Kuzma: Benning bullish on fifth overall draft pick, but Canucks GM will listen to trade offers

VANCOUVER, BC – JANUARY 28: Pierre-Luc Dubois #18 of Team Orr skates up ice with the puck during the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game January 28, 2016 at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick , Vancouver Sun

BY BEN KUZMA JUNE 10, 2016

There are at least three forwards and three defencemen who could command interest when the Vancouver Canucks select fifth in the National Hockey League draft on June 24 in Buffalo.

There could be just as many trade offers to consider because the phone is ringing, and general manager Jim Benning and his staff are preparing for what is expected to be an active period before Auston Matthews is picked first overall.

The Canucks know they can land a foundation player — centre/winger Pierre-Luc Dubois, left winger Matthew Tkachuk or puck-moving defenceman Olli Juolevi, depending on what the Edmonton Oilers do with the fourth pick — but they could also make their club better now and in the future by moving the selection and getting a proven and young top-six player.

That’s plenty to ponder.

“Teams have been calling and enquiring about the fifth pick,” Benning said Thursday from the Canucks’ amateur scouting meetings in Whistler.

“We want to be prepared for any scenario that could come up at the draft. But depending on who’s there when we pick, we know we’re getting a good player. We’re not looking to move the pick, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if teams call and make offers for the pick and we didn’t consider the offers.

“We’re doing our due diligence. If we can move down and get a top-six player and a second-round pick, we have to keep our options open. I’m not saying we’re going to do anything, but we need to be prepared for any situation that may come up. But at the end of the day, if we go in and pick at No. 5, I’m real confident that we’re getting a piece that will help us win and be part of our future for a long time.”

The Canucks interviewed 70 players at the recent draft combine. Benning came away with a heightened level of satisfaction in how prospects conducted themselves, how articulate they were and how they were better prepared than even the previous year.

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Ben Kuzma tells Jeff Paterson about his recent chat with Canucks GM Jim Benning about the coming NHL Entry Draft. Listen here.

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That’s crucial. Playing the game is one thing, but being mentally mature and understanding the team concept at the pro level is crucial for impressionable players who dominate the junior ranks.

“It made me feel that we’re going to get a good player and a solid person,” added Benning, who noted that Tkachuk was really impressive in his interview with the Canucks.

Dubois and Tkachuk are of obvious interest as future first-liners because the Canucks need to formulate a succession plan for the eventual departure of Henrik and Daniel Sedin. It’s why a centre like the 6-foot-6 Logan Brown may pique their interest and why defencemen Mikhail Sergachev and Jake Bean merit some consideration.

The delicate dance of being more competitive now and retooling on the fly is easier said than done. The Canucks were active in the last draft at Florida when they showed interest in trading for Milan Lucic and then tried to land a second-round pick in 2015.

They thought they had one from San Jose in a possible Kevin Bieksa deal, but he wasn’t moved until the following week to Anaheim for a second-round pick in 2016. That pick was moved to Pittsburgh in the Brandon Sutter trade. The Canucks also tried to get a second-rounder for Eddie Lack, who was moved to Carolina at the last draft for third-round pick in 2015 and seventh-round pick in 2016.

The Canucks have first and third-round picks this year, but not a coveted second-round pick. They have identified their top 60 players for this draft and it’s imperative that the sixth through 30 picks are figured out in order of preference in case the round turns into the trade show.

The amateur meetings focus Thursday was also about making sure they’re all on the same page with what to do in the later rounds — especially the fifth, sixth and seventh where they could not only add depth, but find a diamond in the rough. In the fifth round, the Canucks selected Ben Hutton in 2012, Frank Corrado in 2011 and Bieksa in 2001. Joe Cannata was a sixth-round pick in 2009 and Jannik Hansen a ninth-rounder in 2004.

OF NOTE — The Canucks will hold pro-scouting meetings next week in advance of the buyout window and the plan for nine unrestricted free agents in the organization — including Dan Hamhuis — and which of seven restricted free agents to qualify. The Canucks expect to announce their training-camp location within the next two weeks.

bkuzma@postmedia.com

twitter.com/@benkuzma

Source: Kuzma: Benning bullish on fifth overall draft pick, but Canucks GM will listen to trade offers

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