One of the trademarks of Jim Benning’s tenure with the Vancouver Canucks has been his infatuation with reclamation projects. He has made a number of deals for players struggling to break out on their current teams, including the likes of Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, and Derrick Pouliot. While not all have been successful (see: Etem, Emerson, Vey, Linden, and Larsen, Philip), the price to pay for them has been mostly negligible. It could be argued that his ability to pull off low-risk, high-reward deals has been among his best work as a general manager. One name in that vein making its way through the rumor mill these days is that of Arizona Coyotes forward, Anthony Duclair.
Duclair was once a promising prospect, putting up strong junior numbers after being drafted in the third round by the New York Rangers (in 2013). His chemistry with Max Domi at the 2015 World Junior Championship, and eventual trade from the Rangers to Arizona, led many to believe the Coyotes had a dangerous one-two punch on their hands. However, after an effective rookie campaign in 2015-16 (44 points in 81 contests), Duclair tailed off. He spent a portion of the following year in the American Hockey League, and played just 58 NHL games (scoring 15 points) in the process. Since then, things have not improved between the 22-year-old and the Coyotes, with Duclair now demanding a trade from the organization. With his value perhaps at an all-time low, and the Canucks lacking in scoring power, it makes sense for the team to target him.
The big question regarding a deal with Duclair is what the Canucks would be willing to give up for him. Some have thrown around the idea of swapping Jake Virtanen, which is a risky proposition for the organization. While a poor selection at the time, Virtanen has shown signs of promise this year. Regardless of his ceiling, he looks to at the very least be an effective NHLer, whereas this is less certain with Duclair. However, it is possible that the organization would be willing to give up an early-to-mid-round pick for a project-esque player. The same could be said for rental-type players, such as Erik Gudbranson or Thomas Vanek, though this makes little sense from a Coyotes perspective.
What Duclair would offer the Canucks from a short-term point of view, is true base-line scoring ability. Aside from Brock Boeser (and, when healthy Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi), and the occasional burst from the Sedin twins, Sam Gagner, or Vanek, there are few regular offensive contributions. Duclair would, at the very least, offer the possibility of goals, and could fit in nicely on the second unit power play.
With the team continuing to straddle the line - at least in theory - between competing and rebuilding, the upcoming trade deadline will be a defining moment in Benning’s legacy. Should he fully commit to the youth movement, the team will likely see an influx of draft picks and young talent (for the likes of Gudbranson and Vanek). Should he insist that the Canucks are indeed a playoff team, the moves may reflect a desire to not completely overhaul the roster. In either case, the acquisition of Duclair makes sense, and could pay dividends for the organization.