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Trade or Draft: How The Canucks Should Use Their Pick

Trent Leith / June 3, 2021  

In a stunning turn of events, the Vancouver Canucks didn’t fall in the draft order. The Vancouver Canucks held on to the 9th overall pick in the 2021 NHL entry draft. Any seasoned Canucks fan will tell you that not losing the draft lottery is just as good as winning the draft lottery in Vancouver. This year there is tremendous potential to draft players further down the draft order than they truly should fall, as many of the minor leagues that feed the NHL talent, played shortened or no season at all.

So now that the Canucks have “won” this draft lottery, the question becomes what will come of the pick. Of course, a player will be selected on July 23rd with this pick, the question is will the Canucks still own the 9th round pick that they have drawn, or will they have traded it in exchange for a player or to move in the draft? 

Move the Pick

An asset of this value, especially one in such a strange draft could net a serious return. The Canucks are in a position that they need to retool around a young core to try and open up the Stanley Cup contention window. The issue with opening that window is that the team is bogged down by inefficient or outright bad contracts. Moving a pick like the one they drew on Wednesday night would help expedite the process of opening a contention window. 

The Canucks could use that pick as part of a package to move a bad contract out like Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle or Antoine Roussel. But if I were the GM, I would be holding on to that pick to try and move an even more long-term inefficient contract off the books. The Canucks could use this pick to move a player with a longer contract like Tyler Myers for example. With Myers’ contract in all likelihood to be another anchor for the team in the future, it’s in the club’s best interest to get out from under it before it becomes a problem, but of course, it’s not as easy as a simple trade. 

The value that this pick could produce over the course of the drafted players’ NHL career could be much higher than the value gained from getting out of a contract that may become a bad one in the future.

The other option to help make the team better now would be to trade the pick for a current NHL player, but again is that the best option? To get a top-tier player in exchange for a first-round pick, that player is either trending downward, on a bad contract, or on an expiring contract. Of course, the Vancouver Canucks could add more to a package to try and land a star player, but this team is not in a position that they should be making such moves. 

The Canucks traded a first-round pick in recent memory in exchange for a player to better their team in the short term when they traded to acquire J.T. Miller. That trade has undoubtedly worked for the Vancouver Canucks but it had every possibility to not be nearly as successful as it was. J.T. Miller was a good player for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he was not the player that he has become in Vancouver. The organization does deserve full marks for how the trade worked out, and how they identified Miller as a player that could play a larger role for them. Did they catch lightning in a bottle with that trade or is this something the organization can routinely pull off? 

That is a bet I personally would not take and unless something impossible to say no to falls in Benning’s lap, they should not trade the ninth overall pick to move a contract or acquire a player. Trading their first pick in the 2021 draft isn’t entirely off the table, nothing ever should be, but that doesn’t mean in all likelihood that trading the pick would be a bad idea. 

Keep the Pick and Use it.

The most likely outcome on July 23rd is that the Canucks will hold on to their top 10 pick and draft a player that has fallen to them at 9th overall. Scouts around the NHL all believe there are between 8 and 10 top-tier prospects available at the draft this year so the Canucks landing with the 9th is in the sweet spot to pick up the last of the upper echelon of talent. 

The Canucks organization’s drafting has been among their strong suits in the Jim Benning era. Benning went a little off the board and drafted Elias Patterson earlier than most people expected him to be selected, and clearly, that has worked wonders for the team. Before that Brock Boser was selected 23rd overall and has played like you would expect a top-10 pick would play. With drafting being one of the weapons of the Vancouver Canucks, the team should be reluctant to move on from such a high pick in a year where talent is more likely to fall down the order. 

With where the Canucks are in their cycle of contention, they need to continue to draft and develop to utilize the advantage of their ELCs to continue to build a contender and manage their salary cap. 

Trade Down

The third option we are going to cover is the potential to trade down in the draft. Jim Benning and the Canucks have had success in the mid to late position of the first round, and that is something they could try to weaponize. The Canucks may be able to acquire extra picks in exchange for their higher first-round pick. While I know it is uncommon for NHL teams to trade up or down in an NHL entry draft, it is something that should be considered. If a team calls Jim Bening asking to try and get that 9th round pick for a player that the Cancks are not planning on drafting with that pick then Jim should listen. The Canucks may be able to also acquire a second or third-round pick as well as a later first-round pick in the exchange. 

There is also the possibility of the Canucks leveraging this Seattle expansion draft to trade down in the first round, while also acquiring a player from another team that is going to otherwise be exposed to Seattle. With the Canucks success at the draft in recent years, I would be comfortable if the Canucks could monetize their first-round pick while also still being able to draft later in the first round. Especially in a draft as volatile as this one, the likelihood of getting the player you had your eye on later than you would have expected is very high. The shared scouting knowledge in the NHL this year is much more limited and scouting opportunities have been sparse. I would bet general managers’ draft boards around the league all look wildly different from one another. 

To be able to pull the trigger on moving down in the draft another GM needs to approach Benning with the opportunity, and the Canucks should be flexible and ready to pounce on the opportunity should there be gains to be had for the Canucks. 

Not Losing is a Win

No matter what the Canucks do with their pick, it already feels as though they have won because they didn’t slide in draft position. It’s unfortunate though that, just like every other aspect of the Vancouver Canucks the bar for success has been set incredibly low. At least Canucks fans had something to be happy about in early June this year.