As the Vancouver Canucks come out of the expansion draft and move towards the NHL Entry Draft, Jim Benning was made available to Sportsnet 650 and then followed that up by taking questions from the media through a Zoom call.
Most of the time, Benning speaks to the media before hopping on the local sports station but the order was swapped on Thursday as Benning spent 15 minutes on Sportsnet 650 before hopping into a 30-minute media call.
The trade talks around Nate Schmidt and Braden Holtby have been very active online and in the media over the past couple of months. Benning commented on the Schmidt situation saying, “there’s a lot of interest” around the league on Nate Schmidt. He went on to say that there have been calls on Braden Holtby as well but he will be fine with both players returning to the Canucks next season.
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Benning was confident in the contract situations of his restricted free agent superstars Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson.
“We’ve had good conversations with them these last couple of weeks,” Benning told Sportsnet 650. “I would call the conversations constructive.”
He went on to say “we’re going to match any offer sheet,” when it comes to Pettersson.
As for the free agency market, it was more of the same from Benning as the team will target more players with heft on their back end. They do need to find Quinn Hughes a partner as it looks like Travis Hamonic will test free agency.
“We’re going try to be real active in free agency to add some guys with some size and strength,” said Benning. “We see in the playoffs, the teams that have some bigger guys back there that play a physical brand of hockey. They have success and I think that’s something in free agency that we’re going to be looking at.”
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Benning spoke on Mikey DiPietro being ready for the NHL as soon as this coming training camp. He was asked if it will be feasible for DiPietro to come out of camp as an NHL goalie.
“He didn’t play a lot of games last year,” said Benning. “So, if he comes into camp and he deserves a backup job then he can be a backup goalie but I think in a perfect world, we’d like to see him be the goalie in Abbotsford and play 60 or 65 games down there next year and get lots of action so he’s available if we need him at any point in the season.”
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As for Brandon Sutter and Travis Hamonic, the Canucks are still in on both pending unrestricted free agents.
“I talked to Brandon, a couple of days ago, and I talked to Travis Hamonic,” said Benning. “We have a lot of moving parts over these next few days but we do have interested in signing those guys, so we’re going to just see what the next couple of days looks like as far as what we can do, and we’ve talked about internally about trying to bring those guys back.”
Re-signing Hamonic makes a lot of sense as he is the right type of defenceman to play alongside Jack Rathbone or go back with Hughes.
Sutter contract negotiations don’t seem to make a lot of sense as the Canucks just traded for Jason Dickinson, who should be able to play on their third line as a centre and be able to help guide Vasily Podkolzin into the league with each of those two players being excellent in their defensive zones.
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When being asked about Podkolzin and Dickinson playing together, Benning was high on Dickinson as he will be able to play a multitude of different roles for the Canucks. Though he didn’t say anything about Podkolzin.
“Jason Dickinson is a versatile player,” said Benning. “He’s played the wing before, he’s played center, he’s a real good penalty killer, he brings speed to the team. Everybody we’ve talked to said his leadership skills are really high so we’re excited that we’re able to acquire a part for our top nine that gives Travis versatility to either play him on the wing or at centre.
As for the draft, apparently, this has been a busier time for the Canucks with more teams calling about the availability of the ninth overall pick.
“There’s been a lot of interest in the ninth pick, so, we’re listening,” said Benning. “If we can find a player that fits into our age group, we will take a look at it. I would say more teams are calling this year compared to past years when we’ve had our picks.”
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When talking about the 2021 draft class, Benning said that they will be able to get two strong players with their top picks and then it will be up to the video and region scouts to make it happen in the later round of the draft.
“I think we look at it as an opportunity,” said Benning. “I think there are enough good players in the first two rounds that we think we’re going to add two really good players to our group. And then after that, we’re going to have to rely on the area guys that have seen the players play this year but I think we have a real good scouting group. They’ve worked hard this year and we’re gonna know the players, so I expect that we’ll do a good job in the third round on.”
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The NHL draft kicks off at 5 pm PST on Friday with rounds 2-7 beginning at 8 am PST.
Free agency opens up on July 28th.