Canucks’ Benning explains McCann trade, draft strategy

Newest Florida Panther Jared McCann joins Hockey Central at Noon to discuss his reaction to being traded, and says he's already reached out to Jagr to see which type of conditioner he uses.

When the Florida Panthers rang up the Vancouver Canucks asking for young forward Jared McCann, general manager Jim Benning moved quickly.

He was looking for a big, play-now defenceman to skate in his top four, so once the Panthers were agreed to part with 6-foot-5 24-year-old Erik Gudbranson, the paperwork was complete within a couple days.

“We wanted to get it done before other teams got involved in a bidding war,” Benning told Hockey Central at Noon Friday. “On the back end, I didn’t think we were big and strong enough.”

The 216-pound Gudbranson, Benning figures, is built to battle the Pacific Division. The Canucks were getting killed in the cycle down low in their own zone, and Benning believes Gudbranson’s large presence can push the big forwards of Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles off the puck. Speedier opponents, such as Arizona, Calgary and Edmonton, will now have to keep their head up whizzing through the neutral zone.

To finalize the trade, Benning also had to surrender second- and fourth-round picks. He got a fifth-rounder in return.

“I think we gave up a lot, too, in the deal,” Benning said. “I come from a scouting background, so to trade second-round picks away, it kills me.”

The bright news for those Vancouver fans lamenting the loss of 19-year-old McCann, an 80-point centre in junior?

Benning said he was trading from a position of depth (centre) and believes the future top-six forward can be replaced in the upcoming draft with their fifth-overall selection.

“We’re going to get either a first-line player or top-four defenceman with that pick,” Benning said. “Where we pick at five, that player might need one more year of development in junior. We don’t want to rush him. He has a chance to be a first-line player.”

After the top three picks — Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi — Benning has his eye on two forwards and one defenceman he’d like to snap up.

Best guess on those three prospects: Matthew Tkachuk, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Olli Juolevi.

Benning said the addition of Gudbranson doesn’t necessarily signal the end for defenceman Dan Hamhuis, a free agent on July 1, as a Canuck.

“We’re still talking to Dan. We still have some decisions to make,” the GM said. “We’d still like to have Dan on board, so we’re going to try and figure that out.”

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