4 under-the-radar free agent defencemen the Canucks could target

May 25 2019, 12:10 am

With the San Jose Sharks being eliminated from the playoffs, the dream of signing Erik Karlsson to play alongside Quinn Hughes has some semblance of life.

Vancouver isn’t the most likely destination but hey, dare to dream.

Realistically, the Canucks might be looking in the bargain bin to improve their defence, which finished bottom-five for allowing scoring chances during the regular season.

If the Canucks do miss out on Karlsson, there really isn’t an easy answer for upgrading the blue line. They could try to swing a trade for guys like P.K. Subban or Colin Miller, but those would require giving up significant assets.

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Jake Gardiner and Tyler Myers will also draw some attention, but the Canucks should avoid them solely based on the money and term they’ll likely fetch.

One option for the Canucks if they want to make subtle improvements is to do a little bargain bin shopping in free agency. Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you don’t make, but these four players could provide a boost to the Canucks’ defence.

1. Patrik Nemeth

A 6-foot-3 behemoth, Patrik Nemeth, will never wow you with offence, and he’s not a guy you want playing a ton of minutes. However, he did prove that he’s a physical and capable defensive defenceman in a third pairing role.

Paired with Ian Cole on the Colorado Avalanche’s third pair in the playoffs, Nemeth was a shutdown machine. The 27-year-old was on the ice for fewer than 20 scoring chances per hour, fourth-best among all defenceman in the playoffs. He was also the only defenceman at the top of the leaderboard among players that started primarily in the defensive zone.

He was on the right side of the scoring chance battle in the regular season too.

Granted, Nemeth is no more than a sixth or seventh defenceman, but one who brings nastiness that the Canucks lack. You can bet the Stockholm native would have no problem filling the physical void that Luke Schenn might leave behind.

2. Brad Hunt

Brad Hunt, 30, has never found a permanent home in the NHL, which is in part due to his diminutive stature. However, the Maple Ridge native does have some similarities to Alex Biega, except that his transition and offensive skillsets are much more polished.

In just 42 games last season, Hunt scored five goals and 12 points split between the Vegas Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild. His five goals would have left him tied for second among Canucks defencemen with Hutton.

Hunt is certainly more of a power play specialist, with eight of his 12 points last season coming with the man advantage. The Canucks do have Quinn Hughes, but Hunt would be a nice weapon to have if anything were to happen to the Canucks’ future star rookie.

He’s never made more than the league minimum, so Hunt would come cheap.

3. Tim Heed

Another offensive-minded option for the Canucks’ bottom pair, Tim Heed was seldom used during the playoffs in San Jose, suiting up in just three of the team’s 20 playoff games.

However, whenever the 28-year-old Swede has been in the lineup for the Sharks, he’s been both reliable and productive. He has 24 points in 67 career games despite limited minutes, putting him on pace for 30 over the course of a full season.

When Heed was on the ice for San Jose, they were noticeably better at getting scoring chances. Heed’s career scoring chance differential sits at 56%. For a team like the Canucks that has lacked offence from the blueline, he’s another player worth considering on a short-term, cheap deal.

4. Jordie Benn

Victoria native Jordie Benn found a nice fit on the Montreal Canadiens’ blue line last season, when they almost made the playoffs.

The brother of Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn, Jordie isn’t as skilled as his younger sibling, but he does provide a physical, reliable veteran presence.

The 31-year-old put up a respectable five goals and 22 points in 81 games for the Habs last season.