The 2011 NHL Entry Draft didn’t always have much fanfare, but it’s shaped up to be stronger than most had anticipated.
Its detractors pointed out that it lacks a sure-fire superstar-in-waiting that hockey scouts and avid fans have known about for years. While there’s a talented group at the top that separates itself from the rest of the eligible players – think Gabriel Landeskog, Adam Larsson and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – it may not include the next Sidney Crosby.
However, that shouldn’t reflect on the rest of the class. The Hurricanes, who hold the No. 12 overall choice, feel that the top 15 is as good as or better than recent crops that saw them add Brandon Sutter, Zach Boychuk and Jeff Skinner to the mix in that range.
It may not end there, with scouts believing that potential steals will be there for the taking well into the second round.
“We might have underestimated the strength of this draft,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting. “At the top it separates out pretty quickly, but it’s one of those where the players from 20 to 50 are hard to separate. The guy that goes at 40 might be as good as the guy who goes at 20.”
With their first pick, the Hurricanes find themselves in the second tier of players between the consensus elite and that larger group where personal preference will take over. With opinions likely to vary widely outside of the top three, the Canes’ staff is more than happy to be where they are as opposed to trading up or down.
“This year is very similar to last year in terms of, once you get past the first few picks, then it’s going to start to get really interesting,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager. “Every year it’s a challenge, but this particular year was difficult for us to order the players, and I think that would be the case with the 29 other teams.”
The Hurricanes spent this week’s scouting meetings in Raleigh identifying a small group of players likely to be in their range at No. 12 (beginning Friday, we’ll profile several of those individually between now and June 24). While General Manager Jim Rutherford has said he wouldn’t shy away from taking a defenseman with his first pick – a departure from recent policy – it seems as though the organizational approach will still be to stick to the rankings.
“If the best player we have available on our list when our pick comes up happens to be a defenseman, then so be it. That would be great,” said MacDonald. “But for a while, we’ll try to stick with our list as best we can.”
That could change a little later in the draft. If the Canes do decide to focus on a particular position, it will likely be at forward as they attempt to balance out the glut of five defensemen that they drafted last season. However, that very occurrence demonstrates how circumstances can take teams in directions they may not have anticipated.
“Last year we had a run of defensemen, but it just happened,” said MacDonald. “After we took Jeff Skinner, it wasn’t a matter of saying, ‘We’d better take some defensemen now.’ It just so happened that the next guy we were really high on was Justin Faulk, and all the guys who we liked who kept coming up, we couldn’t pass on.
“That wasn’t part of the game plan, but when a door opens up for you that seems to make sense, that’s where you go.”
One recent trend the Canes may elect to continue is taking late-round chances on older players that have already made it through at least one draft without being selected, but have since shown signs of being late bloomers. Matt Kennedy, a fifth-round pick in 2009 that has since been traded to Anaheim, and goalie Frederik Andersen, a seventh-round pick in 2010, each fit that bill.
“You try to target an area in the draft where you might look at that kind of a player if you’ve got the right pick for it,” said MacDonald.
With the exception of their fifth-round pick that was traded to Florida as part of a package for Cory Stillman (it was later moved to Atlanta), the Canes hold their own pick in the remaining six rounds with no extras acquired via trade.
“We’re excited about our pick at 12 and we’re also very excited about the rest of our picks through this draft,” said Karmanos. “The list that we produced should land us prospects that we’re excited about with every one of our picks.”