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Where are the “real players” that Jim Benning promised to call up?

The Canucks are dealing with some tough injuries right now: two-thirds of their top line are out with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi on the injured reserve list, while Brandon Sutter has been out long-term with a groin/hip injury and it’s unclear when
Michael Chaput smiles on the Canucks bench

The Canucks are dealing with some tough injuries right now: two-thirds of their top line are out with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi on the injured reserve list, while Brandon Sutter has been out long-term with a groin/hip injury and it’s unclear when he’ll return. That’s not to mention Derek Dorsett, whose career came to an unfortunate end after a strong start to the season.

That many key injuries would be difficult for any team to handle, but the Canucks have particularly struggled. Since Horvat went down with a broken foot, the Canucks have lost 10 of 12 games. Not only have they fallen right out of the playoff picture, but they’ve also fallen right into the draft lottery.

According to the Canucks at the beginning of the season, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Henrik Sedin, the eternal optimist, said, “I think injuries will be less of a factor this year because of the depth we have,” referring to both the newly signed veterans as well as the young players graduating to the NHL.

Jim Benning echoed those thoughts, admitting that injuries will occur but that they won’t be as damaging.

“I think this year, when we do have injuries, we’re going to be calling up real players that we want to develop into long-term players. We’re at that point now.”

You could read that as a little bit of shade thrown at the players the Canucks called up last season, like Michael Chaput and Jayson Megna. This time around, he promised, the Canucks would call up real players when injuries struck.

Only, that’s not exactly what has happened. While Nikolay Goldobin and Reid Boucher have been called up from Utica, Boucher has barely played. More notably, the Canucks have no “real players” capable of stepping in at center with Horvat and Sutter out.

Instead, we’ve seen the return of Michael Chaput, one of the “unreal” players from last season. While Chaput is a reasonably capable fourth-line forward, he doesn’t fit Benning’s description. Do the Canucks see him as someone they want to develop into a long-term player? Not likely.

Meanwhile, the Canucks felt the need to trade Jordan Subban to the Los Angeles Kings for Nic Dowd, a 27-year-old with 91 NHL games played before he joined the Canucks.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise: the Canucks depth at centre is incredibly suspect. What centres were on Utica that could be considered “real players” that have a shot at a long-term future with the Canucks? Zack MacEwen? Griffen Molino? Cole Cassels? Those pickings are slimmer than Elias Pettersson.

So yes, this isn’t surprising, but it seems to have caught the Canucks by surprise. Why were they so confident in their ability to withstand injuries with so little depth at a key position?

Perhaps they had faith in the likes of Sam Gagner, Markus Granlund, and Brendan Gaunce, forwards who mainly play on the wing, but have played at centre in the past. Travis Green tried to use Granlund at centre to start the season, but it didn’t stick, and neither Gagner nor Gaunce have lasted much longer in their looks at centre.

So, instead, the Canucks have used Chaput and Dowd while they wait for Elias Pettersson and Adam Gaudette and hope they both pan out as NHL centres because they have no one else.