Given a choice, Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning would’ve preferred to pick up some draft picks at the NHL trade deadline.
Instead, he had to settle for two young players and a 34-year-old veteran joining his ninth NHL team in Vancouver’s two deals Monday.
Vancouver acquired forwards Tyler Motte and Jussi Jokinen from the Columbus Blue Jackets for veteran forward Thomas Vanek. Earlier, the club sent defenceman Philip Holm to the Vegas Golden Knights for forward Brendan Leipsic.
Benning said the original plan was for the Canucks to stockpile draft picks.
“We pretty much talked to every team in the league,” said Benning, who recently signed a three-year contract extension. “We wanted picks back.
“They weren’t available to us. We had to do the next best thing. It’s just one of those things.”
Motte, 22, has played 64 career NHL games and registered seven goals and five assists, since being picked in the fourth round, No. 121 overall, by Chicago in the 2013 draft. The five-foot-10, 191-pound American had three goals and two assists in 31 games with the Blue Jackets this year.
The Winnipeg-born Leipsic had two goals and 13 points in 44 games with the Golden Knights. The 23-year-old, who played his junior hockey with the Portland Winterhawks, was chosen in the third round, No. 89 overall, by the Nashville Predators in the 2012 draft. Prior to this year he spent most of his career in the AHL but did play six games for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2015-16 season, registering a goal and two assists.
Benning said both players fit into the Vancouver rebuild.
Heading into Monday night’s game in Colorado the Canucks are second-last in the Western Conference with a 24-37-7 record and are likely to miss the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
“Going forward, we want to be younger, faster,” said Benning. “We want to be harder to play against. I think both Brendan and Tyler they fit the mould of speed and skill and they are competitive guys.
“They are guys that aren’t maybe the biggest guys, but they are hard in the battle. They are going to add to our competitive group of young players that we have.”
Jokinen, 34, will join his fourth team this season having already played for Edmonton, Los Angeles and Columbus. In 937 NHL games that includes stops in Dallas, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Pittsburgh and Florida, the native of Kalajoki, Finland, has 187 goals and 366 assists.
“That’s part of the trade,” Benning said in explaining why Jokinen was included in the deal. “That’s a hockey trade.”
The Canucks signed Vanek as a free agent late this summer. In 61 games this year he had 17 goals and 24 assists.
The 33-year-old, who become an unrestricted free agent this summer, is used to moving. Since 2013-14 Vanek has played for seven teams. This is also the fourth time he as been traded in the last five seasons.
The Canucks signed Holm, 26, as an undrafted free agent in May. He had 11 goals and 29 points for the AHL Utica Comets. The native of Stockholm, Sweden, was called up last week but dressed for just one game, Friday’s loss in Vegas.
The Canucks originally touted Holms as a prospect, but Benning said acquiring defenceman Derrick Pouliot a week before the season started changed expectations.
Besides Vanek, the Canucks had little to offer at the deadline. There had been talk teams were interested in defenceman Chris Tanev, but he’s expected to be sidelined at least three more weeks with a broken bone in his leg.
“We had calls on lots of our players,” Benning said, “Those conversations are between me and the other general managers.
“I would say we didn’t get anywhere close on anything else.”
Players like Tanev, defenceman Alex Edler and forward Brenden Sutter will form the veteran core for Vancouver moving forward.
“These guys are going to help our young players, help them on the ice, help with leadership off the ice,” Benning said. “They are important players for us moving forward.”
Vancouver currently has six picks in this year’s draft.
“We are going to give some of these young players a good chance from now until the end of the year to play and see where they are at,” said Benning. “Maybe when we head into the draft there will be an opportunity to add more picks.”
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press