The Jim Benning years have been defined by a dichotomy of sorts: the success of the amateur scouting department and the weakness of the professional scouting wing. While the latter has seen more success as of late — with additions like J.T. Miller, Tanner Pearson, and Josh Leivo — it has predominantly been a story of overpaid free agents and lopsided trades. Within that realm, however, there have been some wins, many of which have flown under the radar. When looking outside the current roster, one can find some hidden gems picked up by Benning and Co. that, to varying degrees, added value to the hockey club. Whether depth players, core pieces, or something in between, there are a number of former Canucks that may not get the credit they deserve. Note that to be eligible for the list, a player had to have been acquired during Jim Benning’s tenure as General Manager and have departed in that same time period.
10. Adam Cracknell
At the time of his signing, Adam Cracknell flew largely under the radar, and for good reason. He had never established himself as more than a fringe fourth line forward. With the Canucks, however, Cracknell started to show signs of life. He finished fifth on the team in hits in his one season with the Canucks (2015-16) with 94, despite only playing 44 games. He scored at roughly a 20-point pace and generally served as an effective energy forward on the fourth line. Cracknell was hardly a game breaker, but he added grit better than many of his peers of the Benning era.
9. Alexander Burmistrov
Burmistrov was a fairly low-risk signing that gets unfairly lumped in with the likes of Michael Del Zotto and Anders Nilsson from the underwhelming free agent class of 2017. Signed to a one-year deal at $900,000, Burmistrov was a bargain bin pickup for the team’s fourth line, and produced as such in his brief stint as a Canuck, with six points in 24 games, a 21-point pace. These offensive numbers are, clearly, nothing spectacular, but they’re better than recent fourth liners with the club. Tyler Motte, in his time with the Canucks, has scored at a rate of 17 points per 82 games. Jay Beage, in his two seasons with the team, has scored at 15 point per full season pace. His underlying numbers, while again not off-the-charts good, were solidly middle of the pack. Burmistrov, while his stint was short, provided solid depth at a reasonable price, a commodity often lacking in the Canucks organization.
8. Jack Skille
On the topic of affordable depth, the team once again found an effective depth option with Professional Tryout signing Jack Skille. Like Burmistrov, Skille was not a game breaking player (aside from his occasional ability to slice through opposing defenders like an elite-level power forward). He was, however, a more than capable fourth liner making just $700,000. His CorsiFor% ranked sixth among regular Canucks forward, while his FenwickFor% ranked third. Skille, thus, was at the very least a player coaching staff could trust, and at a reasonable price tag.
7. Nic Dowd
The summer of 2018 perfectly encapsulated why Nic Dowd was a quietly valuable forward for the Canucks. While he signed a one-year, $650,000 contact with the Washington Capitals that summer, the Canucks signed a fourth line center of their own to a very different contract, adding Jay Beagle on a four-year contract at $12 million per year. Dowd, acquired in 2017-18 from the Los Angeles Kings for defence prospect Jordan Subban, proved himself a capable fourth line centerman in his 40 games with the Canucks. His CorsiFor% (46.73%) and FenwickFor% (48.13%) were solidly middle of the pack, but are made somewhat more impressive when considering he started less in the offensive zone (17.97% of the time) than any regular forward that year outside of Brendan Gaunce. His PDO — a stat measuring on-ice save percentage plus on-ice shooting percentage, and generally used as a barometer for luck — was among the lowest on the club at 0.968%. Dowd is not the difference between making or missing the playoffs, but he was an efficient contract with a low acquisition cost that proved to be a savvy pickup.
6. Sam Gagner
Sam Gagner was brought in during the summer of 2017 to serve as offensive depth and a powerplay specialist, expected to build off of a 50-point 2016-17 campaign with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He didn’t quite replicate that success, but Gagner nonetheless scored a respectable 31 points in his one full season with the Canucks while his expected goals total was fourth on the club, trailing just the Sedins and Bo Horvat. He did this while also not getting great luck (sporting a PDO of .968) and being what many saw as misused on the power play. While Gagner had his resurgence in Columbus from the middle of the ice on the power play, then-head coach Willie Desjardins used him anywhere except there, seemingly. These factors make Gagner’s solid secondary scoring more impressive and add a bit more depth to his value during his brief stint as a Canuck.
5. Markus Granlund
He of the famous ‘Sea of Granlunds’, as dubbed by the late Jason Botchford, Granlund was actually a relatively effective forward for the Canucks in his tenure. The criticisms were easy to make — Granlund wasn’t a flashy skater, didn’t have standout skill, and was a streaky producer. He was, however, a capable middle-six forward who garnered criticism greater than what was warranted. He was a top 10 Canucks forward in CorsiFor% over the course of his three full seasons in Vancouver, and over that same time period scored at a 16-goal pace over an 82 game season (including a 19-goal year in 2016-17). His game was unexciting and his production tended to be streaky, but as far as middle-six producers go Granlund was one of the better ones of the past several seasons.
4. Nikolay Goldobin
The recently departed Nikolay Goldobin was a lightning rod in the Canucks fanbase for the entirety of his tenure with the club. Some of the criticism was warranted; ‘Goldy’, as he was affectionately dubbed, showed lapses in defensive judgement and at times a shoddy effort level on the surface. That all said, it remains fair to say that Goldobin never really got a consistently fair shot. In his last season as a full-time Canuck (2018-19), Goldobin scored at a 35-point pace and demonstrated strong chemistry with Elias Pettersson. He was fifth on the team among forwards that year in CorsiFor% (at 49.24%) and ranked fifth in FenwickFor% (at 49.39%). Goldobin was far from a perfect player, but his raw skill and ability to drive play exceeded those of many of his teammates. Unfortunately, Goldobin’s knack for drawing criticism also exceeded that of his teammates.
3. Radim Vrbata
One of the first moves of the Jim Benning era was the signing of winger Radim Vrbata. While he fell out of favour by the end of his two-year tenure — with a poor offensive performance in his second year and Benning failing to trade him at the 2016 deadline — his first year was when one of the better ones by a recent Canucks forward. In 2014-15, Vrbata scored 31 goals and 63 points in 79 games. He led the Canucks in goals, and won the team awards for Most Valuable Player and Most Exciting Player. Since Benning arrived, Vrbata’s first year has proven to be one of the more impressive single seasons by a Canucks forward, and he does not get the recognition he deserves for it.
2. Nick Bonino
In his one season in Vancouver, Nick Bonino — who was part of the return in the Ryan Kesler trade with the Anaheim Ducks — proved to be a highly effective second line pivot for the club. His 39 points that year was the second highest total of his career, while he put up some of the best puck possession numbers on the team (his 51.34% CorsiFor% trailed only the Sedins and Alex Burrows among forwards). He also scored three points in six playoff games that year, and was behind only Burrows in terms of Expected GoalsFor% (amount of goals scored for his team when Bonino was on the ice) at 51.72%. At 52.78%, Bonino was second to only Radim Vrbata in terms of actual GoalsFor%. By nearly every metric, Bonino was an effective part of the Canucks forward group. His departure as the centerpiece of the Brandon Sutter trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins is an underrated aspect of the Benning era and proved to be a significant downgrade. Second line centermen are not easy to come by, and Bonino was very much a good one.
1. Ryan Miller
Arguably the only saving grace of the dumpster fire seasons of 2015-2017 was the play of goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller was not a flashy goaltender with the Canucks necessarily, nor was he often a hot button topic of conversation. He was, however, a beacon of stability in a sea of mass chaos and incompetence during the WIllie Desjardins years. His save percentages of .911, .916, and .914 were firmly in and around the league average and were accomplished playing behind supbar blue lines. In his time with the Canucks he had the eighth strongest expected goals against rate of any goaltender who played a similar amount to Miller and faced the tenth most shots among that same group. Miller was the most reliable Canuck of his tenure and provided a modicum of hope for a developing Canucks roster. The Miller years were not exactly a fun time and Vancouver was not an enjoyable place to be a goaltender; for his part, Ryan Miller served as an admirable starting netminder.