With two of their second-day picks, the Hurricanes continued a trend of investing heavily in hockey families.
Already coming to the weekend with the rights to two Staals and two Sutters, the Canes picked up a third member of hockey’s most famous family by drafting Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Brody Sutter with their final pick in the seventh round. That came on the heels of their third-round choice of Edmonton Oil Kings defenseman Keegan Lowe, son of former Edmonton Oilers player and current President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe.
While stressing that he doesn’t go looking for players with established family ties to the NHL, Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford said that they bring certain intangibles that can only help.
“I think it’s really good they have those bloodlines and they grow up in a hockey family,” he said. “They have some special training that other players don’t get, but we don’t draft them for that reason.”
“Kids that have been around the game where their dads have played and been involved – they get an inside look at what it’s all about,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting. “A lot of these kids have been in NHL dressing rooms and practices when they were six and seven years of age. Just being in that environment does a lot to educate you of what may lie ahead.”
Keegan Lowe, who describes himself as a stay-at-home defenseman who prides himself on being tough to play against (his 123 penalty minutes would seem to confirm that), fits that description. He once served as a runner for the Oilers’ draft table in his youth, but saw things from a different side this time around.
“Today was my day, so it was pretty cool,” he said.
His father Kevin admitted difficulties in splitting his focus between the Oilers’ draft activity and his son’s fate in the draft, but said following his son’s selection that there was no chance that the two would be combined.
“Keegan had asked us not to draft him,” said Kevin Lowe. “He wanted to know that he made his own way.”
That seems to be the case. The Hurricanes were impressed not only by Lowe’s defensive and physical play – the latter of which improved dramatically as he gained roughly 20 pounds during the season – but by his ability to develop into something much more.
“I think he’s being modest about his ability to generate some offense,” said MacDonald of Lowe’s earlier self-assessment. “We see him as a two-way guy. He’s a good, solid physical defender and he’s good at that part of the game, but there’s some offensive dimension there to his game too that can still be developed.”
While admitting he doesn’t mind joining the rush, Lowe had much more to say about what he considers his bread and butter.
”I like being someone other players don’t want to go in the corner with,” he said. “As I get bigger and as I get stronger, I think I’ll start to gain that reputation.”
In an interesting twist, Lowe said that he’s been to Raleigh in the past, having attended Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals that pitted his fathers’ Oilers against the Hurricanes. It was at that time that his earlier perceptions of Carolina quickly changed.
”When I was a little kid I thought hockey must not be big there, but when the Oilers played them in ’06 for the Stanley Cup Finals I went down there and it was amazing,” he said. “They had the big party in the parking lot before the game, and it was not what I expected. Everyone stood up for the whole game and we were the only people sitting down in the whole rink. They love their hockey there.”
Lowe said that he had no hard feelings concerning the way things turned out that night.
“More than anything I wanted it for my dad,” he said. “He works real hard and worked real hard for that year, and they had a bunch of players that I knew growing up that I was disappointed to see them lose.”
Sutter, cousin of current Hurricanes center Brandon Sutter and rising prospect Brett Sutter, is part of the ever-growing second generation of a family that once boasted six brothers in the NHL. Brody Sutter, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound right wing who is the son of Duane Sutter, scored 42 points (18g, 24a) in 46 games last season.
Prior to the draft, MacDonald had mentioned wanting to use later-round picks on potential late bloomers, which applies here. The 19-year-old was in his second year of draft eligibility, having been passed over last year, but a 28-point improvement over his previous season’s totals put him back on the map.
“He’s progressed slowly through his junior career and is a work in progress, but he’s a big man who is pretty skilled with good hands,” said MacDonald. “He’s probably underachieved to this point in time, but with that Sutter edge and determination and the big body and some skill, we think he’s a player that could achieve some things of some significance down the road.”
Other recent late-bloomer picks by the Hurricanes include the 2009 fifth-round pick of Matt Kennedy (who has since been traded) and the 2010 seventh-round choice of goaltender Frederik Andersen. Both players had not been drafted in previous years of eligibility.