Another season has passed, and the Vancouver Canucks are still in need of a right-handed defenceman. Tyler Myers and Travis Hamonic were the only two right-shot defenders returning from the 2020-21 season of the team’s lineup as the club signed four right-handed defencemen in Tucker Poolman, Luke Schenn, Brady Keeper and Kyle Burroughs in the 2021 offseason.
The club traded Hamonic last season, while Schenn became a solid part of the team’s blue line. Meanwhile, Tucker Poolman struggled with injuries, but when he was healthy, he was a third-pairing defenceman. As a result, Burroughs played 42 games and performed above his pay grade. As for Keeper, he suffered a broken leg during training camp and missed the season.
Even with the additions on the blue line last season, the Canucks still need to add a top-4 right shot and create depth on the right side of their blue line, as well as add to their prospect pool. Here are three ways they can do so.
Trade for Top-4 Right-Shot Defender
The Canucks have a few right-shot defencemen they can add through a trade. The Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli lists multiple right-handed defencemen in his trade targets list, however, a few are out of the Canucks range. For example, Tony DeAngelo and Jeff Petry will be too expensive for the team. Still, the organization has a few options to trade for.
Multiple teams have shown interest in Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman John Marino over this past season. The team will likely have to move him as they’ll need money to re-sign players like Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin, two players who have had a lot of success with the club throughout their careers. Marino is signed for the next five seasons with an annual average value (AAV) of $4.4 million.
As for the Canucks, there is a connection between the club and the defenceman as president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford acquired Marino from the Anahiem Ducks when he was with the Penguins in 2019. Last season, The Atheltic’s Rob Rossi and Josh Yohe noted the club’s current regime isn’t as high on Marino as Rutherford was (from ‘What we’re hearing about the Penguins heading into NHL free agency: goalie situation, trade talks and John Marino’s availability,’ The Athletic, July 27, 2021).
“Defenseman John Marino’s standing appears less firm with the Hextall/Burke regime than it was Rutherford. Multiple league sources and a team source have said the Penguins are willing to part with Marino for the right price.”
Marino would be a good fit for the club as he is only 25 years old and is on a great contract for the next five seasons. He has puck-moving skill and sound defensive instincts, which the Canucks could use.
Seravalli has Tyson Barrie ranked eighth on his list. The Edmonton Oilers may trade the defenceman to create cap flexibility in order to re-sign Evander Kane. The emergence of 2018 first-round pick Evan Bouchard is likely another reason the Oilers are open to moving the 31-year-old. As a result, the Canucks could trade for the offensive defenceman. Outside of Quinn Hughes, the organization lacks scoring from their blue line, and Barrie can provide that. He led all defencemen in points with 48 in 56 games during the 2020-21 season.
Although Barrie is 31 years old, he only has two years remaining on his contract with an AAV of $4.5 million. VancouverHockeyNow’s Rob Simpson notes the Canucks will likely have to offer a second-round pick and another piece like a legit prospect. The Canucks will likely have to trade their 2023 second-round pick, as they don’t have their 2022 second-round pick. Additionally, the club lacks prospects, and they’ll likely have to give up another pick in return.
Sign Right-Shot Defender
Searching for a right-shot defenceman through free agency is difficult. Most of the right-shot blueliners available this offseason are north of or nearing 30 years old. Kris Letang is at the top of the list but is 35 years old and likely looking for a pay increase. Meanwhile, John Klingberg is available, but at 29 years old, he is likely looking for a long-term contract with a large-cap hit. Therefore, the Canucks will either have to take a shot at a cheap depth defenceman.
Justin Schultz is coming off of a two-year deal with an AAV of $4 million with the Washington Capitals. He posted four goals and 23 points in 74 games with the club last season. As The Hockey Writers (THW) Colton Pankiw notes, Schultz’s time with the Capitals is likely over. The Canucks could take a swing at signing the 31-year-old to help provide offensive production from the blue line. The B.C. native has shown he is still capable of putting together decent offensive numbers, posting three goals and 27 points in 46 games during the 2020-21 season. His 23 points last season would have been third-best on the team last season behind Hughes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (29 points).
The Canucks could take a shot at bringing Troy Stecher back. The defenceman spent four seasons with his hometown team, playing a top-four role alongside Alex Edler in his final season with the club. He left the Canucks after not receiving a qualifying offer, signing a two-year, $3.4 million deal with the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings traded him to the Los Angeles Kings this past offseason, where he was reunited with Edler.
Signing Stecher this offseason would provide the Canucks with a right-shot blueliner who head coach Bruce Boudreau can plug in anywhere on the back end. He played 286 games with the Canucks in his last tenure, scoring 11 goals and posting 75 points while averaging 18:34 time on ice.
Trade-Up in Draft
This year’s draft features two right-shot blueliners in the top five, and the Canucks trade up to acquire one of them. Out of the teams in the top five, the New Jersey Devils stand out as a team that could trade away its first-round draft pick. The Devils hold the second overall pick and have picked in the top 10 four times in the last five drafts. New Jersey has added Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Alexander Holtz and Luke Hughes. Therefore, they could use some immediate help in the form of J.T. Miller, who could be a part of a package for the second overall pick.
THW’s Peter Baracchini has Simon Nemec ranked third in this year’s draft. From Liptovsky Mikulas,, Slovkia, Nemec stands at 6-foot, 192 pounds. Baracchini describes Nemec as an outstanding, two-way puck-moving defenceman.
“Nemec has the potential to be a real impact two-way defender at the NHL level. Teams covet right-handed shots and he’s one of the best in this class, as he already has the poise and confidence.” Baracchini said about Nemec’s potential. He’s an impact player that can do damage in any situation. He’s a top-pairing, power-play quarterback and shut-down defender on the penalty kill. There’s no doubt that he’s going to have a bright future based on his ability to get better against tougher competition.”
The only knock on Nemec’s game is he is a risk-taker and is inconsistent with puck control at times. However, those are things he can improve. Nemec would be a great addition to the Canucks blue line, maybe not immediately, but certainly in the future.
David Jiricek is the other right-shot defender in the top five of Baracchini’s rankings. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound defender from Klatovy, Czechia, is bigger than Nemec in size. He can make a lot happen in the offensive end thanks to his great individual skill, good vision and hard point shot. He also defends well, thanks to his reach and high level of physical play. The only downside to his game is his acceleration but shows some shiftiness to get away from defenders (from ‘NHL Draft 2022 top 127 prospects: Juraj Slafkovsky leads Corey Pronman’s list,’ The Athletic, May 31, 2022). Jiricek did suffer a knee injury at the world juniors, which ended his season and could hurt his skating.
Canucks Have Options For Right-Shot Defenceman
Out of the three ways the Canucks can add to the right side of their blue line, trading for one seems to be the best and likeliest option. Marino is a player Rutherford would likely love to add to the team’s roster. He is young and on a great contract. Trading for Barrie is also an option, but his age hurts the chances of the organization adding another defenceman above the age of 30.
Finding a full-time top-four defenceman in free agency will be tough, but Schultz and Stecher are good options. Stecher is the player the club should target as he’ll have a lower cap hit, can play anywhere throughout the lineup and has familiarity with the organization.
Trading up in the 2022 NHL Draft could be tough. The Canucks would have to give up the 15th overall pick and J.T. Miller at least to make a deal happen. However, if the Canucks do trade up, they have options in Nemec and Jiricek as right-handed defencemen. The club needs to upgrade its prospect pool, and adding a blueliner with a right shot is a good start. Nemec is a smooth-skating defenceman who could become a top pairing d-man. Jiricek is the bigger-bodied player of the two but also has the potential to become a top-pairing defenceman. Jiricek is also a potential fit as a partner for Hughes on the blue line.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.