– With the amount of picks to be made and the rumor mill churning, the second day of the 2015 NHL Draft promised to be eventful. The Carolina Hurricanes ensured as much, making a pair of trades before midday.
The first move brought goaltender Eddie Lack to Carolina from Vancouver in exchange for two draft picks: a third-round pick this year and a seventh-round pick next year. The next move, a corresponding one in a sense, saw goaltender Anton Khudobin head to Anaheim for defenseman James Wisniewski.
In total, the Hurricanes augmented their blue line with a veteran presence and swapped goaltenders in the process.
“We looked at our team, and an area we wanted to improve on was defense,” said Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis. “It took Khudobin to get Wisniewski, and when you do that, you need (another) goaltender.”
The two deals, Francis said, were hammered out concurrently.
“I didn’t really want to do one without the other,” he said.
In Eddie Lack, the Hurricanes have acquired a young, budding goaltender with perhaps his best years in front of him. Lack, who has one year remaining on his contract, has 82 NHL games under his belt. In 2014-15, the 27-year-old posted an 18-13-4 record, a 2.45 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. When Ryan Miller was sidelined with a knee injury, Lack stepped in and recorded a 12-6-2 record in 21 appearances, helping to preserve Vancouver’s playoff position.
“We certainly think he’s a guy that’s coming into his own in the league,” Francis said of Lack. “We think he’s a really, really good goaltender.”
“Carolina really wanted me,” Lack said on a conference call. “It’s a great opportunity for me, and I’m really excited.”
A native of Norrtalje, Sweden, Lack has posted a 34-30-9 record, a 2.43 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in the NHL since making his debut with Vancouver on Oct. 6, 2013. Prior to that, Lack, an undrafted free agent, logged two seasons for Vancouver’s American Hockey League affiliates.
“I matured as a person. From a goaltending standpoint, I feel like I’ve gotten so much better,” Lack said of his time with the Canucks’ organization. “To be honest, I still feel like I have a lot to give. I feel like I’m two or three years away from my prime. I’m never satisfied. I keep pushing forward, and that’s what’s going to help me in the long run.”
“We certainly feel Eddie Lack is more than capable of stepping in and playing games,” Francis said. “Everything we heard about him, not only as a goaltender but also as a person, checked out. We’re really excited to add him to our lineup.”
Fellow Swede Victor Rask was one of the first to talk with Lack this morning about the move to Carolina.
“I was asking him about everything around the team and living situations and everything,” Lack said. “Me and Victor skate a lot together in the summer. He only has very good things to say about the organization.”
As it stands now, the Hurricanes will head into the 2015-16 season with the goaltending tandem of Ward and Lack, a duo in which they are confident.
“In today’s game, if you have two good goaltenders, it gives you a good chance to win every night. You see how valuable points are,” Francis said. “I expect both of them to give us a chance to win each and every night.”
“Cam Ward has been playing great for a lot of years,” Lack said. “We’re going to push each other and hopefully achieve some really great results together.”
In front of Ward and Lack will be a new face on the blue line in the 31-year-old Wisniewski, a player of which a few members of the Canes’ front office are quite familiar.
The Canton, Michigan, native is a product of the Detroit Compuware youth hockey program and played with the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers under current Hurricanes Assistant General Manager and Director of Hockey Operations Mike Vellucci. Wisniewski also briefly skated for Canes head coach Bill Peters with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs in the 2008-09 season.
The 2014-15 campaign was Wisniewski’s 10th in the NHL. He posted 34 points (8g, 26a) in 69 games with Columbus and Anaheim. Seven of his eight goals were scored on the power play, which ranked tied for third among NHL defensemen.
“He’s a skilled defenseman who can give you offense on the power play. He’s got a great shot. I think he’s sneaky tough,” Francis said. “He’s just a competitive, competitive guy. We’re trying to get that kind of culture in our organization, and we think he’ll fit in nicely in that regard.”
“Wiz is a guy I’ve known for quite a while,” head coach Bill Peters said in a post-draft interview. “He’s a guy that can shoot the puck. He’s a right-handed shot, and we need that. We need some depth on the back-end, and he gives us that.”
Though rumors swirled about possible other transactions, Saturday morning’s trades were the only two made by Francis and Co. while in Florida for the draft.
That’s not to say their work is done, though.
“I think there’s still potentially more to do. You’re always talking with different teams,” Francis said. “[Defense] is certainly an area we continue to look at. We probably need a depth guy up front, as well. There is still some work to do.”
That includes potentially extending captain Eric Staal, who is entering into the last year of his contract.
“I’ve had general, open and honest conversations with Eric’s agent, and we’ll continue to have those as we move through the summer,” Francis said. “Eric has indicated that he wants to be part of the Hurricanes moving forward, so we’ll see if we can get that worked out.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Hurricanes left South Florida, as they do after each and every draft, with a collection of new faces, perhaps one of which who could help the team as immediately as the upcoming season. They also bettered their team defense that, on some nights, will take the ice in front of a new goaltender.
A successful weekend, we’ll call it.
“It’s an exciting time,” Peters said. “I’m real happy with what we did.”