Visualising the development of Vancouver Canucks draft picks made by Jim Benning

The 2020 NHL Draft saw the Vancouver Canucks add five prospects to their system, selecting a player each from the third round through to the seventh. After this draft, Jim Benning‘s tenure as general manager has brought in 48 draft picks since his arrival in 2014.

Of the 43 draft picks made in prior years, some have been players to accelerate the Canucks’ competitive timeline, while others have fizzled out into less than stellar players.

Previously, I made a data visualisation to explore how the Calgary Flames’ draft picks made with Brad Treliving at the helm have developed, and was asked by Reddit user Escalotes to look at how Benning has fared.

The data visualisation tracks the progress of every pick by Benning since 2014 through to 2019. Each player is labelled based on where they played the most games in a given season, and shows their year-by-year progress since being drafted. By looking at all players selected over a time window, Vancouver’s breadth of work in developing the players selected by Benning can be explored.

How to read the visualisation

To see the progression of every pick, I made a modified alluvial diagram with the x-axis showing years. The first column indicates the league a drafted player played in prior to being selected by the Canucks. Every sequential column thereafter shows where the Canucks’ picks played in the following years.

While every player is technically represented, they were grouped based on year-by-year progression. The leagues were roughly arranged based on typical development paths, with the NHL being placed highest as it’s the ultimate goal. The order does not reflect any definitive ranking between leagues, but rather serves as a means to simply label different subsets of leagues.

The AHL, KHL, and ECHL were listed first as players tend to develop in these leagues after being drafted. CHL leagues are grouped altogether, followed by the NCAA, and European leagues such as the SHL, Liiga, HockeyAllsvenskan, etc. making up the European subset. Lower leagues in Canada, the United States, and Russia make up the last sets of leagues.

Each player’s path is traceable by moving across each column horizontally and following the path. Whenever a path truncates, that indicates where the most recent season was played (i.e. 2019-20 seasons).

All prospect data was retrieved from, and the visualisation was created with R and modified with Adobe Illustrator. The R “tidyverse” and “ggalluvial” packages were used to create the visualisations, and the colour palette was adapted from Carto.

Observations from the dataviz

Looking at the visualisation, we can see what has happened to the group of the players selected by Benning. Development trends, standout players, and overall drafting success can all be determined by exploring the chart.

Admittedly, I’m not as familiar with the Canucks’ prospect system as I am with the Flames, so if I have made any incorrect observations please feel free to point them out and I will amend them. Nevertheless, here’s what can be said about the Canucks based on the chart.

  • The Canucks like to draft primarily out of the CHL, and was successful in getting NHL talent out of Jake Virtanen, who made the jump to the NHL in his D+2 year and has been a household name in the Canucks’ roster since.
  • Jared McCann was also drafted out of the CHL. Though no longer with the Canucks organisation, his career bounced a bit between the NHL and AHL after also making the jump from the CHL to the NHL in his D+2 year.
  • No other player selected from the CHL has turned into an NHL level skater for the Canucks yet. Kyle Pettit and Mackenze Stewart were also drafted in 2014, but neither made the jump to the AHL. They’re now both playing in lower Canadian leagues.
  • That being said, there’s a group of CHL-drafted players currently in the AHL that are still poised to have a shot at making the NHL including Olli Juolevi, Jakob Stukel, Kole Lind, and Jonah Gadjovich, among others. All of these players made the transition to the AHL relatively early on and may earn some more looks at the AHL and NHL levels.
  • Nikita Tryamkin, drafted from the KHL, had a short stint in the NHL in his D+3 year before heading back to the KHL where he still remains.
  • The Canucks have young NHL-level talent from Europe and the NCAA, where two players made the transition to NHL for their D+2 years. They are no other than Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.
  • Thatcher Demko was also drafted out of the NCAA and is poised to be an NHL starter after spending a couple years in the NCAA before heading to the AHL.
  • Among the 2015 draft class, the Canucks drafted two players out of the USHL and successfully got NHL players out of Brock Boeser and Adam Gaudette, who both developed in the NCAA before becoming NHL regulars.
  • Among the Canucks skaters in the NHL, they all made the jump between their D+2 through D+4 years, with only Demko making the transition to the NHL in his D+6 year.
  • Seven Vancouver draft picks are currently NHL players. With the recent injections of Pettersson and Hughes into the roster, the homegrown talent has accelerated the Canucks’ rebuild and they made a large splash in the 2020 NHL Playoffs against the St. Louis Blues, eliminating the defending Stanley Cup Champions in the first round.

These are just some of the observations that can be made by looking at the chart. Try and see what you can determine for yourself. If you’re interested, the data used to create the visualisation can be downloaded here:

Scouting out the talent

The Canucks got NHL players from all over the globe, and their scouting deserves due credit for finding high ceiling players across various leagues. That being said, there have been disappointments in some players who were unable to make the NHL, whose career trajectories have seen them playing overseas in European leagues or in Canadian university leagues.

When it comes to drafting, Benning and the Canucks’ scouts have had huge hits and misses. Right now it looks like the players they’ve hit on have returned huge dividends and they find themselves looking at a small window to compete now while some of their stars are still on entry-level contracts.

However, the Canucks are in the thick of an offseason where the team may undergo year another transformation. The departures of Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, and Tyler Toffoli, and the arrivals of Braden Holtby and Nate Schmidt are all major movements that already fundamentally shift the makeup of the Canucks roster.

Whatever Benning and the rest of the Canucks’ management plan on doing, they’ll have to navigate through some hoops and hurdles to fill in the remaining gaps in their roster. Given their draft record, they might just have some help waiting at the helm if they look from within the organisation.

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