Vancouver Canucks: Potential sweeteners in a Lucic-Eriksson swap

There are rumours that the Vancouver Canucks may trade Loui Eriksson for Milan Lucic, but Jim Benning will need a sweetener. Here are some possible options.

Loui Eriksson has one of the worst contracts in the NHL. The moment that the Vancouver Canucks signed the veteran winger to a whopping six-year, $36 million contract in 2016, the deal seemed destined for failure.

Halfway through, the term “unmitigated disaster” would be more appropriate. Eriksson, signed to boost the offence, has put up just 76 points in 196 games in a Canucks uniform and often looking  invisible in the process. Fans have claured for management to rid itself of Eriksson’s contract, and that may finally be happening.

Just prior to the World Hockey Championships in May, Eriksson voiced his displeasure with his deployment as a Canuck (already considered to be generous by many) during an interview with reporters in his native Sweden. His comments made it clear that he was unhappy in Vancouver, and all signs have indicated that the feeling is mutual. Earlier this week, his agent, JP Barry, suggested that a move is quite likely in an interview with Sportsnet 650.

Unfortunately, his will not be an easy contract to trade, andit  will likely require the Canucks taking on another poor contract in return. In recent weeks, the Canucks have been rumoured to be in talks to acquire Milan Lucic from the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers signed Lucic on the same day in 2016, to a seven-year deal worth $42 million deal. Lucic was also given an unconditional no movement clause, making his deal even worse than Eriksson’s. During the three years since, Lucic has produced even less than Eriksson.

To make such a contract palatable for the Canucks, Edmonton will likely have to throw in a pretty decent asset to sweeten the deal, so instead of focusing on the quality of a Lucic-Eriksson swap, this article will dive into what that sweetener could be.

One can safely assume that the Canucks would require a draft pick or a young player in return for Eriksson. T

he Canucks are in a rebuild, and the Oilers lack much of the roster talent required to entice Vancouver to take on another four years of Lucic. Therefore, a young, skilled prospect would be the most likely choice. Someone in the vein of Kailer Yamamoto or Tyler Benson.

Unfortunately, Yamamoto and Benson are likely too valuable for the Oilers to give up, but there is another possibility: Jesse Puljujarvi. Puljujarvi was the Oilers’ fourth overall selection in the 2016 draft, and for much of the 2015-16 season was projected to go third behind Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. So far, Puljujarvi has failed to secure his spot on an uneven Oilers squad. He’s been mentioned heavily in trade rumours. With general manager Ken Holland at the reins, a trade is certainly possible and may be necessary.

However, his value will be steadily decreasing thanks to his decline. Puljujarvi’s future in the NHL is less certain than it was three years ago. A major reclamation may be needed, and if anyone, the Canucks may be the team that can do that.

It’s common knowledge that general manager Jim Benning has a penchant for attempting to reclaim lost potential from supposed busts. Admittedly, these efforts have been mostly for naught (see Derrick Pouliot) but there have also been major successes, such as Sven Baertschi.

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Despite concussions putting Baertschi’s career in jeopardy, he has been a fixture of the Canucks top-six for several years now, acquired for no more than a second round pick. There is reason to believe that a similar project could be successful in Vancouver.

Puljujarvi was only drafted three years ago, and while there are high exceptions for top-five picks, that amount of time is a little quick to be writing a player off. Just look at Dylan Strome, drafted third overall by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015. He only just found his form this past season following a trade to the Chicago Blackhawks, and he now looks like a solid piece of their future.

One element of Strome’s success has been his connection to fellow Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat, whom Strome played on a line with in junior. Puljujarvi has that similar Canucks connection in Olli Juolevi, drafted just one spot back of the current Oiler and likely to get a shot in the NHL next season. The two played together on the Finnish national team at the 2016 World Juniors and could find some chemistry on the Canucks.

However, Strome’s revitalization could set a new precedent for how reclamation projects can go. Puljujarvi’s offensive prowess has the potential to fit with the rest of the Canucks’ young core and make him one of the many missing pieces on the Canucks’ wings. The Oilers would most certainly be wary of the possibility of Puljujarvi joining the Canucks and immediately lighting up the scoresheet. Therefore, to avoid such a deal becoming too one-sided, Edmonton would likely demand some sort of sweetener from the Canucks.

Luckily, Lucic’s contract means that this sort of sweetener would not need to be quite so lofty. The Oilers have a critical need to improve their defence, so they may want someone such as Jalen Chatfield or Jack Rathbone in return. Perhaps they would prefer a forward, wanting Jonah Gadjovich or Petrus Palmu instead.

If the prospect has a lower ceiling than others, one of the Canucks’ three sixth round picks may be included as well. Either way, the Canucks would not be able to get away with Eriksson for just Lucic and Puljujarvi, so Benning should be careful in who is expendable and who isn’t.

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Of course, this trade proposal is not the most probable proposition. In all likelihood, the Canucks and Oilers would just swap the eighth and tenth overall picks at next weekend’s draft, a balanced and easy move. However, where is the fun in that? Trading for Puljujarvi allows the Canucks to make an immediate change to their lineup that has the potential to be effective. If Puljujarvi works out, that’s great. If he doesn’t, the damage is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.