Back in September, EA Sports picked the Canucks to finish last in the Western Conference with 63 points. USA today picked the Canucks to finish in the same position, but with 65 points. As I write this at the All-Star break, the Canucks have 52 points in 50 games and are one point out of a playoff spot. Have they overachieved? Probably, but don't tell them that.
There are a number of reasons they have stayed in the hunt. Their goaltending has been great. They have had players who were not expected to even be regulars step up and play big minutes. Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin are the two best examples. Bo Horvat has emerged as a go-to guy in every situation and Brandon Sutter has been healthy, but I would like to focus on a couple of deals GM Jim Benning made in back-to-back years that have made this team deeper and stronger.
The Canucks acquired Sven Baertschi March 2, 2015, for a second round pick in the 2015 draft. The Calgary Flames, who had taken Baertschi 13th overall in 2011 after a 94 point season in Portland, took defenceman Rasmus Andersson. He has yet to play in an NHL game, but as they always say, he has potential. He was a first team all-star in the OHL playing his last season in Barrie. Baertschi played 66 games in Calgary over four seasons and scored a total of eight goals. They gave up on him and Benning and the Canucks saw his potential. He played only three games after the trade and scored two goals. In his first full season in Vancouver, Baertschi ended up with 15 goals. Ten of them were scored from December 18th until the end of the season. The Canucks got points in 10 of the 15 games in which he scored. This year he already has 13 goals. The Canucks have won nine of those games. Baertschi is plus-4 and has played pretty well in both ends of the rink. One thing to remember is he is only 24 years old.
Markus Granlund came to the Canucks on February 22, 2016, in a trade for Hunter Shinkaruk. Shinkaruk was taken in the first round by the Canucks with the 24th pick in the 2013 draft. Granlund was taken 45th in the 2011 draft by the Flames. He played 86 games in Calgary over three years and scored 14 goals. At the time of the trade, Shinkaruk had played one game in Vancouver. After the trade Granlund played 16 games and scored twice. This year he has already scored 12 times. He has played in every game this year. Shinkaruk has played only seven games for the Flames and has one assist. Like Baertschi, Granlund is young. He is only 23 years old.
The Canucks are trying to retool on the fly. To do that you might have to sacrifice some potential to acquire young players who are closer to reaching their potential. It looks like the Canucks have accomplished that goal with these two deals.