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Who cares who ‘deserves’ credit for drafting Elias Pettersson when the end result is all that matters?

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
3 months ago
There’s at least one trivia question we can think of that a casual fan of hockey might be better at answering than a more hardcore afficionado:
Who drafted Elias Pettersson?
A deeply-invested fan might answer with some combination of the names Jim Benning, Trevor Linden, and/or Judd Brackett.
A casual fan, meanwhile, will probably just say “the Vancouver Canucks.”
Which is, of course, the only answer that really matters.
This “debate,” if we want to call it that, opened up again this week as former team president Linden went on Sportsnet 650’s Canucks Central and rehashed the events of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
To Linden’s own best recollection, it was he and the scouts, led by former amateur scouting director Brackett, who insisted on drafting Pettersson at fifth overall. And, as Linden put in stronger terms than ever in this interview, it was Benning who stood in opposition to the selection.
“In 2017, I really pushed hard to have Judd really step up and really run a robust-type meeting, in that we could really put our thoughts and feelings on the table. I really pushed hard against that management group to have Judd and his guys make the pick,” Linden recounted, “Jim wasn’t sold. You know what, if Jim had his choice, we probably would’ve taken a different player.”
This isn’t entirely new news, and it’s something that his certainly been insinuated before, if not outright stated. The popular belief then and now is that Benning preferred that the Canucks draft center Cody Glass instead of Pettersson.
But that doesn’t seem to be a belief held by Benning himself.
Making some of his first public comments since being fired by the Canucks almost two years ago, Benning responded to Linden’s interview, telling HNIC’s Raja Shergill that “We were always going to draft Pettersson. The whole group liked Petey.”
Benning insists that his ‘opposition’ to the pick was merely a desire to do more due diligence before committing to the selection of Pettersson. He specifically denied the Glass allegations, calling them “simply not true.”
So, that’s the events of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, (Trevor’s Version) and (Jim’s Version). After those soundbites dropped on Wednesday, the Vancouver fanbase spent the rest of the day rehashedly speculating over which version best matched with reality.
Well, most of the fanbase did, anyway. There are those who find themselves elevated above this particular debate, because they know that the only answer that really matters is “who cares?”
For one, none of these individuals work for the Vancouver Canucks anymore.
For two, first round draft picks are rarely, if ever, so simply selected as to make one individual “responsible” for the selection.
For three, the right pick was made in the end, and thus it’s the entire organization that deserves credit, including all three of the individuals listed above.
That Pettersson was the correct selection cannot really be debated anymore. There is some argument to be had about whether or not Pettersson is the best player overall to be picked in 2017. Cale Makar has, to quote our dearly-departed Chris Faber, a DAWG in that fight.
But Makar was selected at fourth overall, one pick before Pettersson, which means that Pettersson was absolutely the best pick available to the Canucks.
He was certainly a better pick than Glass, who went one pick later to the Vegas Golden Knights.
No matter what version of events one truly believes transpired on that day, the only thing that really matters is that the Canucks strode up to that podium and said the name “Elias Pettersson.” Anything that happened prior is, ostensibly, a good thing, because it led to the correct outcome.
Let’s imagine that some blended form of (Trevor’s Version) and (Jim’s Version) is true: that Brackett and the scouting team rode hard for Pettersson, that Benning questioned the pick and demanded more due diligence, and that Linden had to step in to strongarm Benning into letting the scouts have their way.
Good.
Sounds like appropriate management to us.
Look, the thing that no one wants to admit about this situation is that Pettersson was a questionable pick. We don’t mean ‘questionable’ in the sense that he was a potentially bad pick, but more in the sense that he was a prospect worth asking a lot of questions about. Especially for a team like the Vancouver Canucks, who had just drafter another skinny European named Olli Juolevi at fifth overall the year prior.
Pettersson was 18 years old at the time, and tipping the scales at a scant 161 pounds. He’d yet to play a single game of SHL hockey, having only advanced as far as the Allsvenskan, where he recorded 41 points in 43 games throughout his draft year.
Sure, there were also plenty of YouTube highlights of young Petey breaking ankles to get the fans excited, but outside of that Pettersson was a difficult player to scout. Difficult enough, anyway, to make a general manager asking for more due diligence on the selection a perfectly reasonable request.
This was the fifth overall pick. Now, having spent that pick on Pettersson, it could be retroactively argued that it was one of the most important picks in franchise history. Benning demanding that his team be absolutely sure of the selection, even to the point of putting up “opposition” to it before ultimately acquiescing, is not really a bad thing. It sounds to us like — and this is not a term that can be applied to much of Benning’s history with the Canucks — responsible management.
Even in a world where Benning put his foot down against drafting Pettersson, but then allowed himself to be overruled, it’s hard to be all that upset. Everyone did their job here.
It’s a scouting team’s job to place a prospect at the top of their draft board.
It’s a manager’s job to ask questions and demand more information before committing to any selection.
It’s a president’s job to act as a go-between, to balance opinions, and to influence the final, overall decision of the organization.
Which, we’ll mention one last time, was the correct decision. All of this arguing and opinionating back-and-forth might make sense if we were still talking about the Juolevi pick. It might be worth parsing out who said what and when if we were trying to determine how the drafting process went wrong in 2016.
But the drafting process went oh so very right in 2017.
And it’s the Vancouver Canucks as a whole who deserve credit for picking Pettersson, and the Vancouver Canucks who continue to have Pettersson on their roster and at the top of the NHL scoring race.
In the meantime, Linden, Benning, and Brackett have all moved on.
And it’s time for everyone to move on from this discussion.

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