It’s hard not to read anything about the Vancouver Canucks these days that doesn’t talk about their sudden wealth of young and exciting prospects that fans can be sold on. Four first round picks over the last two years will undoubtedly do wonders to re-stock the farm’s pantry, but has the Canucks front-office come back from the store with fifty pounds of oatmeal and no brown sugar? I’ll explain.
As of right now in Vancouver’s prospect pool alone, there are at least 5 centres who can make an impact at an NHL level. We’re looking at players like Bo “the Anti-Schneider” Horvat, Jared “I want to be like Kesler” McCann, Cole “I’m a lot better than people thought” Cassels, Brendan “Don’t forget about me!” Gaunce and finally Dane “The overage sensation” Fox. That’s not including Kellan “Knuckles” Lain, who is most famous for the shortest first shift in NHL history, as well as recent acquisition Linden “Oi” Vey who probably has the best chance of all to crack the Canucks lineup this year. Lets take a look at how the depth chart looks if each player were to play their natural position.
If I’m not mistaken, there appears to be a bit of a drop off between positions here. Depth at centre is always thought of to be a good thing in the NHL, so there’s no real need to panic. Worst case scenario, you can possibly experiment by moving one of your lesser centres to the wing to give them a bit of versatility. Benning thought this through, and sees this as the best configuration of young prospects that Vancouver could hope for at this time. Except for one thing, what if it wasn’t just Benning that’s had such an infatuation with young centres?
What you can see in that table is that over the past few years, Vancouver has used a lot of high draft picks on centremen. A lot. As in 66% (6/9) of their first round selections since 2007. Let’s play along for a quick second. Suppose that Vancouver’s draft strategy is actually quite common throughout the NHL. After all, centre is one of the toughest holes to fill in a lineup because of the greater number of responsibilities both defensively and offensively than their on-ice counterparts. Faceoffs, puck distribution, winning offensive puck battles as well as acting as a third defenseman in their own zone, it would be no wonder why centres would have greater value than other positions in the first round.
Welp, so much for that. If you combine both winger positions (as it’s easier to switch from LW-RW than most other positions) in the above graph, you’ll see that among skaters the distribution between centremen, wingers and defencemen isn’t as wide as Vancouver’s draft history over the same time period might suggest.
Granting that this year’s draft was the first of the Linbenning regime, there is bound to be some overlap in what they view as needs at the draft table. Perhaps Linden and Benning came in, saw what the Canucks had at certain positions and decided they needed an upgrade despite what Gillis and company had gone out and acquired in previous drafts/transactions/etc. Wouldn’t be a far off assumption, since Vancouver no longer have the rights to any of their first round picks from 2007-2010, what with the departure of Jordan Schroeder this off-season. There’s also the possibility they abide by the principle of “you can never have too much of a good thing” (which, in the case of oatmeal, is entirely untrue), meaning that no matter what position they were picking at in the draft they were going to pick the best player available. Let’s call this strategy “asset accumulation”, where a team looks at the draft not only as a way to develop from within, but also view these prospects as chips in future deals that could fill the team’s needs at a later date.
In either case, whether Benning and Linden didn’t like the prospects at centre they had in the cupboard when they got here, or they think that loading up at a crucial position will make them stronger throughout the organization moving forward, Canucks fans shouldn’t get too attached to this prospect group as a whole. Unless they plan on moving some of these guys to the wing, there’s a good chance that at least a few of these young kids won’t be making their mark in the NHL with the Canucks. Let’s just hope that if Vancouver is forced to get rid of one of their budding young NHL’ers, they don’t get Cam Neely’ed and end up with egg on their face for the next quarter century.