The Vancouver Canucks announced last night that the team was bringing over 6-foot-8, 240-pound Russian defenseman Nikita Tryamkin for the rest of the season. This will be fun for Canucks fans, since the team's three wins in its past 10 games doomed any playoff hopes from here on out.
How will the new import work out? We'll find out soon enough. But Tryamkin is the type of player Vancouver needs for the future, because this squad isn't structured for a full-scale tank job. Instead, the Canucks will need to undertake what I like to call a "hot tub" rebuild.
See, you can only be so bad when your team employs Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Simply put, the twins will keep you in enough games that a last-place finish in the division is virtually impossible. Even with the twins missing a combined 21 games in 2013-14 and John Tortorella doing his best to keep them off the scoresheet (what was that old joke about UNC coach Dean Smith being the only guy to hold Michael Jordan to under 20 points a game?), Vancouver finished with the sixth pick overall. That's high, but it's not Edmonton high.
So you can't really tank. You have to ease into the rebuild like a hot tub (because you would never jump into a jacuzzi).
That's what we're seeing in Vancouver right now. The Canucks are out of the playoff picture, so what better time to see what Tryamkin can do? When the franchise selected him 66th overall in 2014, they knew they had a project. Tryamkin had already been passed over twice in the draft, but was coming into his own and showed well at the world juniors in Malmo, helping Russia win bronze with his size, big-time shot and mobility.
This season, he led the KHL's Avtomobilist in hits and ice time during the playoffs and was also the hit leader during the regular season. With Avto knocked out after the first round, Tryamkin became available and the Canucks can give him a nice tryout for 15 games or so.
If he works out, then Vancouver fills a roster spot for 2016-17 on a blueline that is, right now, suspect at best (notwithstanding the good find that is Ben Hutton) and probably not getting better in the short term.
Up front, there is hope in Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann – and while I know Virtanen has his detractors, let's keep in mind he is contributing to an NHL team at 19 years of age – that's a bonus for Vancouver. If he and McCann end up spending all or some of their next season with AHL Utica, that's fine, too: Vancouver isn't contending for a Stanley Cup next year and the important thing is for the kids to develop right – and Utica coach Travis Green is great for that.
And while GM Jim Benning has been criticized for some of his NHL moves this year (not trading Dan Hamhuis or Radim Vrbata at the deadline; losing Frank Corrado on waivers), you can't knock the job he and his scouting staff have done in the draft the past two seasons. Along with finds such as Tryamkin, the Canucks snagged two of this season's best NCAA players in goalie Thatcher Demko (Boston College, 36th overall in 2014) and right winger Brock Boeser (North Dakota, 23rd overall in 2015). Demko will almost certainly turn pro after his current season finishes, while Boeser is only a freshman – but based on his goal-scoring acumen, I can't imagine him spending all four years in Grand Forks.
All of a sudden, you have some pretty nice talent lined up for three, four years down the line – all without a top-five pick in the draft. Believe in the hot tub, Vancouver fans…believe in the hot tub…