Botchford: Benning still has an eye on top draft pick
Canucks GM is trying to strike a deal with Florida but is also prepared for the No. 6 position
PHILADELPHIA — You can’t blame the Canucks for going hard after the first-overall pick.
Centre Sam Reinhart oozes maturity, and a calm, reassuring confidence you don’t often see come from 18-year-olds.
When it comes to the NHL, he believes he’s close and you believe him after he explains how he measured up to NHL players on Team Canada in Switzerland for the world championship.
But Reinhart will be long gone by the time the Canucks draft No. 6 overall. Vancouver general manager Jim Benning said he’ll continue to try and strike a deal with Florida right up until the pick Friday.
It’s a pursuit that has the strong backing of ownership, which is trying to sell season ticket packages, so you know the Canucks are not going to miss out on No. 1 without a fight.
But by late Thursday, Florida scouts were already telling people the team is taking Aaron Ekblad with the first pick and that would almost certainly mean Reinhart goes to the Buffalo Sabres at No. 2.
Smokescreen? We’ll see.
The Panthers already turned down a pretty great package from the Canucks that included Hunter Shinkaruk and a roster player. You turn down Shinkaruk and an NHL player to move down five spots in the draft, you’re not too serious about moving down five spots.
That’s why by Thursday, Vancouver GM Jim Benning was already resigned to life at No. 6.
“We think we’re going to get a pretty good player at six,” said Benning, adding that he has no intention to move down. “I would say we’re going to hold on to that sixth position and make that pick.”
Nothing is a guarantee, but it’s a good bet William Nylander will be the player with the most skill still available if the Canucks pick at six.
And, boy, do the Canucks need skill. Shinkaruk is probably their only prospect who projects as a potential top-line player.
But word emanating from the Canucks staff for weeks is the team is leaning toward size again this year, which is why so many are convinced they’ll take Abbotsford native Jake Virtanen if they pick at six.
The 210-pound winger known for his speed and shot scored 45 goals for the Calgary Hitmen while playing more than half the season with a torn labrum.
“I had a sublexed shoulder and it happened again at the end of the season and then again in the playoffs,” Virtanen said.
“I look at it now that it’s something that can only get better, which is exciting.”
Somehow, on one healthy wing he moved in the central scouting rankings of North American skaters from ninth in January to sixth in April.
He had surgery a month ago and hasn’t needed a sling for two weeks.
“I was told by my doctor that I will be able to do everything after the surgery I could do before,” Virtanen said.
The surgery has meant less time practising his NHL shot, though he has found other things to do.
“All I can do is stickhandle in the garage with my brother,” Virtanen said. “I will still always make time to shoot pucks in my garage when I can. That’s the kid mentality.”
Virtanen impressed the Canucks at his combine interview, and again in interviews they’ve done since.
He said it would be “amazing” to be drafted by his hometown team.
When it was put to him that he may have more pressure playing for Vancouver than any other organization, he essentially said bring it on.
“I look forward to it,” Virtanen said. “For me, I play pretty well under pressure.”
Oh, in Vancouver, there will be plenty of that.
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