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Canucks draft dilemma: pick the best player available, or fill an organizational need?

There’s arguments to both sides, although you could argue one side has been more successful for the Canucks.

NHL: Preseason-Vegas Golden Knights at Vancouver Canucks
Sep 17, 2017; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Olli Juolevi (48) skates against the Las Vegas Knights during the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

As the Vancouver Canucks season drags on to a dreary end, the importance of the draft becomes increasingly magnified.

This draft could be a huge one for the Canucks, since they are on the verge of making NHL history. With teams behind them closing in, Vancouver has a chance to be the first team in NHL history to finish at 31st overall in the standings.

While we stand back and admire that glowing accomplishment, all it really means is that the Canucks have a slightly better chance of drafting first overall. No matter where they finish, there’s more than an 80% chance that the Canucks will not draft first overall.

If they miss out on Rasmus Dahlin, it leaves them in an interesting scenario, one where they’ve been in previous seasons. They might be forced to choose between filling an organizational need or with just picking the best player available.

Depending on where their scouts have players ranked, both might be the same option. However, it looks like Jim Benning has gone both ways in the first round for the four draft he’s been at the helm for.

Both Ways for Benning

Looking at Benning’s draft history, you could argue that his picks have followed both strains of logic at different points.

It’s clear that during his first draft in 2014, they didn’t pick the best player available. There was a lot of information out there that pointed to players such as William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers being superior to Jake Virtanen. Regardless, Benning chose a player that he believed could fill an organizational need. Virtanen’s blend of size, speed and scoring prowess was supposed to insulate the ‘soft’ Canucks.

In 2016, it looks like they tried to fill an organizational need once again when the picked Olli Juolevi. The Finnish defenceman was billed as someone who would slot into the top pairing, while also becoming a power play quarterback. Based on Benning’s praise for Juolevi dating back to the World Juniors that year, he might have been their “best player available.” Now, most would be surprised if Juolevi could perform better than the likes of Mikail Sergachev and Charlie McAvoy, two defencemen who were drafted after him. The ‘best player available’ argument also takes a hit here when you watch pre-draft highlights of Clayton Keller, who was picked at seventh overall.

When Benning picked Canucks super-rookie Brock Boeser, it came as a surprise to some. It looks like at this point, Boeser was the best player available, and the Canucks picked him believing such. It’s hard to argue that this was filling an organizational need, since they picked Virtanen the year before, who also plays right wing.

Things get a little murky with the pick of Elias Pettersson, although once again you could argue that he fits into both categories, as long as the Canucks see him as a centre. If he slots in as a winger, this would be more of a ‘best player available’ move since Benning picked Boeser and Virtanen earlier in his tenure.

Most draft pundits considered Pettersson and Cody Glass to be in consideration at that number five spot. Glass was more of a safe pick, while Pettersson represented a higher-risk, higher-reward potential.

NHL: NHL Draft
Elias Pettersson was seemingly picked as the ‘best player available,’ which looks like a huge win for the organization. (Mandatory Credit: David Banks)
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
NHL: NHL Draft
Elias Pettersson was seemingly picked as the ‘best player available,’ which looks like a huge win for the organization. (Mandatory Credit: David Banks)
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Another thing to note is that at 33rd overall, Benning snagged Kole Lind, who seemingly slipped to the second round after being billed as a first-round pick. Once again, picking the ‘best player available’ seems to have benefitted the Canucks here.

Why It’s Relevant Now

If the Canucks don’t end up picking first overall, they will be left going over this debate once again. If they pick in the bottom five, there will be three forwards that are possible ranked ahead of defenceman at the top of the pecking order.

It’s abundantly clear that the Canucks number one organizational need is to find good defenceman. This organization is struggling mightily in terms of stocking the pipeline in this area, and there’s not much hope for the current Canucks defensive corps in the NHL either.

Do they say ‘to hell with the best player available’ and pick a defenceman regardless, or do they pick someone like Filip Zadina, Andrei Svechnikov, or Brady Tkachuk? If they pick second overall and Svechnikov is sitting there, do they pick him over someone like Noah Dobson or Adam Boqvist?

I’m not sure what the right answer is, although history seems to suggest that the Canucks have better luck picking the best player overall. Still, that glaring need for a blue chip defenceman in the pipeline isn’t going away anytime soon.

What are your thoughts, and who should the Canucks pick if they miss out on the Dhalin sweepstakes?