Jim Benning, general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, talks during the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 27, 2014, in Philadelphia, Penn.
Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
PHILADELPHIA — Watching Vancouver GM Jim Benning operate this weekend was like landing on Mike Gillis’s opposite world.
He purposefully blew holes through his roster, trading his top goal-scoring forward, and arguably his best goal-scoring defenceman, for depth, toughness and versatility.
It started with the Ryan Kesler fireworks, cleansing the organization of a malcontent even though some thought he could get a better offer at the deadline.
For the rest of the draft, he continued to make moves Gillis would not have.
Benning asked Jason Garrison to waive his no-trade clause and, guess what, he said yes.
Not only did Benning dump Garrison, with his chronic groin issues and big-time contract, he got a second-round pick, which he wheeled to the L.A. Kings for Linden Vey, a playmaking AHL centre.
It was Benning’s best move of the weekend. Vey couldn’t make the Kings, but he’s already pencilled in to be the Canucks' third line centre.
Head coach Willie Desjardins, who coached him in junior, pushed for the 22-year-old Vey. But Benning knows him well, having seen him play plenty on a line with Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Person for the Manchester Monarchs. On many of those nights, it was Vey driving what many believed to be the best line in the minors.
“I’ve seen him play 20 times in the past three years,” Benning said. “He’s ready to play in the NHL right now.
“We were trying to do this (Friday) but L.A. wanted to wait and see who was there at No. 50. The player they liked (Roland McKeown) was there, so we could do it.
“Maybe it takes a year, maybe a couple, but I think he has the skill to be a second line centre at some point.”
The Canucks were desperate for players in the 20-22 age range who are ready to push into an NHL lineup. They needed Vey.
Before that, Benning drafted future power forward Jake Virtanen, an actual local kid, passing on William Nylander, the player who had the most skill when the Canucks picked at No. 6.
Virtanen said for days he relishes pressure. Don’t worry, you’ll get loads of that, along with comparisons to players like Nylander.
Swedish scout Thomas Gradin thinks the world of Nylander, as many fans do, comparing him favourably to Sam Reinhart.
But Benning wanted size and edge with their first pick. Actually, that’s what they were looking for in just about every major decision they made in Philly. If you haven’t noticed a theme yet, you’re not paying enough attention.
“If you watch the NHL playoffs, you need guys with size and strength,” Benning said. “Guys who can get to the front of the net and deflect pucks and get rebounds.
“We were looking for that type of player.”
Asked about picking those types instead of players with more skill, Benning said:
“We’re going to get back to a meat-and-potatoes style in the trenches. Play hard. So we really didn’t consider that.”
Benning did draft a Russian, the Canucks’ first time in eight years and something which was verboten under Gillis’s watch.
Nikita Tyramkin doesn’t speak English but he’s 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, with a head the size of Maple Ridge.
He has two years remaining on his KHL contract, but the Canucks will look at getting him to Vancouver for training camp.
“He is a unique guy,” Benning said. “For that size, he can skate. He has the reach. He is a defensive defenceman. And he can shoot the puck.”
The Canucks also drafted Swedish defenceman Gustav Forsling, who Gradin said has a booming shot.
They filled out their draft with the 6-foot-4 centre Kyle Pettit, who had 10 points in 53 games last year, and 6-foot-5 defenceman Mackenze Stewart, who played for Prince Albert.
Yes, Benning likes the bulk. Meat and potatoes, too.
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