Now officially holding the 15th overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, the Vancouver Canucks might be making a trade at the draft for the second-straight season. Except, this time they won’t be looking to trade away picks, but acquire them. One pick they should be zeroing in on is the New Jersey Devils’ second-overall pick, which they won by virtue of the NHL Draft Lottery on Tuesday night.
Speaking to Don Taylor and Rick Dhaliwal on Donnie and Dhali on May 9, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet suggested that general manager (GM) Patrik Allvin will likely be aggressive this offseason. So, why not start that aggressiveness on the draft floor by acquiring the best draft pick since Brian Burke wheeled and dealed to select Henrik and Daniel second and third overall in 1999?
Related: THW 2022 NHL Draft Guide
The Canucks and Devils were rumored to be in trade talks before the 2022 Trade Deadline, so it’s not out of the question that Allvin and co. would revisit them ahead of the 2022 Draft in July. Reports out of New Jersey also indicate that they would be willing to trade their newly-acquired second-overall pick if the right deal came along. The Canucks definitely have the pieces to do it, so let’s take a look at three players that could form the cornerstone of such a deal.
The most obvious candidate to be involved in this deal would be J.T. Miller. In his closing press conference at the beginning of May, president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford did not rule out trading him, even though he was the Canucks’ MVP in 2021-22 with a career-high 99 points. As everyone probably knows by now, Miller will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2022-23 season, which likely means a big payday in the ballpark of $9 million, along with a lengthy-term attached to it. Rutherford has indicated that he doesn’t want that to happen.
“If the numbers get out of whack, then we have to make a non-emotional decision and make a tough decision that won’t be popular with anybody. And try to get assets that are going to help this franchise long term.”
As much as everyone loves Miller and his production, the big picture has to be considered first. With the cap hell the Canucks are going through with long-term contracts to Conor Garland, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jason Dickinson, not to mention the potential for a huge extension for Brock Boeser (more on him later), some tough decisions will have to be made. One of those could be deciding to deal Miller at the height of his value.
On a team full of young talent, Miller could be the veteran presence down the middle that jump-starts the Devils’ rebuild. Giving up the second-overall pick and potentially other young assets or roster players would be a high price to pay, but one that could bring immediate dividends in the form of a playoff appearance and a possible run to the Stanley Cup.
If the Canucks can pull this trade off, they would be holding two first-round picks for the first time since they selected Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann sixth and 24th overall respectively in 2014. Hopefully, if that happens they will make some better choices this time around.
Another player linked to the Devils at the 2022 Trade Deadline was Boeser. Due for a raise as a restricted free agent (RFA) this summer, he could be another candidate included in a deal like this. He is also way younger than Miller at 25 years old and still has potential as a 40-goal scorer in the NHL. Now a four-time 20-goal scorer, he could be what the Devils need on their wings to complement centers Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. They also have the cap space to accommodate what is likely to be a long-term, lucrative extension.
Having said all that, Rick Dhaliwal, who is well connected to the Canucks, reported after the regular season ended on Apr. 29 that they will “…work hard to try and get Brock Boeser re-signed.” He continued on to say, “The only urgency is with Boeser, and what I’ve been told is, internally, they want this guy back, they want to get it done, and they’re going to work hard to get it done.” So, if the numbers work, he will likely be a Canuck when the puck drops on the 2022-23 season.
However, that doesn’t mean a trade is completely off the table either. Again, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and the fact that his name was connected to the Devils in the past means he was discussed as a potential trade piece at some point. Often, GMs circle back to those talks at the draft or in the offseason. This could turn out to be one of those times.
The final player, and quite frankly the most likely one to be traded at the draft or in the offseason, is Garland. Coming over from the Arizona Coyotes in the last trade involving a Canucks’ first-round pick, he had a good first season with the team recording a career-high 52 points in 77 games. He also established himself as a high-energy, versatile forward capable of playing up and down the lineup and contributing a plethora of points at even strength. In fact, 49 of his 52 points were scored five-on-five, making him the most successful at that since Alex Burrows in the 2000s and early 2010s. During his career year in 2009-10, 26 of his 35 goals and 54 of his 67 points were recorded at even strength.
Like Boeser, Garland would be a great complement to the Devils’ top nine alongside the talents of Hughes, Hischier or Dawson Mercer. He might not have the star power of Miller and Boeser, but he definitely has the energy and skill to make up a lethal third line with Mercer and possibly top prospect Alexander Holtz. He could also help the power play, which was one of the worst in the league in 2021-22, even though most of his points came at even strength this past season. With only 1:36 of average ice time on the power play with the Canucks, it was difficult for him to generate points especially when he was often on the second unit after the first group chewed up most of the time. If he’s given a bigger role in New Jersey, I would expect those numbers to go up.
The biggest and most likely reason Garland could be traded in a deal with the Devils, or another team for that matter, is the budget-friendly contract he is on right now. Unlike Miller and Boeser, he is signed for the next four seasons at an annual average value (AAV) of $4.95 million. The contract isn’t long by any means, and his production, even if it stays around the 20-goal and 50-point range is well within the expectations for that kind of money. Looking at his value, he might not compare to the likes of Boeser and Miller, but he would be the easier player to trade. The Canucks might have to throw in the 15th overall pick to get it done, but in the end, it would be worth it, especially if they can get a player like Logan Cooley, Juraj Slafkovsky or Simon Nemec in their system as a result.
Canucks Need to Build Up Their Prospect Pool With Elite Talent
Along with the headache of managing the salary cap, Rutherford and Allvin also have to work on building up the Canucks’ rather shallow prospect pool. After sitting out the first round for two straight years, they need to make this year’s first-round pick(s) hit and hit hard. While they will be getting a good player at 15th overall, he likely won’t be an elite game-changing talent (unless Brad Lambert falls that far, that is). Trading Miller, Boeser or Garland and potentially their 15th overall selection could bring them not only the second-overall pick but also a few later picks; maybe even a mid-range prospect or young roster player, and some cap relief for the future too. If Allvin and Rutherford play their cards right, they could kill two birds with one stone before the offseason even begins.
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