VANCOUVER — It has been four years and 22 draft picks since the Vancouver Canucks last chose a player from their home province, and they won’t get an elite B.C. kid Friday night unless they move up from their first-round draft position at No. 26.
The National Hockey League team was trying Thursday to move up.
The Canucks were tracking a lot of moving parts on the eve of this year’s draft lottery and one of the key ones was general manager Mike Gillis, who was travelling to Pittsburgh from the NHL’s award ceremony and governors meeting in Las Vegas.
Gillis has the final say on moving goalie Roberto Luongo, who continues to be linked in trade stories to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Canucks also are trying to re-sign his successor, Cory Schneider, who apparently is in no hurry to do anything until he sees what happens with Luongo.
And then there is the two-day draft, which includes Friday’s opening round.
“There is (trade) interest that’s in place right now,” Canucks assistant general manager Laurence Gilman told reporters gathered for a sidewalk news conference late Thursday afternoon. “It is conceivable that we could make a deal this weekend. That being said, it’s also possible we don’t do anything before leaving Pittsburgh.
“The draft may be the most opportune time to make trades because you have 30 teams, 30 general managers and all their personnel in close proximity. It also happens on the eve of free agency. The situation lends itself to talking trades.
“We’ve tried to be methodical in our approach since we’ve been here — that’s the way Mike has operated the team — and it won’t change with respect to making a move this weekend.”
The Canucks could make a blockbuster if talks with Toronto involving Luongo result in the kind of draft-day deal for which Leafs general manager Brian Burke is known.
Despite speculation that Vancouver may not get a valuable asset in return for another team absorbing the final 10 years of Luongo’s $64-million US contract, the Canucks believe they can make a genuine hockey trade for the 33-year-old that strengthens their lineup.
Toronto picks fifth in the first round, but the Leafs probably aren’t going to give that up as the Canucks try to move nearer the front of the draft line.
“You’re always trying to move up,” Gilman said. “You want the best player you can get, and the higher you pick the better your chance of getting that player.”
He said the Canucks haven’t disqualified any potential trade partners.
“If we think we can get a player who makes our organization better, we won’t bypass a particular trading partner,” he said. “There was a time this was a six-team league and somehow general managers found a way to make trades. From my perspective, there really isn’t anyone we wouldn’t trade with because of their proximity to us or they’re a divisional rival or a conference rival.”
Surrey centre Prab Rai, a fifth-round pick during Gillis’ first draft in 2008, was the last B.C. player chosen by B.C.’s NHL team. That year’s seventh-round pick, goalie Morgan Clark, was the last Western Hockey League player chosen by the Canucks, who have never drafted a junior from the Vancouver Giants.
“That’s just circumstantial,” Gilman said. “There’s nothing wrong with B.C. players. You don’t think we wouldn’t have wanted (2011 first-overall pick) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins if he were available to us?
“As a British Columbia-based team, it would be great to have more B.C. players in the same way it would be great for the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers to have players from Alberta, and Toronto and Ottawa to have players from Ontario, and Montreal to have players from Quebec.
“That being said, our job is to field the most competitive team we can to try to win the Stanley Cup. The Stanley Cup rings that will be handed out if we win will be no less shiny if the team is comprised of players from geographic regions that do not include British Columbia.”
The best of B.C. in 2012, West Vancouver defencemen Morgan Rielly and Griffin Reinhart, are expected to be top-10 picks Friday.
The Canucks could land a star-calibre homegrown prospect on July 1, when 21-year-old Justin Schultz, a high-scoring defenceman from West Kelowna and the University of Wisconsin, becomes an unrestricted free agent after failing to sign with the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks drafted Schultz in 2008’s second round.
Gilman said it would be “inappropriate” for him to comment on Schultz. He also said little about the Canucks’ search for a minor-league coach to replace Craig MacTavish. Scott Arniel, who coached the Canucks’ farm team before an unsuccessful stint as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is the favourite to guide the Chicago Wolves.
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Canucks GM Mike Gillis says the team is flexible when it comes to Friday's draft, even if that means giving up their first-round pick, 26th overall. Last season's roster did not include any players drafted and developed under Gillis' watch.
Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images