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Canucks to target top-four defensemen, top-six forwards in free agency

GM Benning wants contract for pending RFA forward Boeser done, open to trading left wing Eriksson

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks want to upgrade the top of their lineup this offseason, general manager Jim Benning said Monday, after they focused on the bottom end in free agency last year.

Vancouver signed depth forwards Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Tim Schaller on July 1, 2018, the first day of free agency, citing the need to add character and toughness to support a lineup transitioning toward skill and youth.

The Canucks went 35-36-11 this season, finishing nine points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. It was the fourth straight season they missed the playoffs.

"Going forward now, if we are going to add through free agency, we want to try to add top-four defensemen or top-six forwards, so I think our needs in that way have changed," Benning said. "I haven't been shy about stating that we would like to improve our defense. There are different avenues to try to do that, so we're looking at all those avenues."

Benning isn't sure if that will include finding a replacement for top defenseman Alexander Edler, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Edler, who has played all of his 814 NHL games over 13 seasons with the Canucks, reiterated after the season that his preference is to remain in Vancouver, but he remains unsigned.

Video: LAK@VAN: Edler sets franchise record with PPG

The 33-year-old was fourth on the Canucks and led their defensemen with 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) in 56 games this season. He played on Vancouver's top penalty-kill and power-play units, and his average ice time of 24:34 was 10th in the NHL and highest on the Canucks.

"I don't comment on contract negotiations, but we are going through the process with Alex and his agent," Benning said. "We are in communication, and we'd like to get that figured out."

Benning said negotiations are continuing with forward Brock Boeser. The 22-year-old can become a restricted free agent July 1 after he had 56 points (26 goals, 30 assists) in 69 games for Vancouver this season.

"We'd like to get that figured out sooner rather than later if we could," Benning said.

Video: LAK@VAN: Hughes earns first point on Boeser's goal

Benning said it's possible the Canucks will trade forward Loui Eriksson, who has three seasons left on a six-year, $36 million contract he signed with the Canucks on July 1, 2016.

Eriksson, who turns 34 on July 17 and had 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) in 81 games this season, told Swedish website during the 2019 IIHF World Championship that he and Canucks coach Travis Green "don't really get on 100 percent."

"I am going to talk to Loui this week and get his thoughts on everything and why he made the comment he did, but [a trade] could be something that's real," Benning said.

Benning provided an update on injured defenseman prospect Olli Juolevi, whose season ended with knee surgery Dec. 18, 2018.

"He met with the doctor last week, was cleared to skate, and he is starting to skate today," Benning said. "We're hopeful he can continue to make good strides in his rehab."

Juolevi was the fifth pick in the 2016 NHL Draft but has not played an NHL game. The 21-year-old had 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) in 18 games in his first season with Utica of the American Hockey League before injuring his knee.

As for the 2019 NHL Draft, which the Canucks will host June 21-22, Benning said he is content keeping the No. 10 pick but indicated trading down might be more likely than moving up.

"There are some players we think are after we pick that we really like a lot, so we are going to keep our options open and whether it's acquiring another pick or getting a player that can help us now, there are some players we like later in the first round, for sure," he said.



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