The Hurricanes have never been afraid to ice a smaller lineup from year to year, with a Stanley Cup and a recent trip to the Eastern Conference Finals proof of how that strategy can be effective.
Players like Chad LaRose
, Sergei Samsonov and Ray Whitney have served the team very well in recent years, but are all well under six feet tall. Even the toughest players, such as Tim Gleason
(6’0”), Tuomo Ruutu
(6’0”) and Scott Walker (5’10”) flirt with that mark, although one wouldn’t know it from the way they play.
With that in mind, the Canes will look to add some bigger players to their roster in the coming years, beginning with the upcoming NHL Entry Draft on June 26 and 27.
“We have an idea that we’d all like to get a little bit bigger,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting. “When you can add some size down the middle or on the wings that’s always a plus.”
While the Hurricanes demonstrated that they can beat even the best physical teams in their second-round match-up with Boston this past season, that victory ended up taking quite a toll. In the subsequent four-game sweep at the hands of Pittsburgh, there just wasn’t enough energy left in the tank.
The belief is that such a problem could be partially alleviated with more players, both at forward and defense, who are equipped to handle the rigors of a rough series. In addition to height and weight, the Canes are looking for those who have the grit to back up the measurements.
“We all know how hard it is to play in the playoffs and how intense it is, and sometimes the difference is in that area,” said MacDonald.
That isn’t to say the Canes will pass on a player they like in the first round just to draft one with a more imposing physical presence, although that could serve as a tiebreaker of sorts in tough situations.
“I feel that if we don’t get a player of significant size with our first pick, I think we can with our second,” said MacDonald. “That will allow us to stay on track and take the best player we think is available, and then in the second round we’d be able to exercise our options a little bit more.”
Although the Canes will gladly take it, their deep playoff run came at the expense of a few spots in the pecking order. Due to recent rule changes, the draft position for all playoff teams, not just the finalists as in years past, is dependent on how far a team advances. After finishing in the final four, the Hurricanes’ first choice will be at 27, not the mid-round pick they would have received based solely on their regular-season record.
That isn’t as high as the team would have liked, but in many ways it will present an easier choice when it does come time to step up to the podium, especially with an expected lack of consensus around the league after the first 10 or 12 picks.
“What often happens when you’re picking down lower in the round is that a player falls to you that you have much higher on your list,” said MacDonald. “I think there will be a wide divergence of opinion and perspective on how different teams see a lot of those players that fall [past the 10-12 range]. We’re hoping that we’ll get a player that’s probably between 10 and 22 on our rated list.”
That mentality would seem to preclude a trade to move up in the first round unless there’s a player they really covet in the top 10. However, the cost of such a move would probably be steeper than the Canes would be willing to meet.
After the first round, the revised draft order isn’t all that bad. In the trade that brought Erik Cole back to Carolina at the deadline, the Hurricanes sent their own second-round choice to Edmonton after acquiring Calgary’s second-rounder from Los Angeles in the other part of the three-team swap.
In an interesting wrinkle to that deal, Calgary’s pick, then thought to hold the lesser value of the two based on records, is now the better choice thanks to the Canes’ trip to the Conference Finals and the Flames’ exit in the first round of the playoffs. Instead of moving down in the second round as might have been expected at the time, the Canes move up about seven spots. After a flurry of deals, the orginal Hurricanes pick now belongs to Toronto.
As for their other picks, Carolina still holds their original choice in each round, except for the fourth, in which its selection was sent to Tampa Bay as part of the Jussi Jokinen trade. That pick, which also ended up in Toronto, will very oddly not exist this year as the Maple Leafs are being punished by the NHL for a contractual oddity with Jonas Frogren.
The remaining six picks should serve the team well in a draft class that has turned out to be better than MacDonald and the Hurricanes had anticipated coming into the year.
“There’s depth to it, and we certainly feel that going through into the later rounds that there’s players there that have NHL potential,” MacDonald said.