Benning: ‘In a perfect world,’ Canucks would like to take a D-man in first round

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The Vancouver Canucks are a curious case.

They’re in a playoff race, mostly because of a weakened Pacific Division, but it seems highly unlikely they could catch lightning in a bottle and make a run of any substance toward the Stanley Cup — if they get into the postseason at all.

Adding intrigue to their plight — trying to remain competitive while introducing younger players into the NHL roster — is the fact their blue line could use a significant upgrade.

Outside of their top three defensemen — Alex Edler, Chris Tanev and rookie Ben Hutton, who has been a pleasant surprise to this point in the season — there are question marks.

Matt Bartkowski, Alex Biega, Yannick Weber and Dan Hamhuis, currently on his way back from numerous facial fractures, are all pending unrestricted free agents at the end of this season.

Luca Sbisa was injured through December into January, and has the second lowest Corsi For percentage (42.2) on the team.

On the farm, they’ve got Jordan Subban — who has 23 points in 35 games — and Andrey Pedan and Ashton Sautner, who have all shown potential.

But there isn’t anyone on their team or in the system that stands out as that rare game-breaking defenseman, like an Aaron Ekblad, Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban or Duncan Keith.

A higher pick at the 2016 draft could help that.

Not since 2005 have the Canucks taken a defenseman in the first round, according to their draft history on hockeydb.com. That year, they selected Luc Bourdon, whose life ended tragically at the age of 21.

Canucks general manager Jim Benning was a keen observer during Thursday’s Top Prospects Game in Vancouver, and as he told Sportsnet during the intermission, he had his eye on defensemen.

The event featured touted junior defensemen Jakob Chychrun, the second-ranked North American skater and a potential top-five pick, Olli Juolevi, who had nine assists in seven games for Finland at the world juniors, and Mikhail Sergachev, the 10th-ranked North American skater.

“I like our forward depth. I’m looking at defensemen tonight. I’ve got my eye on four or five D-men,” Benning told Sportsnet.

“We’re going to take the best player in the first round, but in a perfect world, we’d like to take a D-man.

“Our philosophy is we’re always going to take the best player in the first round. We’ll figure out the position, but having said that, the last little while we’ve taken a lot of forwards.

“We’ve got good forward depth. We’ve got to start building up our defensemen depth. But if it doesn’t happen in the first round, we’ll look to the other rounds to add D-men.”

Also of interest: He believes, as per his chat on Sportsnet, there will be a drop off right around the 15th pick, with the players going before that as those who could develop into top-six forwards or top-four defensemen.