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Drafting Defense a Priority, But When?

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes

Even though Glen Wesley’s recent retirement and the departure of unrestricted free agent Bret Hedican have created some open spots on their defensive unit, the Hurricanes don’t expect that to alter their strategy at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.

Citing the probable lack of a player who can help immediately when the Hurricanes make their first choice with the 14th overall pick in next week’s event, the team’s Director of Amateur Scouting, Tony MacDonald, said the team will stick to their philosophy of choosing the best player on the board regardless of position.

”You have to take the approach in drafting kids this age that very few of them are ready to step in and play right away,” he said.  “When you go to the best player available, it gives you a better chance.  Just because you need a defenseman in your lineup today and that’s a need, you’re not necessarily going to fill that need right away with the player that you take in this draft.”

That's not to say stocking the system with more defensive prospects won't be a priority, as MacDonald acknowledges it is a position the team will “absolutely” look to bolster.

”Once you get past that first pick, we’re basically still going by our list, but then you’re more likely to go to a position or address a need in the organization than you are with that first pick,” he said.  ”It’s a position where you always seem to be lacking depth.”

This year’s draft class does have an unusually high number of quality defensemen at the top, with five of the top six North American skaters having manned the bluelines for various Canadian junior teams last season. 

One or two of them may be able to play in the NHL next season, but - barring a trade - those players should be long gone by the time the Hurricanes have an opportunity to select them.

As to whether such a trade will occur?

“I don’t anticipate we’ll move, but anything is possible,” said MacDonald, who will be running his first draft for the Canes after being promoted to replace long-time chief scout Sheldon Ferguson last summer.  “That’s up to [General Manager] Jim [Rutherford] if we decide we have to make a decision to move up, but you have to move up high enough where it makes a significant difference.”

While other defensemen outside the top five will be available when the Hurricanes pick, Rutherford has expressed doubts about drafting one in the first round – sentiments that MacDonald echoes for similar reasons.

“When you look at a lot of the impact defensemen in the NHL, a lot of them have certainly played for more than one team,” he said.  “Sometimes organizations aren’t willing or able to wait on a defenseman to develop.  It’s a very demanding position, and it takes longer for them to mature into the NHL, especially those players that are high-end guys.”

Of the nine years the Hurricanes have chosen in the first round, they took a defenseman four times.  Out of a group including Nikos Tselios, Igor Knayazev, David Tanabe and Jack Johnson, Tanabe is the only one to have seen significant time with the Canes.

Conversely, the team has had some recent success with mid-round picks who have been able to take their time developing with their AHL affiliate in Albany, most notably 2004 picks Casey Borer and Brett Carson, who are both inching closer towards regular spots at the next level.

Thus, for the Canes, the question is more about if a player can make it, rather than when.

"If he can play in the NHL," MacDonald said, "then he’s an asset."
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