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If Jim Benning wants a defenceman in the first round, Canucks should consider trading down

Was the band They Might Be Giants singing about the Canucks’ top pairing of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev when they said , “You’re older than you’ve ever been and now you’re even older”? No.
Thomas Harley of the Mississauga Steelheads skates up ice.
Thomas Harley of the Mississauga Steelheads could be an option for the Canucks if they trade down in the first round.

Was the band They Might Be Giants singing about the Canucks’ top pairing of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev when they said, “You’re older than you’ve ever been and now you’re even older”?

No. They were singing about the inexorable passing of time in a more general sense. The sentiment, however, still applies. Edler and Tanev are the lone remaining members from the 2010-11 Canucks and time has not been overly kind.

Tanev has missed 96 games over the last three seasons with a litany of injuries. Edler has been slightly healthier, missing just 52 games over the last three seasons, but that includes 26 games in 2018-19. While both are still quality defencemen, particularly Edler, who led all Canucks defencemen with 10 goals and 34 points, they can’t be relied upon to stay healthy over a full season. Eventually, the Canucks are going to need to move on from both of them, possibly sooner than you might think.

The Canucks do have young defencemen expected to step into the lineup in the near future. Quinn Hughes will be on the team next season and looks like a stud. Olli Juolevi and Jett Woo both have top-four potential. The Canucks also have some wild cards in their system that could make the NHL in the future, like Josh Teves, Brogan Rafferty, Jack Rathbone, and Toni Utunen.

That still leaves a lot of uncertainty for the future, and the Canucks have said goodby to several defencemen in their system, like Derrick Pouliot, Kristoffer Gunnarsson, and Matt Brassard. Simply put, the Canucks need more defencemen in their prospect pool, particularly a defenceman or two with top-four upside. The more chances the Canucks give themselves, the more likely it is they’ll find enough defencemen to make a great defence corps for the future.

Jim Benning and the Canucks are well aware of this need. That’s why they drafted Hughes in the first round last year and signed Teves and Rafferty out of the NCAA this year. A quote from a recent article by Ben Kuzma suggests Benning is also focussed on defencemen at this year’s draft.

“Defenceman are deep this year, maybe not at the high end, but once you get halfway through the first round, there’s a lot that we like,” said Benning. “If that guy is there at No. 10 we’ll be taking him. It’s been proved by teams still playing that good teams are built through goal, defence and centre. That’s the basic principle.”

It’s an interesting quote. If the defencemen they like are halfway through the first round, why does he suggest they could take one at tenth overall?

It’s certainly true that there are few defencemen at the top of the draft. Bowen Byram, who led the WHL playoffs in scoring, is expected to go in the top-5, if not third overall behind Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, but the general consensus is that there are simply too many great forwards to take a defenceman high in the draft.

According to CanucksArmy’s consolidated draft rankings, which gathers together a multitude of draft rankings from around the NHL, Byram is the only defenceman in the top-10, with a group of defencemen from 12 to 15, and another bunch in the early 20’s.

Would any of those defencemen make sense at 10th overall?

Kuzma’s article specifically mentions Victor Soderstrom, and there’s reason to believe that the Canucks are high on him. Soderstrom wouldn’t be too much of a reach at 10th and he has the complete game to be a legitimate top-four defenceman. Scouting reports praise his quick decision-making, his smooth skating, and his ability to move the puck, along with his sound defensive game. He played 44 games in the SHL and wasn’t just a depth option: he averaged over 17 minutes per game as a 17 year old, more than any other junior-aged player.

The consolidated rankings have Soderstrom at 14th overall, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Canucks or other teams have him much higher on their own draft lists. As an added bonus, Soderstrom is a right-hand shot, directly addressing a major area of need for the Canucks.

At the same time, Soderstrom might not be the best player available at 10th overall. There are a number of high-ceiling forwards that could still be on the board when the Canucks pick, like Matthew Boldy, Trevor Zegras, Peyton Krebs, Cole Caufield, and Alex Newhook.

If the Canucks are intent on picking a defenceman in the first round, trading down should be an option. There are a number of teams that might pay a premium if the right forward is still available at the 10th pick.

Three teams that might make the most sense are ones in the midst of a rebuild: the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, and Los Angeles Kings. All three teams have picks in the second half of the first round, where there could be a glut of defencemen from which to choose.

The Senators don’t have their own first-round pick — it belongs to the Colorado Avalanche thanks to the Matt Duchene trade — so they don’t have a pick in the top-10 despite finishing dead last in the league last season. If the Senators want to move up, the Canucks pick might be their best chance to do so.

If the Canucks can move from 10th overall to the 19th-overall pick, which the Senators acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in another Duchene trade, and also get the Senators’ second-round pick, 32nd overall, that might be worth it all on its own. The Canucks could also negotiate for a player, prospect, or additional picks in that type of trade, given the significant drop in the first round.

Similarly, the Kings have the 21st-overall pick as well as a high pick in the second round, 33rd overall. The Kings also have the fifth-overall pick — two top-10 picks would be a nice jumpstart to their rebuild.

The New York Rangers, however, don’t have a high pick in the second round — it went to the Carolina Hurricanes as part of the Adam Fox deal — but do have two later picks: 49th and 58th overall. Perhaps those two picks would make sense as part of a return for the Canucks dropping from 10th to 20th in the first round.

Second-round picks seem pretty desirable to Benning, who suggested they wouldn’t be trading up in the draft if it cost them their own second-round pick.

“Depending on what the cost is to move up, we’ll look into it,” he said, “but if it’s too much and we have to give up a second-round pick, that’s too much because the draft is deep enough.”

If the Canucks can pull off a trade that moves them down and nabs them an extra pick or two, there should still be some excellent defencemen available.

Cam York or Philip Broberg could potentially fall, but some of the names ranked in the back half of the first round are intriguing: Moritz Seider, Thomas Harley, and Ville Heinola could all be good options.

Seider combines size at 6’4” with sublime poise and skill. He played in Germany’s top men’s league at 17, as well as captaining the German U-20 team, and could be a top-pairing staple. He’s a right-hand shot to boot.

Harley led all first-time draft-eligible defencemen in scoring in the OHL, with 58 points in 68 games — only Byram outscored him in the CHL. He’s got good size at 6’3” and is one of the youngest players in the draft, not turning 18 until August 19th.

Robertson has the size and steady defensive game to be a future shutdown defender that might perfectly complement the smaller, puck-moving defencemen already in the Canucks system.At the same time, he has the skating and puck skills to make it in the modern NHL.

The most intriguing defenceman available in that range is Heinola, who has been playing against men in the Finnish Liiga and out-scored Miro Heiskanen at the same age. That’s not to say Heinola is the same as Heiskanen, who has made an argument for being the best player in the 2017 draft alongside Elias Pettersson. But Heinola has some serious upside, sometimes playing over 20 minutes per game as a 17 year old against men. He has fantastic edgework, a plus wristshot, and is a superb playmaker. He uses his great hockey sense to make up for his average size defensively.

Heinola would be an intriguing defenceman to target, particularly if the Canucks believe the difference between him and Soderstrom isn’t significant. Trading down to get another high pick, while getting a prospect defenceman nearly as good as they might get with the 10th pick, could make a lot of sense.