Every draft day there are rumblings that Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning is looking to trade his first-round pick, and every time he ends up making the pick. This year is no different as rumours are flying that he is looking to make a significant move to bolster his roster before he is on the clock to make a selection.
Related: THW 2021 NHL Draft Guide
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at three big fish he could be trying to reel in on this fine 2021 NHL Draft day.
Target No. 1: Sam Reinhart (Buffalo Sabres)
Sam Reinhart‘s name has been floating around the rumour mill for quite some time now. Since a report surfaced that the North Vancouver native wanted to return to the West Coast, Canucks Nation has been in a frenzy wondering if a trade could happen. A little over two months have gone by and the buzz has not been silenced…yet.
Now that Benning has gone on the record saying that he wants to acquire at least one more top nine forward, Reinhart and his 295 points are starting to look very appetizing. The Canucks need scoring throughout their lineup and he would bring a ton of it. At 25-years-old, he already has five 20-goal seasons and would look very nice alongside Nils Hoglander and Bo Horvat on the second line. His addition would also allow Vasily Podkolzin to play on the third line with Tanner Pearson and Jason Dickinson, making their top-nine likely one of the best groups in the Pacific Division.
Reinhart would be motivated to play in front of friends and family and could take a hometown discount when he negotiates his restricted free agent (RFA) contract. Unfortunately, his acquisition and subsequent contract would also tighten the purse strings in free agency, unless Benning has something else up his sleeve to shed salary. Don’t forget, he still has to re-sign young stars Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson.
Target No. 2: Seth Jones (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Another name that has frequented the rumour mill is Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Seth Jones. The 6-foot-4 minute-muncher will be looking for a new home once he hits free agency in 2022, and GM Jarmo Kekäläinen wants something for him before that happens. Enter the Canucks. If they ultimately trade Nate Schmidt, they will be looking for a replacement, and Jones could be the perfect fit.
Blueliner guru Brad Shaw helped mold the Arlington native into the defenceman he is today, so Jones would be going into familiar surroundings. It could also allow the Canucks to re-sign him without much difficulty, that is, if they had a good relationship in Columbus.
Jones has everything you would want in a number one blueliner. He’s mobile, can play in all situations, and has experience mentoring a young superstar in Zach Werenski. He’s also one of the toughest blueliners in the NHL having accumulated 476 hits and 675 blocked shots over 580 games in the league. He most likely will play with Hughes on the top-pairing and will be deployed on the power play and penalty kill in place of the recently departed Alex Edler. All in all, he would be a huge addition to a defence core that struggled to keep the puck out of the net last season.
Even with the Chicago Blackhawks close to acquiring him, it’s difficult to believe that Benning is not talking with the Blue Jackets about a potential deal. I would not count them out just yet, especially with the team needing an upgrade on the blue line and the Canucks holding a higher pick than the Blackhawks.
Target No. 3: Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres)
Acquiring Jack Eichel is probably the least likely of these three scenarios, but since he’s available and the Canucks have the assets to do it, why not entertain the possibility? The former second-overall pick from 2015 has produced at an alarming rate over the last few seasons and already has 355 points in 375 NHL games. He’s not the superstar Connor McDavid is, but he’s still a legitimate number one center.
Unfortunately for the Canucks, the package to acquire him would probably be massive. A package including the ninth-overall pick, either Pettersson, Horvat, or Brock Boeser, a defence prospect like Olli Juolevi, and maybe even another prospect like Jonah Gadjovich or William Lockwood would likely be the starting point. To make the salary work, the Sabres would also have to take back at least Loui Eriksson’s contract and either Antoine Roussel or Jay Beagle too.
As much as Eichel would be amazing on the Canucks, I think the price of acquiring him would be way too high. The core of this team has not been given enough of a chance to grow into an elite group yet. Trading Pettersson, Boeser, or Horvat would be the wrong move at this point in the team’s life cycle.
Shedding Salary Needs To Be the Priority In Any Trade
The only player I would trade the ninth-overall pick for is Reinhart. He fits into the core of the Canucks right now and he could be had for a smaller package than Eichel. In any of these cases, the Sabres or Blue Jackets need to take back salary for the trade to work. With Hughes and Pettersson needing to be re-signed, the money can’t be tied up in yet another big contract.
This discussion will probably be moot in a few hours though. Every year we wait for a deal to happen, and every year we are left with only the drama and anticipation. When was the last time NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced a Canucks trade on the draft floor? Oh yes, it was to trade Cory Schneider for the ninth overall pick that ended up being Horvat. Could history repeat itself? We will just have to wait and see when it all gets going at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT.
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.