The only thing this management group can hang their hat on is the prospect pool they have amassed. No matter how good the prospect pool is, this is just the start of the rebuild. It by no means signals its conclusion.
I tend to discuss prospects on this website more often than most. The Vancouver Canucks have a great prospect pool, they really do. I don’t think it’s the best in the league, but I could hear an argument for the top 5 with the addition of Quinn Hughes.
Since I talk about the prospects enough already, I want to shift focus to how the pool was built and its relation to a rebuild. For some people, this is enough. They think that a Stanley Cup is guaranteed in the next six years because the prospect pool is so strong. But if that’s all it took, why haven’t Edmonton, Buffalo or Arizona won anything in the last eight years?
The reason lies with team building. Building a great prospect pool is difficult. Developing that pool into a powerhouse contender is where the real skill comes into play. A team’s most valuable pieces need to be extracted from the draft. Of that there is no doubt. However, those core pieces are complimented by support players acquired through trade and free agency.
Those are the players you bring it at the end and the Canucks are doing the exact opposite as you will see later on. Once you see how the Canucks are gathering their young players, the shine that some of you see on management will appear rather dulled.
Where you draft
It’s no surprise that some of the best players in the Canucks’ prospect pool were found in the first round. This includes Olli Juolevi, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. Two of the Canucks’ first rounders have graduated to the NHL in Jake Virtanen and Brock Boeser.
Except for Boeser, every other player in that group was drafted in the top 10. To get there, the Canucks had to finish near the bottom of the league. For the picks in 2014, that is not Jim Benning’s doing. But every subsequent year was for better or for worse.
Making a bad team is the easy part. Anyone can do it. There’s no skill in keeping the picks assigned to you by the NHL. And personally, praising someone for using their allotted picks is setting the bar rather low. This is the Vancouver Canucks, after all.
I know what you’re going to say. If the Canucks didn’t make the playoffs in 2015, they wouldn’t have Boeser. How about this? If Vancouver aimed for the bottom and picked around 9th or 10th overall and traded a veteran for a late first, they could have picked Boeser and Mathew Barzal. That would have sped up the rebuild by a country mile, making the Virtanen pick a less impactful talking point.
The key to the draft is extracting the most value from where you pick. And Vancouver has had trouble doing that in various places in the draft. This is understandable in the later rounds, but unacceptable in the first round, especially when they pick so high. We aren’t using hindsight either. The team selfishly chose positional need over raw talent and are paying the price years later.
Why the prospect pool is so strong, but could be stronger
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Picking near the top of each round is a good way to stock up your prospect pool. You get first access to the best players available and the absolute best talent reside in the top 10 of round one. Nobody should be surprised that prospect pool is good. When you are this bad for this long, the pool better be good or you are employing unsuitable people.
Players like Thatcher Demko and Kole Lind are high picks in the second round. For someone like Adam Gaudette, the Canucks extracted a lot of value in the fifth round of the 2015 draft. Keep in mind, the team had two picks in that round and used up the first one on draft bust Carl Neill. And the Canucks had that pick because Mike Gillis traded Raphael Diaz for it.
I’m of the mindset that the pool is strong, but could have been significantly stronger by keeping all the picks bled in shortcut trades. I always laugh when people parade the Derrick Pouliot trade as a victory because he stuck with the Canucks and Andrey Pedan didn’t.
Everyone seems to forget that we flushed a fourth round pick in that trade and Pedan was acquired with a third round in the first place. We got that third back after throwing away the second rounder we got in the Kevin Bieksa trade. It continues to be death by 1000 cuts and if the Canucks exercised any of the patience that they preach, none of us would complain.
You have a good pool, now what?
Rebuilds don’t end at the draft. Honestly, selecting players is the easy part, relative to the rebuild. You need to see these picks graduate and especially for the players taken after the first round, you have to develop them. Since the 2014 draft, the Canucks only have two players to graduate to the NHL (Boeser and Virtanen).
However, making the NHL is not enough for first round picks. If you are building your new core, which is what Vancouver is doing, then these players must make an impact. Boeser has done that and Virtanen has not.
The process has been slow and the problem is the team is dragging their heels while they race against the clock. Modern stars are breaking into the NHL a lot earlier and since statistical peaks usually occur between ages 24-26, teams need to build with being competitive by the time their core reaches that age.
Once that core is built up, you can then add the complimentary pieces. Your Sven Baertschi‘s, Brandon Sutter‘s and bottom of the lineup contributors. Managing cap space is pivotal and you don’t want to tie up money to players who will not be here when the team is good again. Bad contracts not only limit how much you can pay your stars, but they also prevent your prospects from being integrated into the lineup.
That’s why you need to come out positive on trades. But when you keep trading for scraps, you aren’t doing yourself any favours. You’re burning through your own capital (i.e. draft picks) and getting little in return. Jim Benning was right about one thing, there are no shortcuts.
I just wished the Canucks did a little less talking and took a little more action in the right direction. Believe it or not, a rebuild is a careful balancing act in risk management. And when you don’t understand that, you are aiming for mediocrity.
This group is praying that they get lucky and a good team falls in their lap. You can see it in how passively they approach trade deadlines and drafts. They never take the initiative. But then they desperately waste money during the silly season, overpaying for more junk, year after year.
Rebuilds don’t happen on their own. You have to take action, otherwise you will continue to watch from the outside looking in. Trevor and Jim may feel good things come to those who wait. However, as next season looks poised to be much worse, how much more waiting is in store for Canucks fans? I can tolerate losing seasons, but on an underlying level (such as shot metrics), I want to see improvement.
I have yet to see that and with the two players carrying this team since 2014 retired, this squad will be exposed for what they are. It’s not fair to Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and next season’s group of rookies, but Benning made this mess. Now the team has to wade through it.