PHILADELPHIA -- Though the 2014 NHL Draft wasn’t as stacked as others with top-end defensive talent, there were two blue-liners that caught scouts’ attention, and one was taken first overall.
The other was Haydn Fleury, selected seventh overall by the Carolina Hurricanes.
“I really don’t have many words to say,” Fleury said in his first media scrum as a member of the Canes. “It’s an unreal experience, and I’m very excited to be in Carolina.”
As the team's first selection of a defenseman in the first round since Ryan Murphy was picked 12th overall in 2011, the Canes are happy to have Fleury.
“He’s a big, mobile defenseman who has a lot of upside to his game because of the way he skates,” said Canes Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis. “He can skate the puck out of traffic and move it out of trouble. In the U-18 tournament in Finland, he was quarterbacking the power play. There are a lot of parts of his game that we like.”
“We did have our eye on him,” said Tony MacDonald, the Canes head amateur scout. “He’s a guy with that kind of size, and he skates extremely well. He’s got a lot of poise with the puck, and he moves the puck.”
The 2013-14 season was Fleury’s second full season with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. As an alternate captain, he led his team in defensive scoring with 46 points (8g, 38a) in 70 games. That output was more than double the 19 points (4g, 15a) he recorded in 66 games as a WHL rookie, still be for third among team defensemen.
Additionally, the 6-foot-3, 203-pound defenseman finished at a team-high plus-15 on a Red Deer squad that had a minus-10 goal differential and failed to qualify for the postseason.
“Brent [Sutter] has treated me like a pro,” Fleury said. “He’s had high expectations for me and has given me a great opportunity in Red Deer.”
“The thing that we like about this guy is that his upside is significant,” MacDonald said. “His offensive game is still evolving. He’s still developing. He’s still getting better in that regard, and we expect that he’ll continue to get better. He’s a very coachable kid and eager to learn.”
Typically, the development process for a defenseman can be more extended than others. But Fleury, 17, will attend Prospects Development Camp in a month before going to Traverse City for the annual rookie prospects tournament and then training camp. A decision on his status for the 2014-15 season – whether he remains with the big club or returns to Red Deer – will be made then.
“You always want to be careful with young defensemen. They do take a little longer [to develop]. A lot of times you don’t know what you have until they are about 22 or 23, quite frankly,” Francis said. “Ultimately, you want to do what’s best for Haydn and our franchise in the long-term, not the short term.”
“It’s a steeper learning curve for the defensemen. At the NHL level, it’s tough for these guys to come in and make an impact right away. It takes them a little longer,” MacDonald said. “It’s a challenging position to play, and there are a lot of things to learn. But when a player has the signs and the tools … you can do a lot with that kind of player.”
Fleury is that kind of player with a varied and skilled toolbox. He compares his game to that of Jay Bouwmeester.
“He’s a solid, two-way defenseman who plays in all situations of the game,” Fleury said. “He plays big minutes, generates offense and is very strong defensively, as well.”
And Fleury’s self-described game?
“I consider myself a two-way defenseman who can play in all situations of the game,” he said. “I can play on the power play, I can play on the penalty kill and play against other teams’ top lines.”
After over a year’s worth of scouting work and long days and weeks of compiling lists, the Canes had Fleury, who projects as a rock-solid two-way NHL defenseman, pegged as their guy.
“We talked about trying to get a little bit bigger. He’s 6-foot-3 and 200-plus pounds, but he skates extremely well. It’s not like he’s a big, slow guy,” Francis said. “This guy is very mobile, and in today’s game, you need D that can skate it and move it out of trouble, and this kid can do that.
“At the end of the day, you’re just trying to get a comfort level that you think he’s a good kid, which he did. And we felt that he was a good player,” Francis said of the process. “We’re glad to have him.”