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Draft Plans Taking Shape

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
As the Hurricanes continue to mull over their draft strategy at this week’s scouting meetings in Raleigh, one previously-held belief has only become stronger: no matter where you pick in the early stages, a good player will be available.

Paul Branecky
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That should be true of the team’s first selection at seventh overall and even through the next three picks in the second round, beginning at No. 37. In what is widely considered to be a deep draft often compared to the stellar 2003 edition at the top, it’s a good time to be picking high and picking often – in this case as many as 11 times through seven rounds.

Those conditions lead to different possibilities, so here’s a closer look at some decisions facing the Hurricanes.

Stand Pat or Trade Up?

Whether it’s moving into the top five or packaging later picks to acquire an additional first-rounder, the potential to trade up could still exist if the conditions are right. However, the Canes seem to be feeling more and more comfortable with the concept of staying where they are, at least with their first pick.

”I think the one thing that became clear [during internal meetings] is that if we stay at seven, everybody is very comfortable with that,” said General Manager Jim Rutherford. “I am not going to be overly active in trying to [move up]. If something falls to us that makes some sense then we would consider it, but I’m not going to push for it based on what our staff has said.

”Clearly the top two guys get the most attention, and at this point in time rightfully so, but that’s not to say that someone who’s taken after them in the first round can’t end up having as good or a better pro career,” Rutherford continued. “We see that time and time again, and we feel that, as good as those guys are at the top of the draft, we’re going to get a guy that may have a chance to have as good of a career.”

Part of that reasoning is that the team expects a wide range of opinions among teams picking in the top 10. As Rutherford alluded to, forwards Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin are almost certain to go one-two in some order, but there seems to be a possibility that the Hurricanes could very well end up grabbing a player at seven that was ranked higher on their own board.

Such circumstances can often be the case in a weaker draft where no particular players stand out, but this year’s class seems to be the opposite. With few players in the top 10 fitting the same mold (more on that in a bit), comparing players after Hall and Seguin are chosen will be more apple-orange than apple-apple.

“There are going to be varied opinions on picks three through 10,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting. “I think if you looked at 10 lists of 10 different NHL teams, you might find surprising variation in terms of the rankings.”

If moving up from seven now seems less likely, the possibility of using the second-round choices to get another crack at the first round remains. Again, it won’t be a necessity given the depth of this year’s draft (continuing the 2003 comparison, Loui Eriksson, Patrice Bergeron, Matt Carle, Shea Weber and David Backes all went in the second round) and the Hurricanes’ recent success with their second picks over the last four years (Jamie McBain, Drayson Bowman, Zac Dalpe and Brian Dumoulin). 

“On the face of it right now, I think if we went in and used those second-round picks and didn’t turn them in to anything else, I think we would come up with three players that that we’d like a lot,” said MacDonald.  "I’m pretty confident in that.”

However, making a move could present unique possibilities.

“You look at some teams that have fallen into some pretty good players with their extra first-round picks, because that’s when you can take a flyer on someone,” said MacDonald. “The Washington Capitals took Mike Green at 29 [in 2004], and he was the third guy they took in the first round [along with Alexander Ovechkin and Jeff Schultz]. That’s when you can take a flyer on a guy that you might not have done if that was your pick and that’s all you had.”

Positional Focus?

Given the deep pool of forwards that will be vying for spots in Carolina and those filling the roster in AHL Charlotte, not to mention Jamie McBain’s graduation to the NHL, defense is probably the largest organizational need at the moment.

While one of the draft’s top-tier defensemen, namely Cam Fowler, Brandon Gormley and Erik Gudbranson could be too tempting to pass up if available, the team will stick to its long-held policy of drafting the best player available with their early choices. There’s also the staff’s traditional wariness of taking highly-ranked blue liners, which could again play a factor this year.

“The thing about the top defensemen in the NHL is that most of them have played on two or three teams and sometimes more,” said MacDonald. “As hard as it is to find good defensemen that everybody wants, the bar is set pretty high and expectations are high, and people have a tendency to lose their patience and not give the kids enough time.

”Still, that’s not reason enough to not take a good defenseman if you like one,” he added.

Many mock drafts have the elite trio of rearguards being taken in the top five, which could very well be the case. In that scenario, some have the Canes grabbing one of the next wave of defensemen such as Derek Forbort, Jonathan Merrill or Mark Pysyk at seven, but that may not be the most likely scenario.

“You could probably separate the three best defensemen easily enough because there’s not a lot of top-end defensemen in this year’s draft as opposed to some others,” said MacDonald. “The year that Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian and all those kids were drafted (in 2008 – pick history here) – there hasn’t been a year like that for defensemen in quite some time. This one won’t be like that either, even though there are several good ones.”

With goaltending not a glaring need at the moment and the draft’s clear leader at that position according to MacDonald, Jack Campbell, thought to go later in the first round, a forward could then be the target. After the big two, MacDonald said the Hurricanes have identified a second tier of five or six forwards, nearly all of whom would be available if a run on defensemen rounds out the top five.

According to various rankings released by professional and media organizations, potential picks there include Brett Connolly, Mikael Granlund, Ryan Johansen, Nino Niederreiter, Jeff Skinner and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Position figures to become more of a factor in the later rounds as teams begin to specifically address their organizational needs. Although this class continues a lean few years of goaltending talent – MacDonald estimates only five or six quality netminders in the draft – grabbing one could be an option at some point.

“You like to draft one every year if you can, because you can never have enough good goaltending,” said MacDonald. “We’d probably like to do that somewhere along the line, but I’m not sure where you would do that right now.”

Type of Player?

Last year’s draft was geared towards size and grit, which was evident in the selection of six players 6-foot-1 or taller. No such theme will be in play this year.

“There are a lot of different types available, and whatever is available there that we like the most is the guy we’ll take,” said MacDonald. “That doesn’t preclude us having a discussion about filling a particular need if we think it makes sense, but we’ve left it pretty open.”

Even when comparing players of a similar position and rank in the top 10, stark differences emerge. Choosing between the elite defensemen may come down to a preferences for offensive potential (Fowler), shut-down ability (Gudbranson) or a more well-rounded option (Gormley). 

With the forwards, there are highly-skilled options in Connolly, Granlund and Tarasenko, a power forward in Niederreiter, a potentially NHL-ready natural goal scorer in Skinner and a two-way center in Johansen, who has drawn comparisons to the Hurricanes’ Eric Staal. Still other factors come into play, such as Connolly’s injury history, Granlund’s lack of size and the hesitation in some circles to take Russian players such as Tarasenko due to international transfer complications.

The varying styles of those players will certainly result in a range of personal preferences from teams and observers alike, which makes this draft both intriguing and tough to predict. Still, as far as Hurricanes are concerned, any dilemmas over which player to take can fairly be called a good problem to have.

“Whether it’s scoring, whether it’s a physical guy, whether it’s a puck-moving defenseman or a power-play guy, we’re certainly assured that we’ll get a really good player and someone that we like a lot at seven,” said MacDonald.

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Because I thought it was cool and didn't know where else to put it, here's a photo submitted by Caniac Andrew Weinhold just a few days ago:

I summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania yesterday at 5:10 am local time, and wanted to share this picture with you all.  I've been living here for the past ten months, and did my best to follow the Canes' season through some very late nights/early I naturally couldn't pass up an opportunity to sport the mulit-purpose Battaglia/Whitney jersey on top of the mountain.  I can't wait to get back to a place where I can watch things in real time again...keep up the good work.

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