Saturday could be a massive day for the future of the Canucks franchise.
That’s when Trevor Linden will travel to Toronto to learn Vancouver’s placement at this June’s NHL Draft.
“Trevor’s our lucky charm so it’s going to be exciting for him to be there to represent our organization” Jim Benning told Dan Murphy in an interview for Sportsnet. “I kid him every day I hope that he has the luck to get that pick for us.”
Until Saturday, that’s all Benning can really do. Well that, and play around with the NHL Lottery Simulator.
The Canucks – a franchise overdue for some good luck – could pick anywhere from #1 to #6.
“We’ll just wait and see how it unfolds” said Benning. “The worst we can end up is sixth in the lottery and we’re gonna get a real good player, we feel, in the top-six.”
Whoever Benning selects is a good bet to become the top prospect in the organization, but a top-three pick is a game changer not only long term, but short term as well.
Everyone knows the name Auston Matthews by now, but Finnish wingers Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi are also projected to be elite players.
“They both played at the World Junior level this year and they were excellent in that tournament” explained Benning. “We’ve watched them the last couple years numerous times. We know their skill-sets. I feel like they can step into the NHL next season and be 15-20 goal scorers.”
“If you end up with a top-three pick, you’re getting a franchise type player and a player that can play on your team next season.”
A franchise player. That should be music to your ears, Canucks fans.
McKenzie: What Jack Eichel did this year in the NHL is a reasonable expectation of what a guy like Auston Matthews is going to do in '16-17.
— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) April 26, 2016
Now all they need is a little bit of luck.
The Canucks have a 34.2% chance to claim one of those franchise players and an 11.5% chance to get consensus #1 pick Auston Matthews.
Final full draft lottery odds by team pic.twitter.com/7mnQ0MUxz0
— Sir Earl (@Sir_Earl) April 10, 2016
The top-three players available in this draft are all forwards, and no team will go off the board in drafting with picks one through three.
After the top-three, it’s not as clear.
Benning stated his intention of wanting to draft a defenceman to Canucks ticket holders at the Town Hall meeting in March, admittedly before he knew how far his team would fall in the standings.
Benning: This is the year we're looking to draft a d-man. We're going to get a good player. #Canucks
— Clay Imoo (@CanuckClay) March 9, 2016
The problem? There isn’t a defenceman in the top-six, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.
“The top-six players in this draft are all forwards” McKenzie said on TSN 1040 Tuesday morning. “That would be obviously Matthews, Laine, and Puljujarvi, and I think there’s another group of three that would be Pierre Luc Dubois, Matthew Tkachuk, and Alex Nylander. That would be probably the consensus top-six.”
Benning, it appears, begs to differ.
“We’ve done our homework on this and we feel in the top-six there’ll be one defenceman we’ll have our eye on and if he’s there we’ll take him” said Benning.
Some GMs are incredibly guarded about the draft, not wanting to divulge their real intentions. But if there’s one thing we have learned about Benning in his near two years with Vancouver, it’s that he is incredibly honest. If Benning says there is a defenceman in the top-six on his list, believe it.
“We’re going to take the best player available” Benning explained. “If we pick five or six then we’ll look to take that defenceman.”
Vancity Buzz’s own prospect guru, Ryan Biech, has been following Benning’s comments closely. Here’s how he projects Benning’s list:
Based on the information we know at this moment:
1 – Matthews
2 – Laine
3 – Puljujarvi
4 – Dubois (?)
5 – Juolevi
6 – Tkachuk (?)
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) April 28, 2016
If you’re a Canucks fan, you might be worried that Benning’s desire for a defenceman clouds his judgement, causing him to pass over a better player because of the position he plays.
“Quite frankly, of the ten scouts I just surveyed, not very many have a defenceman in the top-5″ said McKenzie. “There’s not a lot of consensus on who the top defenceman is in this draft.”
If the Canucks get the fifth or sixth pick, get ready for rumours, because Benning could trade down and still get the player he covets.
“If you really felt strongly about having a defenceman and you were at five or six and wanted to trade down a couple of spots” said McKenzie. “I guess you’d obviously get something to do that.”
“You just have to make sure you’re not passing up a player in Tkachuk, Dubois, or Nylander who could make a huge difference to your hockey team and that the defenceman you’re going to get is not just a good defenceman, but a great one.”
And that’s what’s missing from the Canucks prospect pool. They’ve got a lot of very good, but they need great.