When Jim Benning was hired as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, he inherited a shallow prospect pool. As much as his predecessor, Mike Gillis, led the Canucks to back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies and one game away from the Stanley Cup, he did very poorly at the draft table and traded away picks and prospects to build his roster.
Benning came in with a reputation for scouting and drafting. The hope was that he would improve upon the team’s dreadful drafting record.
Now that Benning has been let go by the Canucks, here’s a harsh truth: while Benning has drafted some talented players, he ironically has left the prospect pool about as shallow as it was when he got here.
The Canucks have a cadre of young stars, who can be expected to carry the Canucks for the foreseeable future, all of them drafted by Benning and his management group: Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser, Thatcher Demko, Nils Höglander, and Vasily Podkolzin.
The trouble is, there’s no one else coming.
Elite Prospects, in their ranking of the NHL’s prospect pools, had the Canucks ranked 21st and that ranking included Podkolzin as their top prospect, who has since graduated to the NHL, and the now-traded Olli Juolevi as the team’s fourth-ranked prospect.
Yes, the Canucks have some intriguing prospects in the system. Jack Rathbone has the potential to be a dynamic offensive defenceman. Aidan McDonough is racking up goals for Northeastern University in the NCAA. Michael DiPietro could be an NHL goaltender in the future. Danila Klimovich has tremendous talent, albeit in a raw, unrefined state.
Unfortunately, none of those four prospects, nor any of the other prospects in the Canucks’ system, are surefire NHL players, let alone blue-chip prospects that can be expected to majorly move the needle for the Canucks in the future. It’s also a remarkably shallow prospect pool that lacks depth at two key positions: centre and right defence.
Some might dispute that the prospects currently in the pool are better than when Benning arrived, but that feels like recency bias mixed with hindsight. Is Rathbone any better than Ben Hutton at the same age? Is Klimovich more promising than first-round pick Hunter Shinkaruk? Is McDonough more certain to make the NHL than Brendan Gaunce?
To be fair, the one area where Benning has the edge is goaltending, where DiPietro and Arturs Silovs hold promise. Then again, Jacob Markstrom still wasn't a full-time NHLer when Benning came to Vancouver, so he arguably counts towards the prospect pool he inherited as well.
In fact, the current prospect pool doesn’t have a single player of the caliber of Bo Horvat, who was selected in Gillis’s final draft with the Canucks. There’s an argument to be made that, with Horvat in mind, Benning is leaving the next GM of the Canucks even less in the prospect cupboard than Gillis left him.
It’s not hard to see why. Most recently, Benning traded away back-to-back 1st-round picks, including a top-ten pick in the 2021 draft, which means there’s no high-end cavalry coming in the next few years.
In addition, because he never embraced a rebuild, Benning never stockpiled picks at any point in his tenure, failing to trade multiple veterans over the years that subsequently left in free agency. He also casually leaked draft picks in all sorts of win-now trades. For instance, 2nd round picks were tossed into the Brandon Sutter and Erik Gudbranson trades and traded for Sven Baertschi and Linden Vey.
Every team starts with 7 picks in every draft, so, in his eight years as general manager, Benning was given 56 draft picks. He made 54 picks, two fewer than he was given.
Benning gets credit for putting together the team’s young core at the draft, but that core is now in the NHL. They’re the team now and they’re a team that is en route to the NHL’s basement this season. The next GM of the Canucks will have to make some savvy moves to supplement that young core with more prospects in the future.
To top it off, Benning traded one last second-round pick. Along with this year’s 1st-round pick, Benning included a 2022 2nd-round pick in the trade to acquire Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Best of luck to whoever takes the job.