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“On the wings, we’ve got Brock.”
That was Canucks GM Jim Benning after the trade deadline on Monday, expressing his excitement for the future of the franchise. He extolled their three young centres — Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, and Adam Gaudette — and talked about the young defencemen they’ll have coming in the near future, as well as Thatcher Demko in net.
On the wings, however, he named just one player: Brock Boeser.
It was a legitimately stunning moment, as it seemed like a tacit admission from Benning that they only have one legitimate winger as part of the core of their team. Perhaps it wasn’t intentional to leave out players like Nikolay Goldobin, Jake Virtanen, and Josh Leivo. On the other hand, maybe he was right to do so.
The truth is that the Canucks seriously lack top-six wingers, either in the NHL or in their prospect system. Goldobin, Virtanen, and Leivo all have question marks and might all be better suited to playing on a third line on a true Stanley Cup-contending team.
The same is true of reclamation projects like Ryan Spooner and Tanner Pearson, and depth wingers like Antoine Roussel, Tyler Motte, and Markus Granlund. The Canucks have more than enough third-line wingers, but in order to move from rebuilding to contending, they need more impact from the wings.
Add in the uncertain future of Sven Baertschi, who is still recovering from post concussion syndrome, and it should become clear that the wings need to be as much a priority for the Canucks as overhauling the defence.
That’s troubling, because there’s not a lot of help waiting in the wings of the Canucks’ prospect pool, which got even more shallow with the trade of Jonathan Dahlen on Monday.
Now, Dahlen’s agent did request a trade, so there’s a lot to unpack in regards to how Utica handles its prospects and whether Dahlen and his agent were too impatient. For the moment, let’s focus on the aftermath: the Canucks traded away a winger with top-six upside, who could have reasonably been expected to make the NHL as early as next season, for a centre with third-line potential that is still years away from even getting a chance to make the NHL.
That leaves the Canucks with few potential top-six wingers in the system. Kole Lind’s development has stuttered in Utica, where he’s tallied just 11 points in 37 games. Jonah Gadjovich has struggled even more than Lind in the AHL. Wingers like Petrus Palmu, William Lockwood, and Lukas Jasek are longshots to even make the NHL, let alone be impact top-six players.
This is where the Canucks’ past reticence to acquire draft picks could come back to bite them. The reality is that most prospects never make the NHL, something Jim Benning discussed in the weeks leading to the trade deadline.
“The numbers speak for themselves if you go over the history of the draft,” said Benning. “If you’re looking at the top five picks, they have a chance more often than not to become impact players over time. But if you look at the bottom five picks in the first round, some of those guys don’t even play.”
Benning used this reasoning to justify not acquiring more picks. The opposite argument can be made, however: since most prospects don’t pan out, you need more picks not fewer, so you have a greater chance at finding those few prospects that do make it. With fewer picks to fill their system, the Canucks need a higher percentage of their prospects to pay off.
With Dahlen already gone, the Canucks now have to hope that one or two of the wingers they have left in their system take big steps forward.
Stick-taps and Glove-drops
A tap of the stick to Jim Benning for finally moving on from Erik Gudbranson, trading him to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Tanner Pearson. Sure, he should have done so before re-signing him a year ago for $12 million for three years, but he got there eventually.
A tap of the stick to Nikolay Goldobin, who didn’t get traded on Monday and has responded with a series of great games, including a fantastic goal on Monday evening. “I just feel I’m home here,” he said after the game.
22 - A total of 22 trades were made on Monday, with the bulk of them coming in the final minutes before the deadline.
0 - The Tampa Bay Lightning, the top team in the league and favourites to win the Stanley Cup, didn’t make a single trade, trusting instead in their current roster. No team in the salary cap era has won the Stanley Cup without making at least one trade in the weeks leading to the deadline.