It’s exceedingly difficult to project how young players will develop.
On Monday the Vancouver Canucks placed an intriguing bet on 22-year-old forward Markus Granlund, acquiring him from the Calgary Flames in exchange for 21-year-old winger Hunter Shinkaruk. Essentially the club is gambling that their informational edge, that Granlund’s ability to play a premium position and that the likelihood that he slots into the Canucks lineup immediately will bring them surplus value.
Though Shinkaruk led the Utica Comets in scoring in his sophomore campaign and made his NHL debut with the Canucks in November, management seemed to be skeptical of his ability to be an impactful NHL player.
"He likes to score, we don't know if that's going to translate to the NHL or not, but he's a guy that he likes to get to the net and score now,” Benning told the media on Monday.
"What we looked at too was the way he was scoring his goals,” Benning elaborated later on in Monday afternoon’s media conference call. “To be a goal scorer at the NHL level where players are all bigger and faster, you need the strength to get to the net. The good goal scorers in the NHL have a good release on their shot.
“So we took all of those things into consideration and we just felt like we're getting a player that's proven now that he can play in the NHL, he's a little bit further ahead in his development and he's a guy that has the skill set where it's maybe not as flashy as Hunter's, but he's a skilled player."
Granlund, 22, meanwhile is a relatively veteran NHL player considering his age and the Canucks were eager to land a player that they can plug into their NHL roster immediately.
"We just felt like this was a good move for our team now and moving forward," Benning said.
Granlund is also capable of playing centre, and that’s where the Canucks see him fitting in. Benning suggested on Monday that Granlund’s ability to play in the middle of the ice gave him an edge over Shinkaruk, who was on the verge of becoming a redundant piece with a glut of young left wings on the Canucks roster (or poised to be on the Canucks roster next season).
"We really like Brendan Gaunce,” Benning said of one candidate to play left wing for the Canucks next season. “He's had a real good season down there and we wanted to make room for him to play next year if he's ready."
Benning also noted the considerable progress that Sven Baertschi has made this season, and discussed the probability that the Canucks will have reinforcements coming in from overseas too.
“We’ve got Anton Rodin in the Swedish Elite League and he's played well the last couple of years and we'd like to bring him over next year,” Benning said. “So I think it's one of those things where you've got to have different style players and with some of the guys we have or are going to have going forward, it maybe wasn't a fit that way."
Among the most interesting facets of the deal is that, for a second consecutive year, the Canucks have taken on a young forward at the fringes of the Calgary Flames’ NHL roster. In doing so, one might argue that they’re taking advantage of the familiarity that assistant general manager John Weisbrod has with Calgary’s current crop of prospects.
Weisbrod was an assistant general manager with the Flames prior to joining Benning’s regime in Vancouver, and it isn’t a coincidence that for the second time in 12 months, the club has acquired a project at the fringes of the Calgary Flames roster.
Benning was honest on Monday about how Weisbrod’s character references influenced the club’s decision to deal for both Baertschi and Granlund.
"I relied on John as we were going through this process on Markus to hear about the intangibles on the player and he speaks very highly of him and really likes him as a person and a kid,” Benning said. “And we liked the way he plays on the ice. So (Weisbrod) was a big reason why we went through and made this deal."
In making a significant bet and dealing a recent first-round pick, the Canucks were exceedingly familiar with the players involved.
For his part Granlund has appeared in 86 NHL games over the past three seasons and has produced even-strength offense at a credible third-line clip in prescribed usage for the Flames. In his AHL career, he’s also outscored Shinkaruk on a point per game basis.
For the Canucks it seems that this deal came down to NHL readiness and fit. How it pans out is hard to project, but there should be no doubt that the organization believes they have a good handle on the ceiling of the players involved.