Since Jim Benning became general manager of the Vancouver Canucks in 2014, he has presided over six drafts and selected 43 players. Amongst those are current NHL stars Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, and Elias Pettersson. That’s quite the success rate for a team that has struggled in the past at the draft table.
Related: Who’s Never Picked #1 in the Draft
So in honour of yet another one of his draft picks making an impact at the NHL level, I thought it would be a good time to start a series of articles looking back at all the drafts he’s been a part of. In each piece, I will take a look at each of the players Benning selected, talk about their time with the team, if any, and now that we have the benefit of hindsight in our arsenal, point out any missed opportunities. First up is the 2014 Entry Draft hosted by the Philadelphia Flyers where the Canucks made seven picks in the seven rounds that year.
Early Rounds (1-3)
Round 1, 6th Overall – Jake Virtanen, RW (Calgary Hitmen, WHL)
With his first-ever pick as general manager of the Canucks, Benning selected hometown right-winger Jake Virtanen from the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. In the 2013-14 season, Virtanen put up 45 goals and 71 points in 71 games, finishing sixth in the WHL in goals. He played one more season with the Hitmen before turning pro and played his first season in the NHL during the 2015-16 campaign.
Even though Virtanen posted seven goals and 13 points in 55 games in his rookie campaign, he did not stay there the following season. He had to pay his dues at the American Hockey League (AHL) level until the 2017-18 season where he put up 10 goals and 20 points in 75 games. Since then, he’s had to endure lots of tough love from NHL/AHL head coach Travis Green and take heat for his conditioning and lack of consistency in his game.
All of that seems to have paid off, however, as Virtanen has steadily improved every season he’s been in the NHL going from 10 goals in 2017-18 to a career-high 18 this season. If not for the “pause”, he probably would have become a 20-goal scorer for the first time in his career. He also has added more playmaking to his game too with another career-high of 18 assists. At 23-years-old, we have yet to see the best from him, and as a budding power forward with lightning speed, I expect we will see a lot more in the coming seasons.
Missed Opportunity: Nikolaj Ehlers – Drafted 11th overall by the Winnipeg Jets
Although Virtanen is improving as an NHL player and will probably develop into a great top-six option, Ehlers is already a star in this league. From the minute he stepped into the bright lights, he showed elite speed, creativity and a knack for scoring goals. He has played 369 NHL games already and has posted four straight 20-goal seasons as well. At 24-years-old, he has only just begun to scratch the surface of his abilities.
Round 1, 24th Overall – Jared McCann, C (Soo Greyhounds, OHL)
With the first-round pick he acquired in the Ryan Kesler trade just days before, Benning selected Jared McCann from the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL. McCann totaled 27 goals and 62 points in his draft year and played one more season there scoring 34 goals and 81 points before turning pro with the Canucks in 2014-15. He joined Virtanen as the second 19-year-old to make the roster that season.
McCann ended up playing the entire 2014-15 campaign with the Canucks, scoring nine goals and 18 points in 69 games. He enticed fans with his speed and elite shot, often outplaying his first-round counterpart. His time in Vancouver was shortlived, however, as he was dealt in the offseason to the Florida Panthers for hulking defenceman Erik Gudbranson.
McCann played parts of three seasons in the Sunshine State totaling 18 goals and 35 points in 143 games before he was dealt again during the 2018-19 season to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a package involving Nick Bjugstad. It was there that he seemed to come alive offensively, scoring 11 goals in 32 games to close out the campaign. This season has been much of the same, as he totaled 14 goals and 35 points in 66 games before the pandemic-induced pause.
Missed Opportunity: David Pastrnak – Drafted 25th overall by the Boston Bruins
This was probably one of the biggest misses in NHL history for many teams, as Pastrnak has developed into one of the biggest scoring threats in the entire league. He has scored 30 or more goals in four straight seasons and was poised to have his first 50-goal campaign before the pause happened. In hindsight, he probably should have been drafted in the top three instead of the bottom of the opening round, as he’s outscored his entire draft class so far.
Round 2, 36th Overall – Thatcher Demko, G (Boston College, NCAA)
With his first pick in the second round, Benning chose goaltender Thatcher Demko from Boston College of the NCAA. He was the second goaltender off the board after the Calgary Flames chose Mason McDonald with the 34th overall pick. Demko ended up playing two more seasons in the NCAA before turning pro in 2016-17 with the Comets of the AHL.
Demko played two seasons there before suffering a concussion during Canucks’ training camp in 2018-19. It was an unfortunate setback as he was going to battle Anders Nilsson for the backup job that season after a breakout year in 2017-18 with the Comets where he registered 25 wins along with a 2.44 goals against average (GAA) and a .922 save percentage (SV%). Fortunately, he was able to recover and get into 16 games in the AHL and nine games in the NHL after Benning dealt Nilsson to the Ottawa Senators.
Demko started the 2019-20 season as Jacob Markstrom’s backup and has developed his game quite nicely despite his average numbers (3.06 GAA and .905 SV%). He was forced into the starting job after Markstrom suffered a season-ending injury and was just starting to turn a corner before the pause. At 24-years-old, his status as the goaltender of the future is still intact as the Canucks look towards the 2020-21 season.
Missed Opportunity: None. The Canucks drafted the best goaltender in the draft, and he’s now poised to become an NHL starter. He could also become an elite goaltender in his prime as well. Brandon Montour, Ryan Donato, and Christian Dvorak, who were drafted 55th, 56th, and 58th respectively, all have carved out respectable careers so far, but an elite goaltender does not come around every day. So, basically no missed opportunities here.
Round 3, 66th Overall – Nikita Tryamkin, D (Yekaterinburg Automobilist, KHL)
The Canucks drafted 6-foot-7 behemoth, Nikita Tryamkin in the third round from Yekaterinburg Automobilist of the KHL. It was an intriguing pick as he was a big, but mobile defenceman in the mold of Zdeno Chara. He scored one goal and seven points in 45 games in his draft year before spending another two seasons overseas. He turned pro with the Canucks during the 2017-18 season where he put up one goal and two points in 16 games. The following season he played 66 games, totaling two goals and nine points.
During the 2018 offseason, Benning attempted to re-sign him, but Tryamkin ultimately decided to return to the KHL. He has played there ever since although the Canucks have retained his restricted free agent (RFA) rights. Recently he has shown a desire to return to the NHL, but the team’s cap crunch could make that impossible. We will have to just wait and see what the future will bring for the massive Russian.
Missed Opportunity: Brayden Point – Drafted 79th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning
Looking back now, Point probably should have been a first-round pick as he’s become one of the NHL’s top two-way threats. He can play all three forward positions, is great on faceoffs and is a point producer as well. His 115 goals rank him fifth amongst his draft class in scoring, and he’s already had three seasons with 20 or more goals. Talk about a steal at 79th overall.
Late Rounds (4-7)
Round 4 – No Pick
The Canucks did not have a pick in the fourth round, as it was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for Jeremy Walsh and Zac Dalpe. That trade did not amount to much as both of them are not playing in the NHL right now. If they would have held onto it, there were some serviceable players to be had in this round, as the missed opportunity will tell you.
Missed Opportunity: Victor Arvidsson – Drafted 112th overall by the Nashville Predators
Arvidsson joins Point as two of the biggest steals of this draft class. Not only has he developed into a top-line threat with the Predators but he also already has 117 goals in the NHL, which includes two 30-goal campaigns. He was on pace for another 20 goals before the pause effectively ended his season. At 24-years-old, he’s only going to get better, and at the time, the Canucks could definitely have used that sort of goal-scoring potential in their lineup.
Round 5, 126th Overall – Gustav Forsling, D (Linkoping, Swedish Juniors)
The second defender the Canucks chose during this draft was Gustav Forsling from Linkoping of the Swedish Junior League. He scored six goals and 18 points in 44 games during his draft year before getting promoted to the Swedish Hockey League where he spent the following two seasons totaling nine goals and 27 points in 86 games. During that time, he dazzled fans in the 2015 World Junior Championship where he scored three goals and eight points in seven games. That prompted many to start believing that he could become the Canucks’ next great Swedish defenceman.
However, before Forsling could potentially realize that expectation, he was traded shortly after the tournament to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenceman Adam Clendening. He turned pro in 2015-16 and bounced around the NHL and AHL for three seasons totaling eight goals and 27 points in 122 games. Then in 2019, he was dealt again, this time to the Hurricanes, for Aleksi Sarrela and Calvin de Haan. He is now in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers where he has eight goals and 26 points in 57 games.
Missed Opportunity: Oskar Lindblom – Drafted 138th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers
By this time in the draft, any NHL players you obtain is gravy. But the Canucks missed out on a good one in Lindblom. His ceiling may only be that of a second-line winger, but he’s already flirted with 20 goals and was on pace for another 15-20 goals this season. That’s pretty good production for a fifth-round pick.
Round 6, 156th Overall – Kyle Pettit, C (Erie Otters, OHL)
With their second-to-last pick, the Canucks drafted Kyle Pettit from the Erie Otters of the OHL. In his draft year, he scored five goals and 10 points in 53 games. Following that, he played another three seasons there, with his best coming in 2016-17 where he put up 26 goals and 54 points in 66 games.
After his final season with the Otters, Pettit went to college at the University of Western Ontario, where he has played the past three seasons. He no longer is a Canucks prospect, but he’s getting a great education studying social sciences. This season saw him score five goals and 12 points in 27 games.
Missed Opportunity: Kevin Labanc – Drafted 171st overall by the San Jose Sharks
Anyone that gets selected in the sixth round and makes it to the NHL would be considered a steal. Labanc definitely falls into that category as he’s developed into a very serviceable top-six forward with the Sharks. In the past three seasons he’s totaled 42 goals and 129 points with a career-high 56 points last season. Those are totals worthy of a second or even a late first-round pick, so the Sharks got really lucky to have selected him here.
Round 7, 186th Overall – Mackenze Stewart, D (Prince Albert Raiders, WHL)
With their final pick in the 2014 draft, the Canucks selected rugged defenceman Mackenze Stewart from the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. Not known for his offence, he only scored five goals and nine points in his draft year. He played one more season in the WHL before turning pro with the Comets of the AHL at the beginning of the 2015-16 season. He bounced around between the AHL and ECHL that season before being assigned to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans. He finished his campaign there with five goals and 11 points in 36 games.
Since then, he’s been a bit of a rover, traveling between the AHL with the Comets and Grand Rapids Griffins, and the ECHL with the Alaska Aces, the Toledo Walleye and the Kalamazoo Wings. Right now he is not playing pro hockey anywhere as he’s yet to suit up for a game in either league in 2019-20.
Missed Opportunity: Ondrej Kase – Drafted 205th overall by the Anaheim Ducks
The seventh-round is full of what-ifs, as many of them never even get a sniff of the NHL. So when you are actually able to get one that makes it, it’s the best feeling in the world. The Canucks could have actually felt that way if one of their scouts saw Kase and forced Benning’s hand.
As a late-round pick, he already has a 20-goal season and still has the potential to be a solid top-nine winger in the NHL. He has since been traded to the Bruins, so we will see how his career unfolds. Regardless, he still has beaten the odds by just having 43 goals and 97 points in 204 NHL games.
Final Grade: B+
All-in-all, Benning and the Canucks had a relatively successful draft in 2014. Despite some huge misses in Pastrnak and Ehlers and some ill-advised trades after the draft was completed, five of their seven picks have made it to the NHL. Forsling and Tryamkin may not be there right now, but they definitely have looked like NHL defenceman. Looking back, Benning had a great start to his tenure as general manager of the Canucks.