Canucks GM talks Elias Pettersson, how he’ll use $14 million in cap space

Canucks GM Jim Benning joined Dan Murphy during intermission to discuss the Sedin twins retirement news, how the team plans to use the extra cap space, and his expectations for top prospect Elias Pettersson.

With a 30-40-10 record, the Vancouver Canucks sit 27th in the NHL with two games remaining. It’s familiar territory for a team that has finished in the bottom-three the past two seasons, though this time they’ll hope for better luck at the draft lottery. Despite being in the league’s basement, Vancouver picked fifth overall in both 2016 and 2017.

The big news out of Vancouver this week, of course, was that the Sedin twins announced their retirement, ending an era of greatness in the organization. But with their departure comes $14 million in cap space that GM Jim Benning has to decide how to use — or not use at all. The Canucks look at least a few years away from contending for a playoff spot again so, although the space is there, the main focus is on the team’s exciting collection of young players and how best to bring them along.

Benning joined Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy during Tuesday night’s 5-4 shootout loss to Vegas, and discussed the cap space, plus a collection of prospects including Elias Pettersson and Thatcher Demko. You can watch the full video at the top of this page.

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ON WHEN HE LEARNED THE SEDINS DECIDED TO RETIRE

“We were in communication with them the whole season,” Benning said. “We sat down and talked to them before the trade deadline and they kind of indicated to us this could be it. We met with them again last week and they said they talked it over with their families and this was going to be their last year.”

There was some question whether or not the Sedins would have publicly announced their intention to retire before actually doing it and instead shy away from the huge amounts of attention that would come their way. It was ultimately always up to the twins how they wanted to handle their exit, but Benning touched on how important it was for the team to give their fans a chance to send the two stars off into the sunset.

“We wanted to give our fans the opportunity to thank them. They’ve been great players for us through the years and all the work they’ve done in the community and stuff so I think this is a way for our fans to appreciate everything they’ve done.”

HOW WILL THE TEAM USE $14 MILLION IN CAP SPACE?

As the Sedins leave, the Canucks have an extra $14 million in cap space free to use this summer, or to save for some other point in the future. Vancouver has roughly $53 million committed to next year’s roster without any major re-signs to make. RFA Sven Baertschi may be the most important player in need of a new contract.

So how will the Canucks use this newfound advantage? Cap space is its own valuable asset in today’s NHL, but the Canucks have talked over the past few years about wanting to stay competitive. So will they use the $14 million to try and add in free agency to give themselves a chance to win, or bide their time and patiently build up with a base of prospects?

“We’re going to be thoughtful with our use of spending the money,” Benning said. “We would like to add players that can help out with the development of young players we have coming. We’re very excited about some of our young players so if we can add some guys that can help out with the development and getting them better we’re going to look to do that.

“We want some veteran players that can guide our young players along. That’s something we’ll look at.”

But Benning noted that while he’ll search for veteran help, he’s in no rush to use all of the $14 million this summer.

“I think we’re at that stage now where we have to give our young players a chance to develop and see what they can do going forward. We’re excited about all of our young players and let’s see what they can do.”

OUTLOOKS OF SOME TOP PROSPECTS

Three of the top young prospects in the Canucks’ system that will be getting the most buzz heading into next season are Jonathan Dahlen, Elias Pettersson and Thatcher Demko. Dahlen, acquired at the trade deadline in 2017 for Alexandre Burrows, was second in Sweden’s Allsvenskan in scoring with 44 points in 44 games.

Benning indicated the Canucks were open to giving Dahlen a look this season, but Timra’s success in the playoffs delayed the plan.

“We had it all set up that if he lost out Monday he was going to fly in here Tuesday and be available for Thursday and Saturday,” Benning said. “Now that they won they play (Wednesday) he won’t be able to get in on time for the Thursday game so we’re going to rethink that — he might just end up going to Utica now.”

Meanwhile Pettersson, who the Canucks picked fifth overall last summer, had an historically great season for a junior-aged player. Pettersson, 19, set a new scoring record for players under the age of 20 in Sweden’s top professional league, passing Peter Forsberg and Kent Nilsson, and won the scoring title outright. At six foot two and a listed 165 pounds, Pettersson still needs to add weight to hit ideal NHL size, but an off-season of training could help a great deal.

Benning was asked his thoughts on if Pettersson was ready to crack this lineup next season, if he decides to sign a contract and come to North America.

“I think he can. He’s super skilled,” Benning noted. “He’s great with the puck. Great release on his shot. He’s a smart player, reads the play, anticipates well. He’s slight right now, but he’s got good balance on his skates so I think he can come in and be a skilled player for us.”

And, finally, Demko is by all indications one year ahead of schedule after putting together a great season for AHL Utica. Even though both Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson are signed through next season, there is discussion around whether or not the 22-year-old goalie is the best option to step into a full-time position at the NHL level. He got into one NHL game this season, a 26-save 5-4 OT win against Columbus last Saturday, in which a late-game defensive meltdown kept Demko away from a decisive win.

So, could he push either of the veterans for an NHL roster spot next fall?

“Yeah, he will,” Benning said. “We’re going to keep the best two goalies next year so if he comes in and has a good camp we’ll figure that out.”

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