NHL.com is sitting down with newsmakers leading up to the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET. Today, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning discusses why he won't be looking for any quick fixes at the deadline, outlines why there hasn't been much activity on the trade market League-wide thus far and provides an inside look at rookie Elias Pettersson, including his "death stare."
The Vancouver Canucks will not surrender draft picks or prospects for players with expiring contracts despite being in the midst of a playoff race, general manager Jim Benning said this week.
The Canucks (26-26-7) entered Saturday one point behind the Minnesota Wild (27-25-6) for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.Brock Boeser's shootout winner gave Vancouver a 4-3 road victory against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. They made a trade Saturday, sending forward Sam Gagner to the Edmonton Oilers for forward Ryan Spooner, an exchange of players who've been playing in the American Hockey League.
But Benning is steadfast in his goal of continuing a rebuild instead of being lured into a quick fix by the prospect of a postseason berth. Vancouver has not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2015.
"We're not going to selling assets to acquire rentals to push us ahead," Benning said. "We have a plan in place and we're going to stick to the plan.
"Since I took the job here we've been trying to rebuild the team through drafting well and developing our players. And then when they're ready we try to give them a chance to play in NHL games with players who can help them and support them along the way on their journey. That's been our plan and I don't think it will change going into the deadline."
Video: VAN@LAK: Boeser seals shootout victory
The Canucks will host the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 21-22 and Benning wants to make sure Vancouver fans have plenty to cheer about.
"With the draft in Vancouver, we want to keep our picks and make our picks. If we can make hockey trades player for player that we think will make us better, we'll look at that. But not sacrificing our future."
With less than two weeks remaining before the deadline, Benning addressed a number of topics with NHL.com.
On the likelihood that trade activity around the NHL will not pick up until the last couple of days before the deadline.
"I think for sure it's going to play out that way. We've already seen it happen where teams in our conference that were sellers two or three weeks ago have gone on winning streaks and are back in it and are not sellers any more. They may even be looking to add to make a push. I think every team in our conference; with the way the year has gone, if you get on a five-, six-, seven-game winning streak, you can separate yourself or get right back in it. The opposite is true too; if you get on a bad losing streak you can get out of it very quickly. So I think you're right. We're going to see teams waiting closer to the deadline to see where they're at in just under two weeks' time. And then they'll act accordingly."
On whether the Canucks rebuild is ahead of schedule:
"Yes. I think it started a year ago. I've been out scouting and seeing the players we've been drafting. We talk to our fan base and we let them know these are going to be very good players moving forward. But it's not until they see with their own eyes these kids play that I think they become true believers. I think with (forward) Brock Boeser being added to our lineup and the season he had last year, that was a step in the right direction. Now with (forward) Petey [Elias Pettersson] this year and with (center) Bo Horvat, who is 23, and (forward) Jake Virtanen, who's 22, and (goalie) Thatcher Demko, who is 23, we have some good pieces in play. The other part of that, too, is we want to make sure we develop them properly."
Video: SJS@VAN: Pettersson sets up Horvat with great pass
On the impact of veterans Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle, whose signings last summer were greeted with much skepticism from fans and media alike:
"I want our kids playing competitive hockey, and that's why we have some veteran players around helping them with their development, mentoring them and holding them accountable when things aren't going well. When things are going too well for them, they can bring them back down to earth. Signing Roussel and Beagle were excellent adds for us. They're veteran players, they show up every day, they practice the right way, they play the right way, they're able to talk to our young players, they're able to encourage them on the bench. They aren't high-end offensive players, but they're both good penalty-killers and they've been able to help with the development of our kids. So I think that's important."
On what a playoff appearance would mean to the team's young players:
"I think it's important that if our group can make the playoffs the experience will be so valuable to our young players. For them to play meaningful games this year helps their development so much. Teams are taking us seriously this year. They're playing their No. 1 goalies and they're putting their best foot forward. For the kids to get in the playoffs and see how hard it is to win in the postseason would be so crucial to them and for our team as a whole."
On Elias Pettersson; specifically, what the rookie is really like on and off the ice:
"On the ice, he's a sponge for learning and trying to get better. Every day he shows up and wants to get better. He's learning the League. This year we've asked him to play center. Last year (in Sweden) he played seven games at center and the rest of the time he was on the wing. He's played center in the past. We drafted him as a center. Every day he shows up he wants to get better, and he's such a smart player. He reads the game so well, and he's gotten better every game he's played. He works hard.
"Off the ice, he's still a 20-year-old kid. He's going to keep maturing. Sometimes they talk about it in our market, about the 'death stare' he gives when he gets a question he doesn't maybe agree with. But he's young and he's learning the English language, and he's going to get better at interviews.
"He's an intense kid. He's the type of kid who wants to be the best player in the League, not jus (the best) on our team. But what he's done for our group is given us confidence because whoever he plays with he makes them better. He's a winner. He makes big plays at big moments. He's been an important piece moving forward."
Video: VAN@LAK: Pettersson nets PPG to open the scoring