As a young beat reporter, we recall a GM once stating of a player: “He has a long future in this town.”
The problem was, we were in Quebec City at the time, and as soon as the plane landed the next day back in Edmonton, it was announced that the player, one Brad Werenka, had been dealt to the Nordiques.
“I told you he had a long future there,” laughed the GM, who out of respect will remain nameless. (Hint: His team is in the Stanley Cup final, on home ice…)
So, when newly minted Vancouver GM Jim Benning says of the No. 6 overall draft pick, “We’re using the pick,” he could mean anything.
“Use it” to move up in the draft? Sure. Although only one team in the past five NHL drafts (Boston, 2010), has moved into the Top 7.
Acquire one of Anaheim’s two first-rounders in a separate Ryan Kesler deal, then “use it” on the trade market to fill the void at No. 2 centre left by Kesler? Why not? That would be some sharp GM’ing.
We’ve been wrong before — I know, hard to believe — but hearing the conviction in Benning’s voice, after he’s spent a little over two weeks taking stock of the sub-28-year-old players in his organization (or lack thereof), I believe that drafting two 18-year-olds with the Nos. 6 and 36 picks overall has become even more of a priority for Benning today than when he took the job on June 23.
Here’s the quote: “We’re using the pick. We’re going to start integrating young players into our mix. This is the highest pick the Canucks have had (since 1999, the Sedins’ draft year). We’re going to be using that pick.”
Assessing the Vancouver landscape with the draft approaching, Benning’s primary objective as he takes this job must be to fix the pipeline. The number and quality of NHL players on Vancouver’s roster younger than Alex Edler’s 28 years are few, and to the man they are depth players, depending upon your view of Chris Tanev, Zack Kassian and Shawn Matthias. That kind of talent void — the eight years between a Brendan Gaunce and Edler — goes through an organization like an air bubble through a hose. Benning’s options to fill in that gap are: A — trade draft picks, which seems counter intuitive; or B — deal from his stock of veteran players with no-trade clauses to accrue younger talent and/or more draft picks.
That starts with Kesler, an extremely valuable centreman who could easily return a younger player or two from a prospect-rich club like Anaheim.
Here is what Benning said about Kesler: “I had a good conversation with Ryan the other day. We’re still sorting through things, but it was an informative conversation.”
Here is what Benning didn’t say: “I had a good conversation with Ryan the other day. He wants to stay in Vancouver and we want him to stay. He’s not going anywhere.”
When a GM wants trade rumours quashed, he quashes them. Benning did not. He was also forthright when asked about his cache of no-trade clause (NTC) veterans:
“It’s complicated any time you have to ask (a player) to waive something that they’ve worked hard for and they’ve earned. It’s not easy. But we have to do what’s best for the organization,” Benning said. “We’re going to try to be compassionate when we do it, but at the end of the day we want to win and be successful. We’ll have to make those hard decisions.”
The Sedins aren’t leaving Vancouver, period. As for Kesler, Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Burrows, Jason Garrison, Dan Hamhuis, and Chris Higgins, they form the group from which this Vancouver retooling must emanate.
Veteran assets like those above are what differentiates the Canucks from rebuilds like the ones in Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto, where they started with nothing but high draft picks. How many teams say they need a Top 3 defenceman to get over the top? (Hello, St. Louis.) Well, you could argue that in Bieksa, Hamhuis and Edler the Canucks may have three of them up for grabs.
The upcoming draft will be fascinating for Canucks fans, with Benning listening to offers on all of the above, while holding the No. 6 and 36 picks. Sure, he’s dealing with short lists of teams from every one of those NTC veterans, but “If you’re not happy with the value then you just keep the player,” he says. “Those guys are all good players.”
And some of them, we’re willing to venture, won’t be Canucks by the time the draft has passed.