VANCOUVER – For months, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning has stressed the need for his club to beef up their blue line over the off-season.
He did just that on Monday, adding a trio of defencemen in free agency.
The biggest signing was former Winnipeg Jets D-man Tyler Myers, who agreed to a five-year deal with an annual average value of US$6 million.
Benning, a former scout, said he’s been watching the 29-year-old’s career since Myers played junior hockey for the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets.
“I just felt like he’s a great fit for our group going forward,” the GM said. “Because he can play today’s style of game because of his skating and he’s six foot eight. So we’ve seen in the playoffs with St. Louis some big defenceman who can skate and move the puck. So I think Tyler’s a piece to the puzzle for us going forward.”
Myers had 31 points in 80 games for the Jets last season.
Originally from Houston, he was raised in Calgary before being drafted 12th overall by the Sabres in 2008. He played five full seasons in Buffalo before he was dealt to the Jets in February 2015.
Vancouver was one of “two or three teams” Myers spoke to prior to the start of free agency on Monday, but an in-person meeting with the team’s management swayed his decision.
“Not only am I very excited with where the team is at, you take a look at the jump they made last year, that was exciting for me when making my decision,” he said. “I’m going to be a piece that’s going to try and help them ultimately take the next step forward. So it was very exciting for me in that aspect.”
Where, exactly, Myers will land in the Canucks lineup remains to be seen, but Benning said he could play a match-up role with the team’s veteran defenceman Alex Edler or skate alongside rookie Quinn Hughes, who officially joined the franchise at the tail end of last season.
Myers played a depth role on the Jets blue line and acknowledged the posting had been frustrating at times. To cope, he said he tried to focus on the things that made him his best, such as his skating.
“As my career’s gone along, I feel I’ve got better and better at focusing on the things I can control,” he said. “No matter if a lot of change happens throughout any particular year, you just go into each day focused on playing your best hockey, whether it’s in practice or in a game.”
The Myers signing was long rumoured and drew questions from Canucks fans worried about the contract’s term and the team’s cap hit.
But the veteran defenceman said the chatter of an intensely loyal fan base doesn’t phase him.
“The thing that solves any negativity is winning. And that’s the ultimate goal coming into the group, being a puzzle piece to help this team win,” he said. “Everybody’s happy when we’re winning. So that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Vancouver has also signed defenceman Jordie Benn, 31, to a two-year deal with an annual average value of $2 million.
The six-foot-two, 199-pound left-shot defenceman put up 22 points for the Montreal Canadiens last season.
“I just felt like he’s a steady, safe guy that’s going to fit in,” said Benning. “He’s a good two-way player that’s going to fit into the way (coach Travis Green) wants to play.”
Benn went undrafted before he was signed by Dallas in July 2011. He spent six seasons with the Stars before being dealt to Montreal in February 2017.
The Victoria native said the Habs offered him the same deal as the Canucks, but he couldn’t pass up a chance to come back to B.C.
“When you have a chance to go home and play in front of your friends and family and for a team you grew up watching, those are things I’ve always wanted to do,” Benn said in a call from his off-season home in Dallas.
“I’m ecstatic to come home and play for the Canucks.”
Benn’s first opportunity to play for Vancouver came in 2008 when he attended Canucks training camp.
“It’s been a long journey, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’m pretty sure there’s a picture of me at camp with no beard and zits all over my face. It’s pretty cool that it’s come full circle and I’m coming back to play for a team that I grew up watching.”
The Canucks also inked defenceman Oscar Fantenberg to a one-year contract worth $850,000. The six-foot, 206-pound defenceman split last season between the L.A. Kings and Calgary Flames, registering four points in 61 games.
A native of Ljunby, Sweden, Fantenberg went undrafted by the NHL and played a season in the KHL before he signed on with the Kings in May 2017. He was traded to Calgary in February.
Benning said he would have liked to add another forward to the Canucks roster, too, but was limited by cap space after former goalie Roberto Luongo retired last week.
The move will leave Vancouver paying $3 million for each of the next three seasons because the club signed Luongo to a 12-year, $64-million contract extension in 2010.
“It was a kick in the shins, I’ll be perfectly honest with you,” said Benning. “We knew it could come, it happened. It kind of stopped us from maybe adding one more piece to our team this year.”
The Canucks still need to work out a deal with restricted free agent Brock Boeser, the team’s third-leading scorer last season.
Vancouver also signed a pair of two-way deals on Monday, adding centre Tyler Graovac and goalie Zane McIntyre to the roster.
A native of Brampton, Ont., Graovac spent last season playing for the Flames’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Stockton Heat, where he notched 50 points in 65 games.
The 26-year-old was originally drafted 191st overall by the Minnesota Wild in 2011 and has nine points in 62 career NHL games.
McIntyre, also 26, joins the Canucks franchise from the AHL’s Providence Bruins where he posted a record of 25-14-7 along with two shutouts, a 2.59 goals-against average and .898 save percentage last season.
Drafted 165th overall by the Boston in 2010, the netminder eight NHL games for the Bruins in the 2016-17 season.
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