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Best Canes Draft Picks of Last 20 Years

by Mike Sundheim & Michael Smith @NHLCanes /

Visit for the latest news, videos and pick-by-pick information in the 2017 NHL Draft.

The Carolina Hurricanes will celebrate their 20th anniversary season in 2017-18. Throughout the season, we'll look back at some of the greatest moments and players from the last 20 years.

With the 2017 NHL Draft around the corner, we got to thinking: what are the best draft picks the Hurricanes have made in the last 20 years?

What follows is a list of 14 players, ordered by their draft year, that we feel constitute the best Hurricanes draft picks.

Erik Cole: 3rd round, 71st overall (1998)

If there was a single draft that set the stage for the Hurricanes Stanley Cup Final runs in 2002 and 2006, it was the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, held in Buffalo. Though neither of the Hurricanes first two picks turned into regulars (Jeff Heerema played just 32 NHL games with Carolina and St. Louis, and Kevin Holdridge never played higher than the ECHL), the team certainly hit in the third round, with Clarkson University forward Erik Cole. Cole appeared in 558 games with Carolina and ranked ninth in franchise history and third in Hurricanes history in points with 557. He finished his NHL career with 532 points (265g, 267a) in 892 games with Carolina, Edmonton, Montreal, Dallas and Detroit, and represented the United States in several international competitions including the 2006 Winter Olympic Games.

- Mike Sundheim

Josef Vasicek: 4th round, 91st overall (1998)

One round later, General Manager Jim Rutherford and Director of Amateur Scouting Tony MacDonald used a pick acquired from Anaheim to select a rangy center from Slavia Praha's junior squad named Josef Vasicek. The Havlickuv Brod, Czechslovakia, native went on to score 77 goals and 106 assists (183 points) in 460 career NHL games with Carolina, Nashville and the New York Islanders. He scored a playoff-overtime winner in 2002 against the Devils and appeared in eight games during the team's Stanley Cup championship run in 2006. We sadly lost "Big Joe" on Sept. 7, 2011; he was one of 44 people who lost their lives when KHL team Lokomotiv's plane crashed near Yaroslavl, Russia.

- Sundheim

Jaroslav Svoboda: 8th round, 208th overall (1998)

More than 200 picks into the 1998 NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo, the Hurricanes grabbed another Czech forward who would go on to play a role in bringing the Stanley Cup Final to Raleigh four years later. Selected in a round that no longer even exists in the draft, Jaroslav Svoboda ultimately played 143 NHL games for Carolina and Dallas before continuing his career in Europe. Svoboda earned assists on three game-winning goals during the 2002 playoffs, including Vasicek's overtime winner against the Devils. Svoboda's only goal of that run was a game-winner as well, beating Curtis Joseph in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final in Toronto.

- Sundheim

Niclas Wallin: 4th round, 97th overall (2000)

On June 25, 2000, in Calgary, Jim Rutherford traded fourth-, fifth- and eighth-round picks to slide up 11 spots in the fourth round and grab defenseman Niclas Wallin. (If you're curious as I was, Atlanta took Blake Robson, Matt McCrae and Eric Bowen with the traded picks.) "It was necessary to move up in the draft order to ensure we could select Niclas Wallin," Rutherford said after the trade. "At age 25, he is a strong, hard-working defenseman who we project to be with the Hurricanes this season." Wallin did spend part of that 2000-01 season with Carolina and went on to play 517 regular-season and 69 playoff games for the Hurricanes. A hugely-popular locker room presence and steadying force on the blueline, the "Secret Weapon" scored some of the most memorable overtime goals in Hurricanes playoff history, including the winner in the Miracle at Molson in 2002 and Game 2 winners in the 2002 Conference Final and the 2006 Conference Semifinal.

- Sundheim

Cam Ward: 1st round, 25th overall (2002)

Since arriving in Carolina, the Hurricanes have only once used a first-round selection on a goaltender. They made it count. Just nine days after being eliminated in the Stanley Cup Final against Detroit, Carolina grabbed the player who would make sure they capitalized on their next trip to the Final. Cam Ward would have two more seasons to develop with Red Deer in the Western Hockey League and one with Lowell in the American Hockey League, before taking the NHL by storm as a rookie during the spring of 2006. He became the fourth rookie goaltender in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, going 15-8 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .920 save percentage to lead the franchise to its only Stanley Cup championship. Since then, Ward has firmly established himself as the greatest netminder in team history, Carolina's all-time leader in regular-season games played (625), wins (295) and shutouts (25) as well as playoff games (41), wins (23) and shutouts (4).

- Sundheim

Eric Staal: 1st round, 2nd overall (2003)

Video: Draft Lookback: Eric Staal is drafted by Carolina

It's easy to say that when you have the second-overall selection in the draft, you should be able to pick a great player, but there are plenty of examples of teams that have swung and missed picking near the top of draft. Fortunately, the Hurricanes weren't one of them. With their highest pick since arriving in North Carolina, the team grabbed a 6'3" (at the time) center from the Peterborough Petes named Eric Staal. "We had Eric rated number one," Rutherford said that day. "For us, it's like winning the lottery." Indeed, 14 years later Staal's name sits at the top of nearly every offensive category in the team's post-relocation history, including games played (909), goals (332), assists (454) and points (775). He was a four-time All-Star, a World Champion, an Olympic gold medalist and the leading scorer in the 2006 playoffs, bringing the Stanley Cup to Carolina. He was, without a doubt, the face of the Hurricanes franchise, and the biggest star to ever play in a Carolina Hurricanes sweater.

- Sundheim

Andrew Ladd: 1st round, 4th overall (2004)

Video: Draft Lookback: Andrew Ladd is drafted by Carolina

The 2004 NHL Entry Draft was held in Raleigh, and Rutherford rewarded the Hurricanes fans who packed what was then known as RBC Center by making noise from the stage early in the first round. After Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Cam Barker came off the board at 1-2-3, the Hurricanes gave up the eighth and 59th selections (Columbus took Alexandre Picard and Kyle Wharton with the picks) to grab Calgary Hitmen forward Andrew Ladd at fourth overall. Ladd debuted for Carolina during the 2005-06 season, and appeared in 17 games during the Hurricanes Stanley Cup run that spring. He would go on to win a second Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010 after Rutherford dealt him to Chicago in exchange for Tuomo Ruutu, and is now just three points shy of 500 with 233 goals and 264 assists in 847 career NHL games with Carolina, Chicago, Atlanta, Winnipeg and the NY Islanders.

- Sundheim

Brandon Sutter: 1st round, 11th overall (2007)

Video: Draft Lookback: Brandon Sutter is drafted by Carolina

The Hurricanes tapped into talented hockey genes with their 11th overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, selecting Brandon Sutter, whose father and five uncles played in the NHL. Sutter logged 286 games and 107 points (53g, 54a) over four seasons with the Hurricanes. Sutter, an alternate captain for the Hurricanes from 2010-12, was a key piece in the June 2012 trade that brought Jordan Staal to Carolina. Sutter has since played with Pittsburgh and Vancouver, totaling 228 points (120g, 108a) in an NHL career that spans nine seasons and nearly 600 games.

- Michael Smith

Jeff Skinner: 1st round, 7th overall (2010)

Video: Draft Lookback: Jeff Skinner is drafted by Carolina

Making their highest pick in five years, the Hurricanes had their eyes on landing an impact player, and they found just that in Jeff Skinner, viewed as the one of the best natural goal-scorers available in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. In his rookie season, Skinner totaled 31 goals and 32 assists (63 points) and as the youngest player in NHL history to capture the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. He also broke Steve Yzerman's record to become the youngest All-Star in NHL history at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh. In seven NHL seasons, Skinner has totaled 180 goals and 150 assists (330 points) and has thrice recorded 30-goals seasons. Skinner, who was named an alternate captain prior to the 2016-17 season, currently ranks second on the team's all-time goal list (since relocation) and has represented Team Canada in numerous international competitions, most recently winning a silver medal in the 2017 IIHF World Championship.

- Smith

Justin Faulk: 2nd round, 37th overall (2010)

Video: Draft Lookback: Justin Faulk is drafted by Carolina

The Hurricanes hit a home run in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and they returned to Staples Center in Los Angeles the next day and found another gem in the second round. Picking 37th overall, the Hurricanes selected defenseman Justin Faulk, the first in a run of four straight blue-liners they'd pick that day. Faulk, a native of South St. Paul, MN, has developed into a mainstay on the Canes' defensive corps and has served as an alternate captain since the 2015-16 season. Faulk, whose list of accolades continues to bloom, is an NCAA champion, an Olympian and a three-time NHL All-Star. A constant threat from the blue line, Faulk has totaled 192 points (66g, 126a) in 401 games over six seasons with the Hurricanes, and in 2016-17, he set the team (since relocation) record for goals in a single season by a defenseman with 17, a tally that was also the most in franchise history by a defenseman since Zarley Zalapski's 20 in the 1991-92 campaign. Faulk is also the lone defenseman in franchise history with three 15-or-more goal seasons.

- Smith

Frederik Andersen: 7th round, 187th overall (2010)

Though Frederik Andersen never played an NHL game in a Hurricanes' sweater, the selection of the Danish netminder in the seventh and final round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft remains among the scouting staff's best finds. After re-entering the Draft in 2012 and being selected much higher (in the third round at 87th overall by the Anaheim Ducks), Andersen has since played in 197 NHL games with Anaheim and Toronto. He owns a career 112-43-29 record with a 2.46 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.

- Smith

Jaccob Slavin: 4th round, 120th overall (2012)

Jaccob Slavin was a gangly teenager with a massive head of hair that swooped over his ears and forehead when the Hurricanes selected him very late in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Draft. After playing with Chicago of the USHL and then Colorado College, Slavin joined the Hurricanes in the 2015-16 season and has developed into one of the team's top defensemen. In the 2016-17 season, Slavin led the team in blocked shots (161), takeaways (83), time on ice per game (23:26) and shorthanded time on ice per game (3:07) and he was tied for first in plus/minus rating (plus-23), which is also the fourth best plus/minus season in franchise history. He was one of six Canes to play in all 82 games in 2016-17, and he earned his first career hat trick on March 13 against the New York Islanders in a career-high four-point performance. Slavin already has 145 games of NHL experience under his belt and figures to be a central part of the Canes' defense in the coming seasons.

- Smith

Brett Pesce: 3rd round, 66th overall (2013)

Video: Draft Lookback: Brett Pesce is drafted by Carolina

After trading their second-round pick to acquire defenseman Andrej Sekera, the Hurricanes made just four picks at the 2013 NHL Draft in New Jersey, and in the third round, they found defenseman Brett Pesce. Like Slavin, the American-born Pesce has developed into a key piece on the Canes' blue line. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound defenseman skated in all 82 games with the Hurricanes in 2016-17 and posted a plus-23 plus/minus rating, which ranked tied for first on the team and 10th in the league. Heading into his third NHL season, Pesce already has 151 games and 36 points (6g, 30a) to his name.

- Smith

Sebastian Aho: 2nd round, 35th overall (2015)

Video: Draft Lookback: Sebastian Aho is drafted by Carolina

Sebastian Aho is the most recent draft pick on this list, selected just two years ago in South Florida, but he already has the resume to lend credence to his inclusion. He scored the championship-winning goal in overtime of Game 7 for Karpat in 2015 at just 17 years old. As an 18-year-old, he helped Team Finland capture the gold medal at the 2016 World Junior Championship with 14 points (5g, 9a) in seven games. A few months after turning 19, he competed in the World Cup of Hockey amongst the world's most elite group of hockey players. And, in the 2016-17 season, he assembled a breakout rookie campaign, ranking first on the team in power-play points (17) and game-winning goals (4) and second on the team in both goals (24) and points (49). He also was just the third player in franchise history to play in every game of his rookie season. After the season in the 2017 IIHF World Championship, Aho ranked first on Team Finland and in the top 10 of all tournament skaters with 11 points (2g, 9a) in 10 games. And he's only going to get better.

- Smith

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