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It seems like we’ve finally reached the dog days of the offseason, doesn’t it? NHL news has slowed to a crawl, and most fans can’t wait for next season to start. The only problem is that, well, we don’t know exactly when the puck will drop for the 2020-21 campaign and it’s already… November?!?! 

Well, that’s awkward. The entire league is in limbo right now, but that won’t stop Canucks fans from thinking of creative ways to improve the team. 

Outside of maybe cap management, most people would agree that Vancouver’s most pressing need is to find young defencemen to fill out the future of its blueline. Unfortunately, Jim Benning hasn’t found a way to clone Quinn Hughes yet, so the Canucks will need to use a different method to construct its back-end. 

Make no mistake, the team does have a number of intriguing prospects such as Olli Juolevi, Jack Rathbone, and Brogan Rafferty, but the Canucks will need to find better pieces in order to truly become a contender in the near future. The easiest way of accomplishing that would be through the draft, but we’ll be focusing instead on trades today since I frankly haven’t done research on any 2021 draft-eligible prospects yet. 

For this article, I’ve compiled a list of five young defencemen who I believe to be realistic targets in a trade, meaning that they could end up being the odd man out on teams that are deep on the blueline and aren’t a part of the Pacific Division. I’ve also decided not to propose any deals to save myself from looking like a moron in the future (it’s going to happen regardless), but it’s safe to say that all five of these players would probably cost the Canucks a premium prospect or draft capital if a trade were to happen. 

Alright, enough blabbering; let’s get on with the list.

Haydn Fleury

LHD, 6’3”, 208lb (Carolina)

The only full-time NHL player on this list, Haydn Fleury has had a hard time carving out a top-4 role on the Hurricanes during the past few seasons. However, this is to no fault of his own, as Carolina has one of the deepest bluelines in the league with the likes of Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Dougie Hamilton all occupying spots on the back-end. 

This season, Fleury mostly played against bottom 6 competition on Carolina’s third pair but put up decent underlying numbers. At 5 on 5, the Hurricanes controlled shot attempts 53.57% of the time with him on the ice and his expected goals for percentage was 51.01%. 

Fleury won’t ever be considered an elite puck-mover or offensive dynamo, but he should be able to put up around 35 points a season when given the opportunity to do so. His upside isn’t as high as some other names on this list but his solid defensive game and physicality will allow him to be a solid second-pairing defenceman for years to come, perhaps starting as soon as next season. 

Jake Bean

LHD, 6’1”, 186lb (Carolina)

Boy, those ‘Canes sure are stacked on the blueline, aren’t they? Carolina has an embarrassment of riches defensively, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them move a player due to the logjam. One of their best prospects is Jake Bean, who was named the AHL’s most outstanding defenceman in just his second season in the league. Unlike Fleury, Bean is an offensive defenceman who has game-breaking abilities and just put up 48 points in 59 AHL games. He’s also a good skater and reliable puck-mover, two of the most important skills for blueliners in today’s NHL.

Defensively, Bean is reliable and was called upon to kill penalties during the past season. He won’t ever become a shutdown player but will be able to hold his own in the defensive end at the NHL level. Bean has the upside to become a top-pairing option, but a more realistic projection would be a #3 defenceman who could quarterback a powerplay and be deployed in all situations of the game. 

Cam York 

LHD, 5’11”, 175lb (Philadelphia)

The 14th overall pick in last year’s draft, Cam York played for the University of Michigan this past season and continued to show why he’s one of the better defensive prospects in the game. York isn’t the most physically gifted player when considering his smaller stature and decent skating ability, but his poise and hockey IQ more than makes up for it. He’s an extremely smart player who relies on his brains to make plays and is rarely caught flat-footed as a result. 

York didn’t produce the most inspiring point totals with Michigan but there should be more offensive upside to come. Even without dominant physical tools, his hockey IQ alone should allow him to become a top 4 defenceman in the NHL. York most likely won’t be elite in one particular area, but he could be a jack of all trades type of player who could both kill penalties and quarterback a second unit powerplay. 

Thomas Harley

LHD, 6’3”, 190lb (Dallas)

The next blueliner to be picked after York, Thomas Harley returned to the Steelheads of the OHL this season and put up 57 points in 59 games. Standing at 6’3”, Harley is an excellent skater for his size and can lead the rush to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. Defensively, he can be caught out of position at times but his issues can easily be fixed given time and more maturity. 

With his size, Harley isn’t as physical as one might hope, but he also doesn’t shy away from contact and could still put on some weight to become even more imposing. At the NHL level, he projects to be an offensive defenceman who won’t be a liability in his own zone. Given his physical tools and hockey sense, it won’t be hard to envision Harley becoming a good top 4 defenceman in the league. 

Justin Barron

RHD, 6’2”, 198lb (Colorado)

By now, you’re probably all screaming at me wondering why I haven’t listed at RHD yet. Well, being the evil person that I am, I saved the only one for last to keep you guys frustrated. In all seriousness, the Canucks can’t afford to pick and choose players based on their handedness. The team needs young defencemen, period. With that said, it’s definitely a bonus if Vancouver was able to acquire a RHD, and Justin Barron would be a great fit for the team.

The 25th overall pick of the most recent draft, Barron struggled with blood clot issues for much of the season. When he was able to play however, he showed off his great skating and offensive instincts, even though the production was only mediocre. At his best, Barron can go end to end and put considerable pressure on opposing defences. His speed allows him to get back defensively without compromising his offensive prowess and it’s rare to find him out of position. 

Similar to Harley, Barron isn’t overly physical considering his size, but his hockey IQ allows him to be a responsible player in his own zone even though he’s not a bruiser. Barron uses his smarts to read plays and will have no problem defending at the NHL level with his active stick and skating ability. Currently, he projects to be a second pairing player who can kill penalties and be a good puck mover, but there are valid concerns about his health; blood clots have the potential to end a player’s career, regardless of their age. Fortunately, it seems like Barron has overcome these issues, as he’s already been invited to participate in team Canada’s camp for the upcoming World Junior Championships. 

Conclusion

In the current NHL landscape, it’s extremely difficult to acquire good young defencemen through trade. Most teams have built their bluelines through the draft, but the Canucks can’t rely on just one method to improve their backend. By targeting teams who have a logjam of young D-man such as the Hurricanes, Flyers, Stars, and Avalanche, Vancouver might have a chance to pry away a good player and start supplanting Quinn Hughes with some more support from the blueline. Unfortunately, the Canucks will most likely need to include Vasili Podkolzin or Nils Hoglander in a potential deal to acquire any of these players, unless Peter Chiarelli somehow becomes a GM again in the league.

Stats via Natural Stat Trick.