Vancouver Canucks’ GM Jim Benning: Calder-finalist whisperer

Vancouver Canucks Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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DALLAS, TX – JUNE 23: Jim Benning attends the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 23, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Vancouver Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning seems to have a knack for selecting future Calder finalists, can his latest rookie do the same?

Can GM Jim Benning’s current top prospect Quinn Hughes conquer the 2020 Calder Memorial Trophy challengers to make it two in a row for the Vancouver Canucks, following Elias Pettersson‘s win a month ago?

It won’t be an easy task as New York Rangers prospect Kaapo Kakko seems poised to be the award’s top challenger this coming season.

For Canucks fans and the Hughes family alike, this race will be especially exciting because it also includes Quinn’s younger brother Jack Hughes, who after Kakko probably has the second-best odds to win the 2020 award for the NHL’s most impressive first-year player.

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For devout Vancouver fans, however, there’s still fair reason to expect that Quinn can outdo them all, or at least get himself onto the ballot, which would mean Canuck finalists three years in a row for Jim’s evermore-promising stable of young hockey players.

The case for Benning’s Calder cultivations will eventually include the club’s newest draft-pick extraordinaire, Vasili Podkolzin, who at tenth overall looks like yet another blatant draft-day theft. He could likely be a 2022 Calder finalist as by then, the goal-scoring forward will have had a couple more years of professional Russian hockey and homegrown maturing to further his cause for the award.

Perusing back over the last decade of finalists shows that Benning and his scouting staff are on the verge of challenging as the Calder kings of the modern-day NHL.

3: Colorado (but only their most recent from 2014 was selected by current GM Joe Sakic)
2: Vancouver, Buffalo, Chicago, Edmonton, Florida, NY Islanders, Tampa Bay
1: Arizona, Calgary, Carolina, Columbus, Detroit, Montreal, New Jersey, Ottawa, Philadelphia, San Jose, St.Louis, Toronto, Winnipeg

Recent history suggests that Benning has done well with drafting actual Calder-calibre talent, and he could show even better over the next few seasons.

The future is looking bright for Benning and his boys, and the stakes and excitement levels are high, as the offseason view towards 2020 is predicting a tight race developing between Kakko, Jack, Colorado Avalanche defenceman Cale Makar, and Quinn.

Eligible challengers also include Canucks backup goaltender Thatcher Demko and defence prospect Olli Juolevi.

Unfortunately, the Canucks probably won’t have a finalist for the 2021 race, as neither Nils Höglander nor Jett Woo has the pedigree of top challengers. Both of these prospects were projected as late first-round picks but were actually taken early in the second.

Not to disparage, o’ ye faithful, as mentioned another outstanding Calder opportunity will be percolating in Russia. A couple of seasons from now prospect power forward Podkolzin could be catapulting into Calder contention by landing on then-third-year-NHLer Elias Pettersson’s wing, which by the end of 2021-22 could amount to the Canucks having finalists in four out of the last five years. This would be the stuff of legends.

Here’s a quick look back at how Benning and his finely tuned staff have turned up in a sentence following the word “legends.”

First, there was Brock Boeser from the 2015 NHL draft – Jim’s 2018-Calder-trophy finalist – who probably would’ve won it all if not for those meddling back and wrist injuries, as his 29 goals were on pace for 38 over 82 games, being the more anticipated feat than eventual winner Mathew Barzal‘s 63 assists. Having the 23rd-overall pick perform so well was a song and a verse for Benning.

This very next year the golden boy himself, Pettersson, won the 2019 Calder honour for Jim and his brain trust after scoring 66 points in his first 71 NHL games, setting the team record for most points by a rookie, outscoring five decades worth of Canucks, and earning league-wide acclaim as the steal of the 2017 draft.