After four consecutive 5-2 losses, the Canucks finally won a game Sunday night, shellacking the Colorado Avalanche 5-1. It was a welcome change of pace. For the first time in weeks, Vancouver hockey fans weren't frothing at the mouth, screaming into their stress pillows, and calling for somebody to be traded, fired, or burned at the stake. Monday morning was a brief and refreshing moment of calm. Things were fine.
So when you think about it, there was really no better time to trade prized prospect Hunter Shinkaruk.
Hey man. The Canucks warned you that change was coming. They didn't say you'd like it or agree with it. What, you wanted the correct change? Tough. This is a Canadian hockey franchise, not a Tim Hortons.
Speaking of simple transactions, the trade is a basic one-for-one. Headed to Calgary is native Calgarian Hunter Shinkaruk, the 21-year-old, 2013 first-round draft pick flirting with a point-per-game pace and earning his first All-Star nod this season on the wing for the AHL's Utica Comets. Coming back to Vancouver is centre Markus Granlund -- not to be confused with his marginally more successful older brother, Mikael Granlund.
This, by the way, continues Vancouver's longstanding tradition of employing the lesser younger brothers of established NHLers: Steve Kariya, Fedor Fedorov, Jordan Subban, Daniel Sedin.
Not to mention their more recent tradition of making trades that appear, on the surface, to be bad trades.
Now, I'm not saying that's what this one is. It's hard to say right now. Granlund, much like fellow early-twentysomethings Sven Baertschi, Linden Vey and Emerson Etem, is clearly another buy-low project forward for the Canucks. He could turn out to be an excellent pickup with a change of scenery. Still, this one looks iffy.
I'll be honest: I don't know much about Granlund, and I'd be willing to wager you don't either. But before we take that as the bad sign that it clearly is, let's at least have a look at the guy's numbers, via the Canucks' release:
Granlund, 22, has split the 2015-16 season between the Calgary Flames (4-3-7 in 31 games) and the Stockton Heat (5-4-9 in 12 games). He has appeared in 86 NHL games, registering 28 points (14-14-28) and 24 penalty minutes. The Oulu, Finland native has also collected one assist in three career playoff games.
On the international stage, Granlund won a bronze medal at the 2010 IIHF U18 World Championship and has represented Finland multiple times.
Plus Granlund has intangibles. Benning said.
Benning says Weisbrod knows the "character" of Baertschi and Granlund. Says he "relied on" him to supply info on Granlund's "intangibles."— Jason Brough (@JasonPHT) February 22, 2016
But before you take the kneejerk appeal to hockey jargon as another bad sign, which it clearly is, ESPN's prospect guy Corey Pronman says it's not as bad as it appears. And Pronman, who actually evaluates these prospects, as opposed to taking their stats from Wikipedia and plugging them into a chart someone on Twitter made, called the deal "a marginal win for Vancouver".
The trade is pretty fair. While Shinkaruk has the sparkle next to his name as a touted player for many years, and being a first round pick, Granlund has arguably been as much if not more impressive as a pro. Shinkaruk has the dynamic skill that makes you dream on big-time upside, but Granlund is no slouch either in terms of skill. He can make plays with the puck and shows good vision, even though he’s not a high-end player in terms of skating.
Granlund also has the positional advantage of being able to play down the middle competently, and has adjusted to the AHL/NHL ranks slightly better than Shinkaruk has. Hunter though can make particular type of elite offensive plays than Granlund can’t ratchet himself up to. Shinkaruk has struggled with the physical nature of the pro level, has shown a lot of inconsistencies in his offensive game, and isn’t as good defensively as Granlund.
[...] Shinkaruk has drawn mixed opinions in 1.5 seasons in the AHL. I talk to some people around the AHL and they love him, and think he’s one of the best forward prospects in the minors. Others say “don’t let him near my organization” due to the aforementioned issues in his game. Whatever camp you’re in will determine your overall thoughts on this trade. I used to be a big Shinkaruk fan and in observations this season he's shown me those great flashes, but I have also observed him enough lately to have serious questions about his long-term projection.
So basically, Shinkaruk can skate and Granlund can't. But how important is skating to ice hockey anyway? I submit: not very.
Once again, an NHL management group has chosen the two-way pickup over the one-way Corvette. (Sure, it's a lot more practical, but fellas, this is downtown Vancouver, not Medicine Hat.) Although this trade appears to be about more than just an infuriating preference for stick-checkers over stickhandlers: seems to me Canucks' management just didn't believe in Shinkaruk. Sorta explains why he spent the entire year with the Comets, doesn't it?
Meanwhile, here I was, like a dope, arguing for his continued seasoning in Utica just last week as though the team was being very fair and reasonable. Forget that noise, eh? I knew no player needed that much seasoning. Hell, I wouldn't season a chicken breast for that long.
And come to think of it, I remember detecting a hint of shade in some recent comment from Travis Green:
“I like his confidence,” said Comets coach Travis Green. “But at times we’ve had to have conversations about being as confident as he is, that it doesn’t weigh him down a bit. Or, when things don’t go well or when someone else gets called up, understanding that there is a process. As bad as you want it now, you can’t have it now.”
See, it definitely comes off a lot cattier now than it used to. It's like Meow the Jewels.
Benning threw a little more shade at Shinkaruk when he attempted to explain the trade Monday afternoon. "At the end of the day, we didn't feel he was ready to be a full-time NHL player yet,” he said, adding, "the one thing about Hunter is he likes to score. We don't know if that's going to translate to the NHL or not."
Yeah. How important is goal-scoring to ice hockey anyway? I submit: not very.
Putting aside the sass for a moment, though, the Canucks might actually be right. Shinkaruk's gotten a lot of love and attention in this market because he's the best offensive prospect the Canucks have in Utica right now, but that's a) extraordinarily relative and b) not really saying much. Shinkaruk's offensive skill alone may not be enough for the next league up. Keep in mind that if AHL success always translated into NHL success, Jason Krog would have played more than four games in a Vancouver Canucks uniform, and Dustin Jeffrey, who is currently also outscoring Shinkaruk, would have played more than zero games for the Canucks after the team signed him back in 2014.
Hell, even Markus Granlund, who doesn't appear to be all that good if that Warrior chart is to be believed, can match Shinkaruk's numbers. Granlund put up 44 points in 50 games in his first AHL season, and has 9 points in 12 games with the Stockton Heat this year. He has 37 goals in 83 career AHL games.
In other words, the production is about the same. So really, it's like the Canucks just finally taught Shinkaruk how to play defence. Granted, turning him into a Finnish man is a drastic step. But, hey man, when you're committed to developing from within, sometimes you have to think outside the box.