Nikolay Goldobin

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Benning preaches patience with 2014 first-round pick Virtanen

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The Vancouver Canucks have a logjam at forward after a busy summer, with general manager Jim Benning adding another veteran in Thomas Vanek.

The Canucks currently have 15 forwards under contract, and that isn’t including Jake Virtanen or Nikolay Goldobin, who are among the prospects in Vancouver’s system and looking to make the roster full-time.

Given the numbers, that promises to be an uphill battle in training camp, which means it’s possible they spend time in the minors this season.

The Benning-Trevor Linden regime enters its fourth season leading the Canucks. Virtanen is the group’s first-ever draft pick, going sixth overall in 2014.

In 65 NHL games, the 21-year-old right winger has shown potential at times with his speed and ability to be physical as a prospect the Canucks hope to develop into a power forward.

But last season, he played in only 10 games with Vancouver, averaging just over 10 minutes a game, and was eventually dispatched to Utica to get more playing time to better develop. Meanwhile, a number of forwards selected after him in that 2014 draft are already making an impact on their respective clubs.

His numbers down there (nine goals and 19 points) hardly stand out in a positive light, and it might benefit him more to spend another season down in the AHL. In an extensive interview with Bob McKenzie of TSN, Benning believed Virtanen made progress in Utica as last season progressed.

“I think in sending him down last year, he’s bought into being a pro,” said Benning. “He’s worked extremely hard off the ice. He’s had a very good summer. But he’s a unique player because for a big man, he’s fast and the game has gotten so fast the last couple of years. He can play that fast game and he’s a big guy.

“We’re going to be patient with him. It’s hard to develop power forwards and we think once he puts it all together, he could be a good power forward for us.”

Virtanen enters the final year of his entry-level contract. He’s a pending restricted free agent at the end of the season.

Related: Canucks need Virtanen to realize what he’s capable of at his size and speed

Canucks sign Vanek to one-year, $2M deal

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The Canucks were busy when the free agent market opened July 1, and apparently they weren’t done there, signing another unrestricted free agent forward on the first day of September.

Thomas Vanek is now a member of the Canucks.

On Friday, the team announced a one-year contract for Vanek, worth $2 million.

“Thomas has been a prolific scorer throughout his career and we’re excited to add his offence and experience to help with the continued growth of our forwards,” said general manager Jim Benning.

“His skill and ability to contribute on the scoresheet, combined with his lead-by-example style will help our team this year, and will benefit our younger players as they continue to develop their game.”

Now 33 years old, Vanek scored 17 goals and 48 points last season, as he split his time between Detroit and Florida. That total would’ve put him third on the 2016-17 Canucks in points. Vancouver has struggled mightily to score goals over the past two seasons and fell near the bottom of the overall standings.

Once a dominant scorer in the NHL, Vanek’s numbers aren’t what they used to be, but he should still be able to offer something offensively to his new team, which finished 29th in the league last season in goals-for per game.

This deal leaves the Canucks with about $5.375 million in available cap space, with 22-year-old restricted free agent center Bo Horvat still unsigned and due for a raise after progressing as the team’s most productive player during what was a dreadful 2016-17 season for the organization.

Of course, it adds another winger to the roster — Vancouver now has 16 forwards under contract on the roster, per CapFriendly — with youngsters like Jake Virtanen, Brock Boeser and Nikolay Goldobin looking to crack the NHL club for the upcoming season.

Some early positive signs in Canucks’ reluctant rebuild

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This post is part of Canucks Day on PHT…

The times – and the Internet – haven’t always been kind to Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning. That’s particularly true when Benning, Trevor Linden, and others resisted the rebuild far longer than most found acceptable.

Even now, it’s difficult to resist putting up the funniest Benning photo available, whether the context calls for it or not.

While Benning struggled greatly in extending the Canucks’ lifespan as a playoff-caliber team, there have been some positive signs that this group might have its act together at the very different job of rebuilding.

(Granted, this sentiment is laced with lowered expectations, so consider that a massive caveat.)

This Fansided breakdown by Isha Jahromi argues that Benning’s been a solid hand at trading, in general, but this seeming renaissance really kicked off at the 2017 trade deadline.

Vancouver made multiple “winners” lists following Benning’s work, including one here at PHT.

Getting Nikolay Goldobin in the Jannik Hansen trade was deft, as was managing Jonathan Dahlen for Alex Burrows.

As this piece from The Hockey Writers’ Matt Dawson notes, Dahlen has shown serious chemistry with first-rounder Elias Pettersson, sweetening that deal (and then pick) considerably.

Even then, it would have been nice to see even more moves, especially when we’ve seen teams like the Philadelphia Flyers really stockpile picks during their own rebuilds, but at least the Canucks made some progress.

And, hey, sometimes it’s actually nicer to get prospects who’ve already taken steps in their development rather than draft choices of variable quality.

The Canucks’ competent run of off-season free-agent signings doesn’t do a ton for their rebuild, really; even so, any sign of the lights being on is promising for Vancouver.

Now, it definitely hurts that the lottery balls didn’t bounce the Canucks’ way, but give them credit for a well-received draft. Pettersson generally seems to be the right choice at number 5, and people like Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek raved about selections deeper in the draft, too.

To continue a theme, there’s an argument stated by Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski and others that Benning might have been able to leverage Vancouver’s situation a bit at the draft … but again, beggars can’t be choosers.

***

Now, look, the Canucks still have a long way to go.

It’s also plausible that management can still be doing more. After all, it’s easier to make something look better after it has been reduced to rubble.

Still, there were worrisome signs that the Canucks would fight any idea of a rebuild until the bitter end of Benning’s tenure, exposing fans and players to extra years of misery without much of a light at the end of that tunnel.

That light may only be dim after some positive gains, but at least there’s a faint glimmer of hope for the Canucks.

Canucks forward Dorsett will be ‘ready for camp’ after neck surgery

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Derek Dorsett‘s third season in Vancouver ended prematurely in November, following neck surgery a few weeks later. But it appears he’ll be ready for the 2017-18 campaign.

Last December, the Canucks announced their rugged winger underwent “cervical fusion surgery to repair disc degeneration” in Dorsett’s neck.

On Friday, Rick Dhaliwal of News 1130 Sports in Vancouver spoke to Dorsett’s agent, Jason Davidson, and reported that the 30-year-old Dorsett is no longer dealing with issues in his neck ahead of training camp.

In 14 games with the Canucks last season, Dorsett had one goal and four points. He’s known more for his toughness as a bottom-six forward, with two more years left on his contract at an annual cap hit of $2.65 million, per CapFriendly.

The Canucks have 14 forwards under contract for next season, not including prospects Jake Virtanen and Nikolay Goldobin and with restricted free agents Bo Horvat and Brendan Gaunce still left to re-sign. Of those 14 players, only Dorsett, Loui Eriksson and Daniel and Henrik Sedin are in their 30s, as Vancouver transitions younger players into the roster.

Green will be judged on progress of Canucks’ youngsters

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Expectations have officially changed in Vancouver.

Whereas the last few years the Canucks have tried to stay competitive and make the playoffs (failing miserably the last two seasons), the plan now is to develop their youth with an eye towards the future.

“I’m not sitting up here and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to win the Stanley Cup next year,'” new head coach Travis Green said today.

“But I will tell you we’re going to get better.”

Green was hired after four seasons as head coach of Vancouver’s AHL affiliate in Utica. He understands that the Canucks need to keep injecting youth into their lineup. He knows that’s why he was hired, despite his lack of coaching experience in the NHL.

“We need to get younger, that’s no secret,” he said.

So, for Green, it will not be wins and losses that he’s judged on for the next year or two. Instead, it will be the progress of Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Jake Virtanen, Brock Boeser, Nikolay Goldobin, Ben Hutton, Troy Stecher, Brendan Gaunce, Olli Juolevi, Jonathan Dahlen, and any other youngsters in the organization.

A veteran of over 1,000 NHL games as a player, Green is not expecting this to be a smooth ride. Young players make mistakes. They are inconsistent. They can be immature. Sometimes they progress, only to regress.

“You have to let them learn on the fly, some of them,” said Green. “You have to give them rope. You want them to swim, you don’t want them to sink. (But) you want them to go through adversity as well. I think it’s good for young players to go through adversity.”

Green started his coaching career in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks. Combined with his AHL experience, he believes he’s learned a thing or two about getting through to younger players.

Not that he’ll be Mr. Nice Guy all the time. He intends to push his players. He’s more than willing to make them uncomfortable, if that’s what he thinks is required.

“I want my players to be accountable,” he said, “in what they do, how they prepare, how they practice. But I think if you build relationships and you communicate with players, they appreciate it — especially today’s player. I don’t play a lot of mind games. They always know where they stand. At the end of the day, when I was a player, you always wanted to know where you stood.”

The end goal — whether it’s two years down the line, or even three or four — is to produce a winning team that can compete for a championship.

“We know where we’re at,” said Green. “I know the management group understands that, I feel confident in that. But hey, I want to win. No one likes winning more than me. I want to see our team get better. I want to start the process and push the envelope with these players, and see improvement.”

Related: Trading Burrows and Hansen represents significant ‘shift’ for Canucks