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Should the Canucks trade up?

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
The rumor mill has been heating up in recent weeks as the 2014 NHL Draft approaches.

Many writers and experts believe the Canucks are interested in trading up for the 1st overall pick and using it to select Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart. The Florida Panthers currently own the pick and it is about that time for the annual Vancouver-Florida blockbuster...but does this move make sense for the Canucks? Do they have the assets available to interest the Panthers? Why Reinhart?

Why Trade Up?

The 1st overall pick has been traded five times in NHL history (and Florida has been the team moving the pick on three of those occasions). Just because the Panthers have experience moving the 1st overall pick doesn’t make them any more likely to do it again – unless the price is right. Does it make sense to move up for the Canucks? Is Reinhart a clear upgrade on the talent that will be available at 6th overall?

Brian Burke put his stamp on the organization at the 1999 NHL Draft, orchestrating a series of draft day trades that secured Daniel and Henrik Sedin. That trade needed another four or five years to really pay off for Vancouver, but there is no debating that Burke’s shrewd dealing set the table for many great years to come in Vancouver. And there is no debating that the talent available at pick one always trumps the talent available at pick six. The past decade’s top picks have almost all developed into phenomenal hockey players.

The last 10 1st overall picks are as follows: •Alex Ovechkin •Sidney Crosby •Erik Johnson •Patrick Kane •John Tavares •Steven Stamkos •Taylor Hall •Ryan Nugent-Hopkins •Nail Yakupov •Nathan MacKinnon

Johnson’s progression was slowed in St. Louis by a serious knee injury, but he has gotten back on track as a solid top pairing defenseman in Colorado. The Blues would definitely want a do-over with that pick though. Outside of Johnson (and maybe Yakupov, but it is still very early in his career), every single 1st overall pick has become or will become an elite NHL player.

How have the past 10 6th overall picks fared?

•Al Montoya •Gilbert Brule •Derick Brassard •Sam Gagner •Nikita Filatov •Oliver Ekman-Larsson •Brett Connolly •Mika Zibanejad •Hampus Lindholm •Sean Monahan

Not nearly as good, of course. Brassard and Gagner are solid NHL players. Zibanejad, Lindholm, and Monahan have bright futures. Ekman-Larsson is one of the game’s best defensemen. But Montoya, Brule, and Filatov were all massive disappointments. The jury is still out on Connolly.

Obviously this is a very arbitrary look at past drafts and doesn’t really tell us anything about 2014. But does it make sense to do everything you can to turn the 6th pick into the 1st pick? I’d say so.

Why Reinhart?

Aside from being arguably the best forward available in this draft class, Reinhart is a Vancouver boy. Canucks fans have been chasing a hometown draft prize for years and years (the argument could be made since trading away one in Cam Neely long ago). Milan Lucic. Brendan Gallagher. Brule. Whenever a player with Vancouver ties becomes available, fans want him as a Canuck. Paul Kariya. Joe Sakic. The list goes on and on. Fans always want to root for one of their own, and Reinhart would give the Canucks a potential cornerstone player with ties to the city.

Here is some of his finest work from the past campaign:

Reinhart’s two older brothers are both current NHL prospects – Max with Calgary and Griffin with the New York Islanders. His dad, Paul, played for the Canucks from 1988 to 1990 and was a very talented offensive defenseman.

According to Jason Botchford of the Province, new Canucks general manager Jim Benning is very interested in Reinhart. I would imagine 29 other GMs would say the very same thing on record – Reinhart is a wizard with the puck and could be the best playmaker to come through the draft since Sidney Crosby in 2005. Jonathan Toews is another player who is often brought up as a comparable for Reinhart. The two Canadian centers are similarly-sized (6-1 and 185 pounds for Reinhart, which is more than Toews weighed in at the 2007 NHL Draft). They are both tremendous players with and without the puck as well. Reinhart has also been compared to John Tavares. Not the fastest skaters, but both are very cerebral players with an unlimited arsenal of offensive moves at their disposal.

Here’s Peter Sullivan from NHL Central Scouting on Reinhart:

"He has a complete game at both ends of the ice. He does everything well. He won't get you overly excited, but from a coaching perspective, he's the guy you always want on the ice in critical situations. He's your go-to guy and team leader and is just going to be consistent at the junior level, and eventually the pro level."

Reinhart’s year-to-year progression in the WHL has been both steady and impressive. He had 105 points in 60 games this past season, leading the Kootenay Ice into the WHL postseason. Reinhart then added 23 points in only 13 postseason games for the Ice. He is obviously trending in the right direction, which is why his draft stock has shot up tremendously over the past six months.

Who to Trade?

From the perspective of the Panthers, trading the pick may make sense. Florida doesn’t necessarily “need” a young center – they have a slew of talented young pivots, including Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, and Nick Bjugstad. Florida has arguably the top prospect pool in hockey and may be interested in adding more NHL ready talent to their roster instead of another high draft pick.

They are currently looking for a top four defenseman, but the Canucks probably aren’t looking to move one at the moment. And even if they were, would Jason Garrison or Alex Edler interest Florida as a part of a potential return? Trevor Linden is a huge Edler fan and believes that the talented young Swede will turn his game around under a new coach, while Garrison has a no-trade clause and specifically took less money to return home to Vancouver. Would Chris Tanev become available? It all depends on how Florida values Vancouver’s roster players, but the Canucks would be smart to hold on to Tanev unless they receive an offer they can’t refuse.

Would Vancouver entertain the idea of packaging up Bo Horvat with the 6th overall pick for Reinhart? Horvat may not have Reinhart’s upside, but moving a really talented young center and a high pick for another talented young center may seem like nothing more than a lateral move. Some scouts question Horvat’s ultimate upside, but there are few weaknesses in his game and he should be a full-time NHL player for a long time beginning this fall. And wouldn’t it be nice to be able to build around a 1-2 punch of Reinhart and Horvat down the middle for the next decade?

At the end of the day, the Canucks will have to pony up if they want to get Florida to meet them at the negotiating table. Is Reinhart worth Horvat and the 6th pick? That is a question that would take a few years to answer. But just as Burke put his stamp on the club at the 1999 NHL Draft, Jim Benning could do the very same in 2014. Having a Vancouver born-and-raised franchise cornerstone would go a long way to improving the future of the Canucks – both on and off the ice.

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