VANCOUVER — It cost him a first-round pick but Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning believes he made his team better with a blockbuster trade ahead of the NHL entry draft Friday.
The Canucks sent the No. 9 selection in this year's draft to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for right-winger Conor Garland and defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
The trade also includes Vancouver forwards Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson and Antoine Roussel, the Canucks' second-round pick in 2022 and its seventh-round pick in 2023.
"We didn't take lightly moving that ninth overall pick in the draft. That was a hard decision to make. But we just looked as everything we could accomplish by doing it," Benning said.
The trade will see the two clubs swap some big salaries. Ekman-Larsson has six years left on his deal with an annual cap hit of US$8.25 million, though Arizona will retain 12 per cent of his salary. Meanwhile, Beagle, Eriksson and Roussel will combine for a cap hit of US$12 million next season.
The move creates some cap flexibility for the Canucks, Benning said.
"I just feel like our team needs to take the next step and adding a top-pairing defenceman and a top-six forward is something we talked about that was on our wish list to start off," he said. "So to be able to do that plus get rid of some contracts, I'm happy we got the deal done."
The 25-year-old Garland, who is a restricted free agent, has been a solid forward for the Coyotes since entering the league in 2018-19. The native of Scituate, Mass., put up 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists) in 49 games last season.
Benning called Garland a player with a relentless work ethic that will wear off on his new teammates.
"He's a guy that makes other players around him better," the GM said. "So I'm really excited to be able to acquire a top-six forward who can come in and help us right now. And he's still a young player. I think this is a real good move for our group here."
Garland said he was sitting at home Friday when he saw news of the imminent trade on Twitter. He texted Ekman-Larsson to check the veracity of the reports, and learned they were both about to relocate.
The pair are looking forward to playing in Vancouver, Garland said.
"There's a lot of excitement right now. It's really the first time I'm going into the year and there's a real shot at competing for a Stanley Cup," he said.
"That's not disrespect to Arizona, that's just the state we were in. We were battling for a spot every year and this year it feels like we're coming in with high expectations and me and Oliver are really excited to come in and play with this young core and help them get better."
Ekman-Larsson, 30, has spent his entire 11-season NHL career with the Coyotes after being selected sixth overall in the 2009 draft.
The Swedish blueliner's production has waned in recent years, though. He registered 24 points (three goals, 21 assists) in 46 appearances last year.
Benning said Ekman-Larsson was looking for a fresh start and is still a good skater and a good player. He expects the veteran defenceman to play a lot of minutes in Vancouver and be a good mentor to the team's budding stars.
"I think overall, what he's going to bring to our whole team is going to be immense as far as what he does in the dressing room to mentor our young players to what he does on the ice," Benning said.
Arizona lost its first-round pick in this year's draft when the NHL sanctioned the team for violating the league's combine testing policy in 2020.
Benning added that he's working to recover picks both for this year's draft and for the future.
He still has a lot of work to do as this year's iteration continues Saturday with the second round. Vancouver still holds the No. 41, 137, 140, 169, 178 and 201 picks this year.
It's the second year in a row that the Canucks won't have a first-round pick. Last year, Vancouver's first selection came in the third round when it took Finnish defenceman Joni Jurmo 82nd overall.
Earlier this week, Vancouver dealt its third-round selection (No. 73) to the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward Jason Dickinson ahead of the expansion draft roster freeze last week.
The club was handed the ninth pick after finishing the pandemic-condensed season last in the all-Canadian North Division with a 23-29-4 record.
It was a tough campaign for Vancouver, which suffered a COVID-19 outbreak in late March that saw 21 players and four coaching staff test positive for the virus.