past offseason, and with good reason. Trading for Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland, and Jason Dickinson and signing the likes of Tucker Poolman and Jaroslav Halak have already made and will continue to make a major impact on the team’s fortunes for years to come, and for better or for worse.
But at the present moment, the smaller, depth-based moves that Benning made are making just as much of a difference.
Look up and down the Canucks’ game sheet from Thursday’s barnburner against the Arizona Coyotes, and you’ll see a whole bunch of contributors who started out the season on the outside of the roster looking in.
Luke Schenn was signed to be a seventh defender, lining up on the right side of the blueline behind Poolman, Tyler Myers, and Travis Hamonic. Instead, he’s been perhaps Vancouver’s most reliable RHD all year long, and continues to make a (quite literal) impact on the opposition on a nightly basis.
Then there’s Kyle Burroughs, who most would have pegged at tenth or lower on the blueline depth chart when Training Camp 2021 began. He stole a spot in the preseason, and has kept it from there on out, providing simple, no-nonsense physical play whenever he is called upon. Only Schenn and Will Lockwood provide more hits/60, and only Poolman provides more blocks. Burroughs isn’t just playing important minutes for the Canucks in April, he’s all but guaranteed that he’ll be sticking around next year.
Speaking of local products, Schenn and Burroughs are joined on the blueline by Brad Hunt. There were some who had Hunt pencilled into the Canucks’ lineup from the moment he gave his first interview after signing, but others thought he’d only make the cut if Jack Rathbone weren’t ready.
Well, Rathbone was plenty ready, and Hunt still got the job. After an up-and-down start under Travis Green, Hunt found his game again once Bruce Boudreau took over. His 14 points in 43 games is impressive for a depth defender, especially given that he only had one singular point before the coaching change. He’s even getting a little power play time these days.
Up front, there are even more would-be depth pieces making it onto the game-day roster and making it work.
The most notable is, of course, Alex Chiasson. He came into camp on a PTO and wasn’t given much of a chance by most in the fanbase and mediasphere. When he made the cut and picked up a one-year contract, many expressed annoyance that he’d taken the spot of Zack MacEwen and/or Jonah Gadjovich. Most assumed that Chiasson would only stick around until Tyler Motte returned to health, and would then promptly find himself on waivers.
Chiasson has played all over the lineup this season, from the fourth line to the top line, with stops on the first and second power play units along the way. He’s been inconsistent, as should probably be expected for a player of his ilk, but now he’s hitting his hottest streak of the season, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
Chiasson has notched nine of his 21 total points in the month of April alone. With the Canucks’ playoff hopes on the line, Chiasson is stepping up as much as anyone else in the lineup — and, in doing so, probably making it so that he doesn’t have to rely on a PTO to find work next year.
Sheldon Dries scored his first goal as a Canuck against the Coyotes, and picked up 14:55 of ice-time. He was signed to be a veteran scorer in Abbotsford and, truthfully, that’s still his role. But with injuries to Brock Boeser, Tanner Pearson, Nils Höglander, and Matthew Highmore, Dries has been called upon, and he has delivered.
Most assumed that such signings were primarily for the benefit of ticket-holders in Abbotsford, but call-up depth was also a motivating factor. A rash of injuries like this at such a key time is exactly why a franchise might want to have veteran tweeners on standby with their farm team, and that plan is now playing out perfectly.
The same could be said for Nic Petan, who didn’t make it into the lineup against Arizona, but who has been up with the Big Canucks since mid-March, suiting up for 13 games thus far. He’s only managed a single assist in that time, but he’s still providing replacement-level hockey at the very least, and that’s all the Canucks really need from him right now.
The aforementioned hard-hitting Lockwood could be added to this discussion, too. He’s not a new signing, and the plan was always for him to spend the majority of 2021/22 developing in Abbotsford. But he’s up now, he’s making a name for himself, and he already looks like a potential long-term fit on Vancouver’s fourth line. He might not see the AHL again after this stint.
Even Juho Lammikko arguably qualifies. He was brought in via the Olli Juolevi trade as an emergency fill-in for Brandon Sutter on the fourth line. Since then, Lammikko has become an integral part of the Canucks’ bottom-six, even as he’s lost running mates in Motte and Highmore. There’s now no chance at all that Lammikko isn’t brought back next year.
Not bad for a player who was only one-half of the return for a total bust.
And should more injuries occur? Justin Dowling, Phil Di Giuseppe, and Sheldon Rempal are all waiting in the wings to cover any forwards. With Bo Horvat out for the remainder of the regular season, Petan draws back into the lineup, but another call-up is probably imminent, too.
Rathbone, Noah Juulsen, Madison Bowey, and more are ready and willing to join the blueline at a moment’s notice.
Let’s not forget Spencer Martin, seen by some as a superfluous acquisition during the summer, now the heir-apparent to the Canucks’ backup job and already the second-best goaltender in the organization.
Say what you will about Benning’s big swings during the summer of 2021, he absolutely nailed it on the small stuff by stuffing the Canucks with depth at all positions — and now the new regime is reaping the benefits.
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