With the Hurricanes heading into the draft with their highest first-round pick since 2005, looking ahead presents a clearer picture than it has in quite some time.
That being said, an awful lot of things can and will change between now and the days leading up to the opening round on June 25, but a few possible scenarios have emerged as to what the Hurricanes might do with the seventh overall pick.
One of those would be taking aim at a trio of talented defensemen, namely Cam Fowler (video), Brandon Gormley (video) and Erik Gudbranson (video). However, even with such a high pick, a little work may need to be done.
“If our scouting staff feels very strongly about one of those two or three defensemen who are at the top end of the draft, we may have to try to move up a little bit,” said General Manager Jim Rutherford. “I don’t think that two of them will get to seven, and maybe all three of them won’t.”
Going out of their way to grab one of those players that high would seem to go against some aspects of prior policy. In recent years, the Hurricanes have stated a reluctance to draft defensemen in the first round altogether due to their generally slower rate of development into NHL players and their occasional tendency to play their best years with other teams. Additionally, some of the Hurricanes’ least successful first-round picks since moving to North Carolina, Nikos Tselios and Igor Knyazev, for example, have been blue liners.
However, many of those things change when picking in the top 10. By definition, those players tend to be safer picks with quicker, perhaps even immediate, paths to the NHL. In the past two years alone, Zach Bogosian, Drew Doughty, Victor Hedman and Luke Schenn have all had success in going straight from junior hockey to the big league.
If the Hurricanes do end up being more drawn to a defenseman than a forward, it could partially be attributed to the relative lack of existing organizational depth at that position. There’s already a logjam of offensive players that will be competing for spots with the big club in the next few years, if not already, with fewer defensemen expected to be in the mix. Jamie McBain’s graduation from prospect full-time NHL’er further weakens that pool.
Provided Rutherford can find a willing partner, the Hurricanes have the pieces that they would need in order to trade up. Even after giving up a fifth-round choice for Jared Staal last week, the Hurricanes could have as many as 11 choices in the seven-round draft, including three in the second round. Rutherford also did not rule out moving roster players to accomplish that goal, as he foresees more player movement than usual around the league this summer.
“The good thing is that we have the assets and the ammunition to make some moves – moreso than we’ve ever had,” said Rutherford. “We sit in a good position. If we want to make a move we can, if we don’t, we won’t.”
The latter presents another viable option: simply hanging on to the picks in hand. In what is considered to be a deep draft, good players can be found throughout, even if the Canes miss out on one of the top-tier defensemen with their first choice.
“There are some forwards there that we like a lot and the reports on these guys are really good,” Rutherford said of group that includes Brett Connolly, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, among others. “Our scouting staff has seen them a lot, and there are a few forwards there that I would be pretty happy with. If we stay at seven, I feel very comfortable that we’re getting a very, very good player.”
That also goes for the glut of picks in the second round, which lend themselves to be trade bait at first glance but could prove very useful if kept. In each of the last four years, the Hurricanes have made what appear to very good picks in the “next” rounds, including McBain (63rd overall, 2006), Drayson Bowman (72nd, 2007), Zac Dalpe (45th, 2008) and Brian Dumoulin (51st, 2009).As with other aspects of this off-seasons team building, flexibility brought on by last season’s trades will be key. No matter what course the Hurricanes end up taking, it seems that there could be a lot more to watch for at this year’s draft than the names coming off the board.