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Canucks Best ‘D’ of the Undrafted Variety

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Analyzing the backwards pyramid that is the Canucks defence

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Vancouver Canucks
Nov 6, 2017; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Christopher Tanev (8) defends against Detroit Red Wings forward Luke Glendening (41) during the third period at Rogers Arena.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Canucks are in a weird position this year.

With all the offseason signings, the Canucks have more top ten picks on their roster than anyone in the NHL.

Part of this is because of Jim Benning’s penchant for taking in reclamation projects. I can just see him spending all summer trying to fix up a rusted oldsmobile that clearly belongs in the junkyard.

Gone are the Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen’s of the team. Instead, Benning has taken on players such as Alexander Burmistrov, Michael Del Zotto, and Derrick Pouliot, among others.

There’s nothing wrong with doing this. Benning’s strength is supposed to be with scouting. More often that not, he’s been right. Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund have been scouting victories, while Pouliot is off to a good start in his Canucks career.

Even if a player like Burmistrov doesn’t work out, at least it’s a contract Benning can make disappear.

However, it always felt good to have the Burrows and Hansen stories hanging around the organization. They gave hope to the little guy, and the players who receive no fanfare coming out of junior.

Thankfully, the Canucks still have two of those players left on the organization. Oddly enough, those two undrafted players might be the best on the team at their position.

Chris Tanev & Troy Stecher

Okay, there’s not much argument here. Not only is Chris Tanev the best defender on the Canucks, but he might be one of the most responsible defensive defenders in the entire league.

Ever since he came into the NHL, you could tell that Tanev had a maturity beyond his year. He was never prone to the casual rookie mistakes. Tanev always played with poise in his own end that that’s only gotten better throughout his career.

He’s got no flash to his game, no blistering shot, and he’s not a nifty playmaker. However, the days of Tanev going unnoticed around the NHL are starting to go by the wayside. That’s only more evident every time Tanev sits out with injury, and the Canucks start giving up 40 shots per game.

The next one is definitely arguable, but could you make the case that Troy Stecher is the second-best defenceman on the Canucks. Compared to everyone else on the team, there’s a strong argument to be made the Stecher plays with the most poise in his own end, after Tanev.

Stecher was prone to some rookie mistakes, but he does play with that Tanev-esque poise. Watching Stecher play is almost like watching a cross between Alex Biega, Tanev, and Ben Hutton with better vision.

There are a lot of things to like about Stecher’s game. I wouldn’t read too much into Green using him as a sixth defenceman earlier in the season. Stecher wasn’t great on the power play last season and was never used on the penalty kill. However at even strength, that’s where he showed his NHL prowess.

Unfair Judgement?

It’s interesting to think about the backwards pyramid that his the Canucks defence.

After Tanev and Stetcher, you have mid-round picks like Alex Edler and Ben Hutton. If you’re arguing that Stecher isn’t the second-best Canucks defenceman, then you probably have Edler in that spot. Hutton has shored up his defensive game a bit more this season, although he didn’t look great against the Anaheim Ducks without Tanev by his side.

After those four, you’re left with three former first round picks.

Michael Del Zotto is in his ninth NHL season at age 27, but this was probably considered his last chance at finding NHL success after flaming out in three other organizations. The Pittsburgh Penguins gave up on Pouliot, although this reclamation project from Benning is showing good returns early.

That leaves Erik Gudbranson, one of the most divisive players on the Canucks roster. Old school guys love his toughness, while analytics guys think he’s garbage.

He probably lies somewhere in between, but that divide is caused by the old school guys heaping tons of praise on Gudbranson when he’s not all that good. That infuriates the other side who think he’s trash, and they’re more vocal about their hate towards him.

I’m curious about what people would think of Gudbranson if he didn’t have that ‘third overall pick’ tag hanging above his head. Do we heap too much judgment on a player if they’re drafted too high? If Gudbranson was just a good story about a guy who worked his way through college before signing as a free agent, would he receive as much hate?

On the other hand, people would probably be worried about Stecher’s progression if he was a third overall pick. It is hard to separate a player from his draft status, because that player has all eyes on him from the time he’s 17 years old.

Although these are the hands that they’ve been dealt, there’s not much a guy like Gudbranson can do now to change the judgment that’s been heaped on him since draft day.

If there’s one thing I’m certainly uncertain about, it’s that I’m not sure if there’s another team in the league who can say that their two best defenceman are undrafted.