What constitutes a successful draft?
Is it having a marquee first-round pick that develops into a star NHL player? Is it compiling a well-rounded pool of promising NHL prospects? Can you make such an assessment after a year or does it take a handful of seasons to truly evaluate a team’s take?
I asked Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes director of amateur scouting, how he defines a successful draft.
“If one of your picks becomes an impact player rather than just a good NHL player, I think that contributes to a successful draft,” he said, after pausing to ponder. “But I think I judge a draft by if you can have one where you get two to three, even four players out of a single draft that are able to play on your team and contribute. I think that’s a good draft and you feel like you’ve done a pretty good job.”
With that in mind and considering we are just a year removed, how has the Hurricanes’ 2015 draft class fared thus far? Let’s take a look.
Noah Hanifin: 1st round, 5th overall
Hanifin was the top-rated defensive prospect of the 2015 NHL Draft, and after four straight forwards were taken off the board, the Hurricanes wasted no time selecting him with the fifth overall pick.
“We got the player we wanted in the first round,” MacDonald said.
In 2015-16, Hanifin certainly lived up to top-prospect billing, as he made the Hurricanes squad out of training camp, skated in 79 of 82 games and cemented his role on a young and talented blue line. Hanifin ranked second among team defensemen and fourth among NHL rookie defensemen in scoring with 22 points (4g, 18a). He skated in over 18 minutes of ice time in his NHL debut when the Canes opened the season in Nashville, and two nights later in the team’s home opener, he posted his first-career assist.
On the heels of his rookie season, he competed for Team USA in the World Championship where he was a top-pairing blue liner. He posted a goal and two assists in the seven-game preliminary round prior to the Americans falling to Team Russia in the bronze medal game.
“He was very poised and very confident,” said Bill Peters, who coached Team Canada to a gold medal, of Hanifin. “He played with a lot of pace. He took off with the puck a few times; if you remember when people chase him behind the net at the NHL level how that turns out, we had one of our guys make the same mistake chasing him behind the net, and it turned out the same way.”
That was just year one, too, and Hanifin is only 19 years old. He will, without a doubt, be a mainstay on the Hurricanes’ blue line for years to come.
As the events of the second day began, the Hurricanes acquired goaltender Eddie Lack from Vancouver in exchange for a 2015 third-round pick and a 2016 seventh-round pick. Without a third-round selection, the Hurricanes would go on to make eight additional picks on day two.
Sebastian Aho: 2nd round, 35th overall
Following the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft, the Hurricanes’ brain trust regrouped to discuss potential second-day targets and adjust their list accordingly. For the 35th pick, they had their eyes on Aho.
“It was a bit of a bonus there. We had him right in that area of when we took him,” MacDonald said. “When we were able to get him, we were quite happy with that.”
“Aho was a player we kept coming back to in terms of a kid that has a huge upside,” said Darren Yorke, the Canes’ video scout and assistant to the general manager. “It’s a player that you don’t expect to be there, but obviously you’re happy that they are.”
In 2015-16, Aho was a point-per-game producer with Karpat in the Finnish Elite League, as he tallied 45 points (20g, 25a) in as many games. He added 15 points (4g, 11a) in the playoffs. Aho helped lead Team Finland to a gold medal in the World Juniors with 14 points (5g, 9a) in seven tournament games. He added a silver medal to his collection at the World Championship and will join Team Finland for the World Cup of Hockey in September.
“I think you look at Aho’s success as a 17- and 18-year-old playing against men. He’s done everything that you want from a player at that level,” Yorke said. “You don’t see that kind of success at his age from a lot of players. It’s a credit to him as a hockey player in terms of his hockey sense and compete. We’re looking at a player who has a bright future.”
“I’d be shocked if he comes in and can’t make our hockey team from what I’ve seen of him,” Peters said. “I don’t think there’s pressure on him. We’ll bring him in, and if he makes our team – which we’d like to see happen – we’ll make sure we use him properly, surround him with good people and give him all the support he needs.” Callum Booth: 4th round, 93rd overall
Booth appeared in 39 games for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL in the 2015-16 season, logging a 16-5-5 record, a 3.15 goals-against average, a .902 save percentage and three shutouts.
“We think he’s still a solid prospect going forward,” MacDonald said. “He’s a big, strong guy who has a lot of athleticism.”
“Callum battled a couple injuries this season which might have slowed down some of his development, but when you’re looking at goalies in the NHL right now, he’s got the size and technique,” Yorke said of Booth, who measures in at 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds. “He’s going to round out his game. He’s going to get another opportunity to be the starter in Quebec next season, and he’s really going to start to grow into his frame.”
Nicolas Roy: 4th round, 96th overall
Roy entered the QMJHL as the league’s first-overall pick in 2013. In his first season, he tallied 16 goals and 41 points, and in 2014-15, he recorded 16 goals and 50 points. His NHL draft stock fell, and he was still available when the Hurricanes were on the clock for their second pick of the fourth round.
“If you look back on the draft and do a re-draft, he wouldn’t be a player who would make it to the fourth round,” Yorke said. “He’s a former first-overall pick in the Q and maybe had some issues trying to live up to that expectation.”
He responded in 2015-16 with a banner season. He led the QMJHL in goals with 48 and ranked seventh in the league in points with 90.
“He had underachieved,” MacDonald said. “Now he comes back this year on a mission with a point to prove and was pretty impressive with the type of season he had.”
“He’s a big kid who has tremendous hockey sense. He’s very good around the net, and that’s how you score 48 goals,” Yorke said. “Next year, he’ll be considered for the Canadian World Junior team, and he’ll continue on that progression that he first had when he was a first-round pick. … We’re very happy to have him.” Luke Stevens: 5th round, 126th overall
Stevens captained his Noble & Greenough School squad and tallied 55 points (24g, 31a) in 28 games.
“He’s a big kid who can skate, so you’re looking at a player who has the size and wheels,” Yorke said of the 6-foot-3, 195-pound forward.
Now 19 years of age, Stevens will head to Yale University in the fall.
“He’s still going to continue to learn how to grow when he goes to the college game,” Yorke said. “It’s more of a structured game, and that’s really going to help him develop into that big power forward.” Spencer Smallman: 5th round, 138th overall
In his draft year, Smallman tallied 56 points (23g, 33a) in 66 games. In 2015-16, his fourth season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, he tallied 47 points (19g, 28a). At first glance, the dip in point total may be concerning, but Yorke said Smallman had to battle through some injuries and played seven fewer games because of that.
“He’s a very smart hockey player,” Yorke said. “He works hard in terms of being strong along the boards and rooting off players.”
Saint John made a run to the QMJHL semifinals, falling in five games to Shawinigan. Smallman tallied 19 points, including 16 assists, in 17 playoff games.
“Smallman is coming along,” MacDonald said. “He knows the areas that he has to improve his game. Skating is one of them. He’s a smart, intelligent, two-way player.”
Jake Massie: 6th round, 156th overall
Nearly three months after the draft, Massie was among the assets traded to Chicago in exchange for forwards Joakim Nordstrom and Kris Versteeg.
David Cotton: 6th round, 169th overall
Cotton played in the USHL for the Waterloo Black Hawks in the 2015-16 season, logging 15 goals and 15 assists (30 points) in 48 games.
“He’s another sort of power forward who can play a bit of a finesse game,” Yorke said. “The USHL is a tough league to play in when you’re 18 years old, and for a rookie he had a great season.”
“I just recently got to see David Cotton play in the USHL playoffs. I was pretty impressed with his game,” MacDonald said. “I was quite pleased to see how he has progressed as a player.”
Cotton will attend Boston College in the fall.
Steven Lorentz: 7th round, 186th overall
Lorentz skated in his third full season with the Peterborough Petes in 2015-16. From a season prior, he increased his goal-scoring from 16 to 23 and his point total from 37 to 48. He added two goals and three assists (5 points) in seven playoff games.
“He’s continuing to progress into another bigger player who we think has a chance to be a power forward in the NHL,” Yorke said.
With one player having already made an impact in the NHL, another perhaps to do so as early as this season and a few more knocking on the door, the Hurricanes’ 2015 draft class is already showing some real promise.
And it’s only been a year.
“Yes,” MacDonald said with a smile, “last year was a good one.”
is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.Email