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Will Canucks’ Noah Dobson domino finally fall on NHL summer trade front?

Young right-shot blueliner, coveted by Canucks in the buildup to 2018 draft, could be back in play with J.T. Miller on the market

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The dominoes were supposed to fall in a methodical manner at the 2018 National Hockey League Draft.

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Coveted right-shot defenceman Noah Dobson was expected to fall to the Vancouver Canucks with the seventh selection because whiz-kid Quinn Hughes would be off the board. 

Surely, the Detroit Red Wings wouldn’t let the Michigan-bred, fast-skating, quick-thinking puck magician slip from their grasp with the sixth pick. With coach Jeff Blashill, who also guided Hughes at the world championship, beating the drum of desire the pecking order seemed set.

My mock draft order was Rasmus Dahlin (Buffalo), Andrei Svechnikov (Carolina), Brady Tkachuk (Montreal), Filip Zadina (Ottawa), Evan Bouchard (Arizona), Hughes (Detroit) and Dobson (Vancouver).

In reality, the dominoes took a different tumble. The Canadiens took Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall, Tkachuk went to the Senators, Barrett Hayton to the Coyotes, Zadina to the Wings and Hughes to the Canucks. Bouchard was selected 10th overall by Edmonton and Dobson two picks later by the New York Islanders.

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What does all that mean today, and especially for the Canucks?

Dobson, 22, had 51 points (13-38) in 80 games last season and the 6-foot-4, 195-pound right-shot defender might be in trade play to align with Hughes as the future top pairing.

The Islanders, who missed the playoffs by a whopping 17 points last season, need to prop up their 20th-ranked offence that had just two reach the 20-goal plateau in Brock Nelson (37) and Anders Lee (28). Centre Mathew Barzal slumped to 15 goals and wingers Kyle Palmeiri (15), Josh Bailey (14) and Anthony Beauvillier (12) struggled.

Not exactly the way to christen a sparkling new arena or keep off-season pace with regional rival New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. 

The Rangers signed centre Vincent Trocheck, 29, in free agency to a seven-year, $39.375-million deal (all figures in U.S. dollars). It was Plan B with Ryan Strome bolting to the Anaheim Ducks and kicking the tires on J.T. Miller. The Devils responded by adding winger Ondrej Palat, 31, for five years at $30 million in a front-loaded deal after missing on Johnny Gaudreau. Miller was on their radar, too.

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New York Islanders defenceman Noah Dobson (left) defends against then-Canuck Adam Gaudette in a February 2020 NHL game in New York.
New York Islanders defenceman Noah Dobson (left) defends against then-Canuck Adam Gaudette in a February 2020 NHL game in New York. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images files

Which, again, brings us to Dobson and Miller and the Islanders.

President of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello has $11 million in salary cap space, but the contract for restricted free agent Dobson should be a big one. His 51-point output is Dahlin territory and the 21-year-old Buffalo Sabres standout will earn $5.8 and $7.2 million the next two seasons.

That might be too rich because Barzal’s deal is up after next season and he’s a $7-million cap hit with $10 million in total salary next season. If he rebounds, it will put the Isles in a big bind.

Adding a 99-point dynamo in Miller, 29, at a projected $8 million annually in a lengthy extension, is the cost of doing business to get anywhere in the tough Metropolitan Division. Dealing Dobson to the Canucks would ease some financial burden by also parting with a roster forward or top prospect, plus a 2023 first-round pick.

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It all rides on the familiar and repeated refrain.

There’s a desire here to extend Miller, listening to offers, or riding him and pivoting at the trade deadline to ensure the proper return. If the Canucks are banging on the playoff door that would add another dimension.

Vancouver interest in Dobson dates back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

In his draft year, he was second in league blueliner scoring. He had 69 points (17-52) in 67 games and patterned his game after Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets (now with the Chicago Blackhawks). Who wouldn’t want a rearguard who skates that well, runs the power play, has a heavy shot and two-way awareness?

In his first playoff experience as a QMJHL rookie, Dobson’s defensive game and confidence level took off. In the second round, he shut down dynamic centre Pierre-Luc Dubois, who was held to four goals in seven games.

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“That really taught me how important your stick work is,” Dobson told Postmedia prior to the 2018 draft. “You may not be the biggest or most physical guy, but having a good stick and being in right position really helped. If you can think one play ahead, that really helps.”

What would help everybody is clarity on the Miller front.

You talk to people and Miller is doing his due diligence and prepping to return. He’s a tremendous bargain with a year remaining on his deal at $5.25 million and motivated to make a difference here or somewhere else. The Islanders reportedly had interest at the draft and it may still be there.

“We did not have any conversations with the Islanders about any players and we haven’t had any requests from teams to talk about what his (Miller’s) future contract would look like,” Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford told Postmedia on the eve of free agency.

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“If there’s a trade that works for both sides, we may consider doing that. But we like J.T. There’s no panic from our point of view to move him until probably a month before the trading deadline — if he wasn’t already signed. We don’t want to end up not getting anything for him if he doesn’t stay.”

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