Photo Credit: Vancouver Canucks
By Scott Rosenhek
I wanted to use this as a way to take stock of the draft picks the Canucks currently possess and the contract situations that they will be facing this summer in light of some recent news.
At the time of writing this article, the Canucks have a pick in the first 3 rounds (5th, 33rd, 64th overall). In the fourth round, they have their own pick at 95th overall, as well as the 114th overall selection from the Jannik Hansen trade to the San Jose Sharks for Nikolay Goldobin. Our last pick is in the seventh round at 188th overall.
But, wait! After the draft lottery, Canucks President Trevor Linden said the team had 6 picks in the top 120. This could mean that Columbus will surrender the compensation (currently 58th overall) pick for hiring John Tortorella this year. It may also mean that Linden is just assuming, but it would make sense for Columbus to surrender this year’s pick in a weaker draft.
If you are wondering where the 5th and 6th round picks went, I can bring you up to speed. The 5th round pick was sent to the Oilers for Philip Larsen, who will be playing in the KHL next season. The 6th round pick and Niklas Jensen went to the New York Rangers for Emerson Etem, who is likely playing for Anaheim’s AHL team next season.
With the draft picks accounted for, I should quickly go over the news regarding defencemen for the Canucks and Utica Comets. As many fans know by now, Nikita Tryamkin has decided to leave the Canucks to play at home in the KHL. This one stings since Tryamkin looked like he was coming into his own as an NHL defenceman this past season. There goes our so called “luxurious” defence.
Philip Larsen has left as mentioned earlier, and Utica has lost Chad Billins and Tom Nilsson to the SHL. This does not impact the big club too much, but it’s a shame to lose a 5th round pick for a player that was not going to be part of the Canucks for too long. It almost feels like the Zack Kassian trade, but I will leave that topic alone.
After the exodus of these defencemen, Rick Dhaliwal from NEWS 1130 Sports released this bit of news over the weekend:
Carl Neill and Tate Olson are surely disappointed to not have a chance in the Canucks’ system, but they were drafted in the late rounds of the draft. There was a low chance of them making the NHL and the Canucks made bets that just did not work out. It sucks for these young players, but that is the way it is for many draft picks in the NHL.
Neill may have scored the second most points by a defenceman in the QMJHL, but he will be turning 21 years old in July, relies heavily on the power play for points and is a very poor skater. Tate Olson had a major drop in production after being told to focus more on his defensive game by the Canucks last year.
What does this mean for them? Both players can enter the draft this year and be selected by any of the teams in the NHL. Tate Olson may have a better chance of being drafted again since the WHL has a reputation for producing NHL defencemen, but it might be more difficult for Carl Neill as the QMJHL is less successful in this area.
As Dhaliwal’s tweet suggests, the choice to not sign either defenceman opens the door to pursuing OHL defender Darren Raddysh. Frankly, Raddysh is a much better defenceman than Neill or Olson. Some fans may have forgotten about the team signing Jalen Chatfield from the Windsor Spitfires, but he is a defenceman that has a better likelihood of NHL success than either of those two as well. There are also other free agents from the NCAA such as Will Butcher, assuming he does not sign with Colorado and becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Would it be nice to have Carl Neill or Tate Olson in the prospect pipeline? Sure. But this leads to a conversation about contract limits. NHL teams are limited to 50 standard player contracts (SPC) during the season. There are 34 players signed for the 2017-18 season and 12 players who are restricted free agents that will need to be re-signed, unless the Canucks walk away from anyone.
Four new players can be signed for next season, but signing Olson or Neill would reduce that number to 2 contracts and the Canucks have made it clear that they want to re-sign Ryan Miller. That would mean the Canucks would only have 1 contract to use on free agents in the summer. By not signing the pair, they now have 3 contract slots to work with.
Rumors are pointing to Luca Sbisa being selected in the Expansion Draft, but that only frees up one more contract slot. Regardless of what you think of Sbisa, his departure would mean someone would have to replace him on the opening lineup, whether that is a young defenceman in the Canucks’ system or a free agent in the summer.
The issue may be in a few signings that Jim Benning has made. Mackenze Stewart and Yan-Pavel Laplante were handed three-year entry level deals by Benning. Both are struggling in the ECHL and will be hard pressed to carve out careers in the NHL. Personally, I have nothing against either player, it is just the circumstances they have been put in have become an obstacle for the Canucks.
An alternative that the Canucks could have explored was to wait for these players to become free agents and sign them to AHL contracts. These do not count towards the NHL contract limit and keeps these players in the pro system. If they prove to be worthy of a callup, the Canucks could just sign them to an NHL contract like they did with Mike Zalewski.
The Canucks are not taking advantage of the fact that they own an AHL team and can sign players to AHL contracts themselves. Instead, the team does not appear to be thinking about the long-term ramifications of handing out contracts, resulting in players that are pushed out because of these limits. Unfortunately for them, Carl Neill and Tate Olson are the players being pushed out this time around.
*UPDATE*: Due to the Ottawa Senators advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, the San Jose pick is now at 113th overall