Just hours before the 2021 Draft was set to commence, the Vancouver Canucks made a splash in the trade market by acquiring Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland from the Arizona Coyotes for a 2021 first-round pick (Dylan Guenther), Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle. After a 2020 season that saw some struggles on defence and a top-nine that had problems generating offence, now-former general manager Jim Benning thought they needed an injection of star power in both areas.
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Now that we are approaching midseason and all pieces of the trade have played a good chunk of games, let’s take a look at how this trade has aged for both sides.
When Ekman-Larsson was acquired, many fans and pundits pointed to his massive contract and the fact that he was not living up to the money he was getting paid. The timing was also questioned as Benning and company had not re-signed young superstars Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson yet. For a team that needed to shed salary, it ended up being money in and money out as Eriksson, Beagle and Roussel’s contracts equalled the same as Ekman-Larsson and Garland’s.
Fast forward to December and the Canucks not only re-signed Pettersson and Hughes to value contracts under the salary cap, but Ekman-Larsson is performing quite well as a top-four defenceman. He isn’t putting up monster numbers offensively like Hughes (25 points in 29 games), but he still has been an integral part of the defence core. Behind only Hughes and Tyler Myers in overall ice time, he plays in all situations and has a very respectable 53.9 Corsi-for percentage (CF%).
Ekman-Larsson also has provided his usual mobility, good first pass and uncanny ability to get shots through to the net. He leads all Canucks defencemen with 77 shots, which ranks him seventh in the NHL behind the likes of Roman Josi, Morgan Rielly and Dougie Hamilton. The next closest Canuck is Hughes with 65 shots. Overall, he has been a solid addition to the defence, despite his contract being in the stratosphere when it comes to dollars.
When the trade was first announced, this was the guy I was most excited about joining the team. The 5-foot-7 dynamo has become a fan favourite in Vancouver and the spark plug that drives their success. Currently tied with Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller for the lead in goals with nine, Garland has been everything and more for the Canucks since his debut with them in October. Not since the days of Cliff Ronning have fans seen this type of tenacity, speed and shiftiness in a small player playing for the boys on the West Coast.
Garland’s edges are beyond sublime as he regularly twists and turns to create space for himself along the boards. He also has a knack for frustrating the opposition as he already has drawn the ire of several players including Filip Zadina, Travis Konecny and most recently, Vladislav Gavrikov. He is the “tough guy” that doesn’t need to drop the gloves to light a fire under his teammates. He can do it by just playing his game and getting in the face of his opponents.
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If you need evidence of this, look no further than the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets where Garland got into a tussle with the aforementioned Gavrikov that ended up putting his team into a 4-on-4 situation. Trailing 3-0, the extra room led to Horvat’s snipe from the right circle and the spark they needed to stage a comeback in the third period.
Garland wasn’t done there, as he assisted on Pettersson’s 3-2 goal and drew the penalty on Gavrikov that led to the game-winner by Horvat on the power play. Suffice it to say, Garland had his fingerprints all over the most inspired win the Canucks have had in a very long time.
I don’t think Ekman-Larsson is the centrepiece of this trade anymore. It’s clearly Garland now.
Ever since his first game with the Canucks where he put the puck into his own net, Eriksson’s career has fallen off a cliff. With only 38 goals in 277 games since he signed the massive $36 million contract on July 1, 2016, he has been a far cry from the 30-goal man he was back in Boston during the 2015-16 season. He just broke a 39-game goalless streak with a shorthanded marker against the New York Rangers on Wednesday and has not scored more than 11 goals since that career year with the Bruins.
After a strong preseason that saw Eriksson score three goals in four games, there was hope amongst Coyotes’ fans that he could translate that production to the regular season. No such luck, as he only has one goal and five points in 26 games so far. He is also seeing minimal ice time 5-on-5, where he averages only 11:32 per game. The only value he brings is on the penalty kill, and that doesn’t seem to be moving the needle much either as the Coyotes rank 29th in that category. Needless to say, a change of scenery has not turned out to be the medicine he needed to turn his career around.
Beagle has been just as effective for the Coyotes as he was for the Canucks. He kills penalties, wins faceoffs and provides veteran leadership in the dressing room. At $1 million or so cheaper, he would be the perfect fourth-line center. His cap hit is why he is playing in the desert right now instead of on the West Coast.
Beagle was a valuable member of the Canucks’ bottom-six and an integral part of the penalty kill for three seasons. With how much they have struggled in that department this season, they probably wish he was still there. Too bad he wasn’t more of a goal scorer. Then that $3 million cap hit could be justified. As it is, he only has one goal in 21 games this season and has not hit double digits since the 2016-17 season when he was with the Washington Capitals.
Yet another overpriced bottom-six player, but effective in his role is Roussel. Like Garland, he knows how to get under the skin of his opponents. He is just not as shifty or dynamic offensively. That, unfortunately, limits his value. He does have three goals in 24 games this season, but he has yet to recapture the form he had when he was a member of the Dallas Stars in 2016-17. Back then, he was good for at least 10 goals and 25 points, along with his usual physicality and “burr in the saddle” qualities he has right now.
Roussel was a fan favourite with the Canucks and Stars because of his personality and overall game. He’s doing the same thing with the Coyotes, just without the production. At a $3 million cap hit, that’s a key part of the equation. Again, just like Beagle, that’s why he’s not wearing the Orca anymore.
2021 First-Round Pick (Dylan Guenther)
The centrepiece of this trade for the Coyotes was definitely the ninth-overall pick that eventually netted them Edmonton Oil Kings star, Dylan Guenther. Ten years down the road, he may be the reason they end up winning this trade. Time will tell, of course, but early returns say that he is going to be a star in the NHL one day.
Blessed with speed, a lethal wrist shot and the instincts of a natural goalscorer, Guenther is everything you want in a top-line scoring winger. I may be overshooting a bit, but don’t be surprised if he hits 50 goals in the NHL one day. That’s how dangerous he is when he gets the puck in the offensive zone. With the Oil Kings this season, he has 16 goals and 32 points in 25 games and is poised to represent Canada at the 2022 World Junior Championship. His star is rising, and the Coyotes will be reaping the benefits in no time. If his preseason with them is any indication, they better get their tickets now, because he’s going to be one heck of a show to watch.
Trade Review – Who Is Winning So Far?
In the short term, the Canucks are winning by a landslide. Ekman-Larsson is playing key minutes in all situations and has already entrenched himself as a core player on the blue line. Garland became part of the young, exciting core group almost immediately and has endeared himself to fans as the Ronning of the 2020s. All in all, it’s sunshine and rainbows when it comes to the pieces they received in this trade.
Long term, however, the Coyotes will likely come out on top. Guenther is as much of a lottery pick as Owen Power, maybe even better. He is a goalscorer in every sense of the word, and those types of players don’t come along every day. You can teach defence, not innate goalscoring abilities. He is also only 18 years old with his whole future ahead of him. Ekman-Larsson is 30 years old with only five more seasons of track left and Garland is already 25. By the time Guenther hits his prime, Garland will be entering his mid-30s.
Basically, this trade was done for the future when it comes to the Coyotes and for the present when it comes to the Canucks. It’s going to be interesting to see if Guenther hits his potential. In the meantime, let’s just watch how the next few seasons unfold for both teams before we declare an outright winner.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.