Jim Benning has three things on his wish list: a number one defenceman, a number one centre, and a new pastime now that playing the draft simulator is pointless.
He made the first two clear while speaking with TSN 1040 Monday (the third’s a joke).
“If we felt there was a true number one defenceman and we could get him (with the fifth overall pick), that’s where our focus would be,” said Benning.
“Having said that, Henrik Sedin is getting older now and we have to look to the future too. If we could add a number one centre, that’s attractive too.”
Trouble is Benning may not snag either with the fifth overall pick at this year’s draft. If Pierre-Luc Dubois, a projected centre, is drafted fourth, Vancouver will likely take LW Matthew Tkachuk.
While a high-end winger is nothing to sneeze at, it won’t address Vancouver’s primary needs in becoming a contender again within a few years. The Canucks will need an ace defenceman and a succession plan at centre after Henrik Sedin – those are the foundational pieces successful teams are built around.
And in the short term, if Vancouver wants to be competitive this season, their immediate need is a top-4, right-side defenceman.
To get these players or potentially move up in the draft, Benning will have to pull off shrewd trades and sign some free agent over the next year. With their own growing pile of assets, and a talent like Steven Stamkos coming into free agency, the moves will be there to be made.
And the Canucks have to be proactive if they don’t want to fall victim to the well known phrase: if you’re not moving forward, you’re turning into the Oilers.
Lots has been made of Vancouver’s defensive depth or lack thereof, but that’s changed since last September. When healthy and with the year’s developments, it’s a player away from looking promising. On the left side are Alex Edler, Ben Hutton, Luca Sbisa, Andrey Pedan, and possibly Dan Hamhuis, and on the right are Chris Tanev, Nikita Tryamkin, Philip Larsen, Alex Biega and a few question marks.
Whether Benning and Trevor Linden can make the critical moves remains to be seen. We’ve seen them miss the mark before, whether at the past deadline where they failed to plan ahead and trade Dan Hamhuis, Radim Vrbata, or Jannik Hansen – moves that could’ve had them swimming in draft picks this summer – or with the underwhelming return on Eddie Lack and Hunter Shinkaruk.
They’ve also overpaid free agents and players coming into contract years – I’m sure I don’t need to spell those out to my well informed readers again.
But that was then and this is hopefully not then. Benning and Linden have two years under their belts in leading management roles and they sound as if they’re learning.
At a Town Hall meeting following the disappointing trade deadline and again after the season, Linden talked about being patient through the rebuild process, though he wouldn’t say the word. He finally conceded the team’s not great, and there are no quick fixes.
Back to that growing pile of prospects – Benning deserves praise for what he’s accomplished there.
In the two drafts he’s captained for Vancouver, Benning’s dug up enough treasures to make Jack Sparrow jealous. In 2014, after taking NHL locks Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann in the first round, he drafted Thatcher Demko in the second and Nikita Tryamkin in the third.
And in 2015, he shrewdly chose Brock Boeser late in the first round followed by Guillaume Brisebois in the third, a defenceman making a name for himself in the QMJHL.
So when Benning says there’s no true number one defenceman in this year’s draft – by his definition, “A guy with size and strength who can run the power play and match up against the other team’s top lines,” – and that Tkachuk and Dubois project to be top liners, he’s earned the respect that you listen.
It’ll be interesting to see what the draft whisperer brings back to Vancouver this summer. Even more interesting – seeing if he and Linden can turn those players into wins.