Report: Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini was ‘livid’ when Jim Benning took Olli Juolevi over Matthew Tkachuk
Photo credit:Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
By Mike Gould6 days ago
Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini reportedly wanted his team to take a London Knight with the No. 5 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Just not that one.
Nobody in Vancouver needs to be reminded that the Canucks selected defenceman Olli Juolevi one spot ahead of Matthew Tkachuk back in 2016. The two London Knights stars went on to have vastly different NHL careers.
Tkachuk and the Florida Panthers are currently up 3-0 over the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final. The 25-year-old winger has rattled off back-to-back 100-point seasons and was recently named a finalist for the Hart Trophy.
On the other hand, Juolevi scored one goal and 14 points in 38 games with the American Hockey League’s San Diego Gulls during the 2022–23 season. Juolevi spent the entire season in the AHL as the Gulls finished with the league’s worst record.
In short, the Canucks whiffed. Hard. And, at the time, Aquilini was apparently “livid” with then-general manager Jim Benning about the selection.
“I think the biggest thing that surprised me is when he passed on Tkachuk,” Canucks columnist and “Aquilini whisperer” Gary Mason said on Monday’s episode of Sekeres & Price. “That probably still eats Francesco up to this day.
“He was absolutely livid about that, that they missed that mark so badly, and yet, even after that, he left Benning in that position.”
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Benning served as the Canucks’ general manager from 2014 to 2021. The Canucks qualified for the playoffs only twice — in 2015 and 2020 — during his tenure.
Although Benning selected Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser, and Jared McCann in the first round while in Vancouver, he also used high picks on Jake Virtanen and Juolevi.
Vasili Podkolzin, the club’s 2019 first-round pick, has not progressed as originally hoped; the club went without a first-round selection in both 2020 (traded for J.T. Miller) and 2021 (traded for Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland).
The Canucks finally dismissed Benning from his position on Dec. 5, 2021, eventually replacing him with the management duo of Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin.
“I think the biggest mistake that Francesco has made during his time as the owner was with Benning,” Mason said. “[Aquilini] and I have had conversations about this over lunch and he totally agrees. He left Benning in that position far too long and that’s come back to bite him.
“Benning made some good choices but he made some absolutely horrible, horrible choices, and the Canucks are living with his mistakes,” Mason continued. “They will be for who knows how many more years.”
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