Vancouver Canucks: Jim Benning talks about rebuild, prospects

Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning recently talked to Sportsnet about the team’s rebuild, direction and prospects. See some of the interesting things he had to say below.

Heading into his fourth year as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, Jim Benning finally seems to have constructed a roster that knows where it’s going in the long run.

Benning’s first three seasons as GM were highlighted by the frustrations of trying to balance a rebuild while also making the Canucks a team that was capable of pushing for the playoffs. It worked in 2015 when they finished second in the Pacific Division, but they’ve since followed after placing 28th and 29th over the last two seasons.

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Benning has been criticized for extending fairly average players like Luca Sbisa and Derek Dorsett, while handing out aging veteran Loui Eriksson a six-year deal worth $36 million.

But one must never forget that this is the man that drafted Thatcher Demko, Brock Boeser, Olli Juolevi and Elias Pettersson.

He turned Alexandre Burrows into a prized prospect named Jonathan Dahlen, and robbed the Calgary Flames in separate trades for Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund.

The Canucks GM — who’s entering his fourth year — got the chance to sit down with Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre to discuss the offseason, the team’s direction, its prospects and more.

When asked about the team’s goals in the summer, here’s what Benning had to say:

"We wanted to accomplish two things. One, we wanted to bring more skill into the team. We were the second-lowest scoring team in the league last year, so we wanted to upgrade the skill of the team. And second, we wanted to add depth to our group…As far as the skill content, we added Sam Gagner and Thomas Vanek. And our scouts really like (Alex) Burmistrov. They think he’s an offensive player just coming into his own."

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Indeed, the Canucks do look like a team that should score plenty more in 2017-18. With Bo Horvat, Baertschi and Granlund all coming off career seasons — along with the promise Boeser brings to the table — Vancouver’s offence should have new life.

MacIntyre also asked Benning about a rebuild, considering the Canucks added a handful of veterans in the offseason.

"This is the start of my fourth year. We’ve gotten to the point where we drafted well. Some of of these players have now finished junior or finished college, and we’ve got good depth in our prospects pool. Young players like Brock Boeser and Jake Virtanen and Nikolay Goldobin are ready to compete for a spot on our team. But we don’t have to rush them."

The Canucks have indeed been drafting well, but Virtanen’s lack of progress has been nothing short of frustrating. Fans are still waiting for him to break out, if that ever happens. And though the likes of Demko, Juolevi and Pettersson have a lot of upside, it could be another two years until we see either of them in the NHL.

Benning was also asked about some of the criticism he and management have faced, given how confusing the “rebuild on the fly” approach hasn’t  worked:

"I don’t think there’s a mixed message. The fans, when they come to our games, they want the team to be competitive. But they also want to see us draft well and develop our players to be NHL players…We’ve developed younger players like Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund, Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher and Jacob Markstrom. We’ve moved towards rebuilding the team. We’ve tried to get younger."

So it sounds like Benning seems confident in where the Canucks are headed. They’ve added a handful of cheap, quality veterans in the offseason in hopes of scoring more. But realistically, this team is a couple of years away from being a playoff contender.

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Going by this interview, it sounds like Benning is finally on the same page with Canuck fans who have been clamoring for a rebuild. With plenty of young faces on the roster and in the pipeline system, Benning has the Canucks on track to returning to relevance.