Vancouver Canucks: What the Depth Signings Can Provide

Jan 11, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) checks New York Rangers right wing Jayson Megna (23) during the second period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 11, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) checks New York Rangers right wing Jayson Megna (23) during the second period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /
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July 1 wasn’t all about Loui Eriksson for the Vancouver Canucks, who also added five depth players to the system.

After the Vancouver Canucks made an early splash on July 1, signing top-line winger Loui Eriksson, the signings that followed might have gone slightly unnoticed. Vancouver added defensemen Philip Larsen and Chad Billins, as well as forwards Borna Rendulic, Jayson Megna and Micheal Chaput. The five players combine for 261 NHL games, so there is some experience there — but what can they provide for the Canucks?

D Philip Larsen

The biggest news fans had been waiting for is that Vancouver finally got Larsen under contract. Larsen was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, and was supposed to become the right-handed part of Vancouver’s bottom pairing. He has 125 games of NHL experience and signed a one-year, one-way contract worth $1.025 million.

After the trade that acquired right-handed defenseman Erik Gudbranson, however, it seems like there is no room for Larsen in the top six anymore.

Edler – Tanev
Hutton – Gudbranson
Sbisa – Tryamkin

Unless Luca Sbisa gets traded or Nikita Tryamkin agrees to spend some time in the AHL, it looks like Larsen will be nothing more than a depth defender. Unless he has an absolutely outstanding training camp, that is. Alex Biega and Troy Stecher currently fill that role as well, and both are likely hoping to see some NHL time this year.

On the bright side, the 2015-16 season showed how much NHL time those depth players can get once the injury bug bites. The Canucks now have four (make it five, if you include Jordan Subban) players that want the same roster spot that only one can have. And that is the definition of depth.

D Chad Billins

Another defenseman returning from Europe, Billins is a more curious signing. The 5-foot-10 blue liner does not exactly have NHL size, and he has some defensive deficiencies.

In his final North American season, Billins had 10 goals and 43 poins in 69 AHL games as well as three assists in 10 NHL contests for the Calgary Flames. His scoring continued in his two seasons abroad, in the KHL and SHL, but he did not suddenly become a more reliable defensive player. Now 27 years old, Billins is an AHL signing — nothing more.

F Michael Chaput

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Back in March, I compiled a list of five low-profile restricted free agents the Canucks could target and forward Michael Chaput was one of them. So, you can be sure, I like the signing. Chaput is a 24-year-old forward who is going into his fifth professional season, but wasn’t able to establish himself as an NHL player with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

In 266 AHL games, Chaput has 63 goals and 156 points. He is a solid player in both ends of the ice, playing a sound two-way game. Chaput is great in the face-off dot and can play at center or on the wing. That kind of versatility is what coaches like to have in their bottom six.

In the NHL, Chaput has just two goals and eight points in 58 games, and he is not expected to make the Canucks out of camp. That said, I definitely expect him to be an early call-up and get at least 15-20 games in the NHL.

W Borna Rendulic

Rendulic is the first Croatian player to play a game in the National Hockey League, and he possesses a nice combination of size and skill. Signed out of Finland by the Colorado Avalanche in 2014, Rendulic played in 94 AHL and 14 NHL games over the past two seasons. He got a shot at the NHL level early in his first year but couldn’t stick around for long.

In 2015-16, Rendulic had 16 goals and 38 points in 68 games for the AHL San Antonio Rampage, but only got three games in the NHL. The Avalanche found other players to fill the bottom six, so Rendulic had to move one. Like Chaput, he is expected to start the season in Utica but could be an early injury call-up.

F Jayson Megna

Last but not least, we have 26-year-old forward Jayson Megna whom I personally find very intriguing. Megna is a speedy forward who can score while playing a gritty game. Style-wise, he could be a decent comparison for the Canucks’ 2016 third-round pick William Lockwood. Although, of course, we hope Lockwood will be an NHL regular, unlike Megna.

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In his second professional season, Megna played 36 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL and only 25 in the AHL. At the time, Pittsburgh struggled with injuries much like Vancouver did in 2015-16, so it was a stopgap solution more than anything. That said, Megna does have the potential to be a solid bottom-six player in the NHL for the upcoming years.

Megna had a goal and an assist in just six games with the New York Rangers last year, and his short stay there showed that he can be a great complimentary player. Behind Larsen, Megna and Chaput are the most likely to get a long stint in the NHL this season.

Outlook

At the end of the day, the five newest Vancouver Canucks are all depth signings — even Larsen, who makes over a million dollars on a one-way contract. If both Sbisa and Tryamkin stay in Vancouver, Larsen will likely start the season as a seventh defenseman, while all other signings start in Utica. That is not a bad thing, though.

Next: Should Jake Virtanen Start 2016-17 in Utica?

Vancouver added Loui Eriksson and Erik Gudbranson for Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis, which is definitely an improvement. Barring major injuries, the roster has playoff potential, and that is all GM Jim Benning wants. The signings above aren’t supposed to take the team over the top, they are just supposed to provide solid depth in case of injuries.

Larsen, Chaput, Rendulic and Megna all have the potential to become full-time NHL players, and they get a fresh start in Vancouver.