I can’t believe there are Canucks fans that believe this, but having more than two good centres on the team is not an issue.
Hockey fans are funny. I know many mean well, but there is this strange naiveté where they assume every prospect is going to make it and every player is the best at what they do on their favourite team.
Vancouver Canucks fans are no exception. And when you are a team that has drafted as well as they have, we tend to get hyper-inflated assessments of the future. Bo Horvat has established himself as a number one centre in this league (albeit on the low end of spectrum).
However, we already have people assuming that Elias Pettersson will step into the league next season and look like the 2009-10 version of Henrik Sedin. He hasn’t played a game yet in the NHL and we already have our top two centres penciled in.
This brings me to this year’s draft. The big fish in next year’s class is Jack Hughes, an unbelievably talented American centre. Every team in this league would kill for a chance to draft Hughes, yet some Canucks fans on the team’s forums are worried about a logjam down the middle.
Really, that’s what they’re worried about? In this fictional scenario where Vancouver selects Jack Hughes, they are hesitant because there could be too many centres? There are some serious mental gymnastics going on and I will provide my hypothesis on that later. But first, let’s explore why this is a non-issue to begin with.
A great problem to have
I still think that until Pettersson proves he’s a centre at the NHL level, I wouldn’t be so quick to pencil him into the number one spot. But let’s say he is a centre for the sake of argument. He pushes Bo Horvat down the lineup and if the Canucks are lucky enough to draft Jack, both players are pushed downward. There are a couple problems here.
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First, if you are pushing this argument, you are assuming Pettersson will only play centre and nothing else. Here’s the interesting part about some centres: they can be just as effective if not more so on the wing. And I believe Pettersson is one of those players.
Second, by pushing Horvat down to the third line, you are paying a lot of money for a bottom six centre, which Horvat clearly is not. This rigid look at the lineup is rather childish and lacks understanding. The team can have Hughes and Horvat as their top two centres. Pettersson can move to the wing and that’s a good thing.
Why? Because when the injuries hit, Pettersson could temporarily fill in a centre spot as needed. It would be a similar deployment to William Nylander in Toronto. But if you are dead set on Pettersson being a centre, it would put a wrench in the works to have Hughes, when in reality it should have zero bearing on roster decisions.
Pettersson has positional flexibility. Use it to your advantage. Plus, wouldn’t you want to have all three of those players in the Canucks’ future top six? Seems like a no-brainer to me. Add Brock Boeser and the final two pieces and voilà, you have a potentially terrifying offensive threat.
Mental gymnastics for disappointment
So why would certain Canucks fans feel this way? I believe a big reason is to try and temper the expectations now and not expect to win the draft lottery. The Canucks have not won a lottery since they joined the National Hockey League. Vancouver has yet to see their team pick first overall in an Entry/Amateur draft.
By convincing themselves that it would be to the team’s detriment to have Hughes, they shield themselves from the sting of losing yet another lottery. The losing isn’t easy, whether it’s during the season or the lottery. It tries the patience of even the most blind faithful. You should know that winning the lottery is not a magic bullet for a rebuild. It just makes it much easier.
The other issue is something I have mentioned before, the endowment effect. Because Pettersson and Horvat are Vancouver Canucks, some fans have a closer to attachment than a prospect who has not been drafted yet. That emotional attachment means they do not want to let them go.
I’ll prove it with a thought experiment. Would you trade Brock Boeser for Rasmus Dahlin? Let’s say it’s one for one and Buffalo accepts (they wouldn’t, but humour me). I would do that trade in a heartbeat and Boeser is one of my favourite players on this team. That’s the difference between emotion and logic. Dahlin is a far superior player to Boeser given their respective positions.
But emotions would never want to see the Flow wear another jersey. So, those same fans have the audacity to say that Boeser is better than Dahlin could hope to be to justify why they won’t make that trade. And that’s when the rest of hockey world can laugh at that absurd level of stupidity.
Those same emotions are why people are having this feeling now. Instead of being hopeful for the pick, they want to secretly lose the lottery and maybe just draft a defenceman instead. Here’s the thing about next year’s draft. It’s forward heavy and there are a lot of good centres. Just because the team may not draft Hughes doesn’t mean they will avoid another player down the middle. Remember that when you start worrying about logjams in your future lineup.