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Laying the Foundation

by Mike Sundheim / Carolina Hurricanes

On Monday, ESPN’s Corey Pronman released his rankings of every NHL team’s farm system. He slotted the Carolina Hurricanes at No. 5, the highest ESPN has ever ranked Carolina’s prospects.

That alone is a tribute to the work Ron Francis has done in building the Hurricanes organization. But a deeper dive into the methodology of those rankings makes the results even more impressive. The rankings take into account prospects who are 26 years old or younger, but exclude any player who meets that age limit but has played 25 games in any NHL season, or more than 50 for his career.

So that No. 5 ranking reflects the respect Pronman has for Carolina’s prospects, likely including Sebastian Aho, Jake Bean, Julien Gauthier, Alex Nedeljkovic, Haydn Fleury, Aleksi Saarela, Valentin Zykov, Roland McKeown, Nicolas Roy and Janne Kuokkanen. But, by design, he is not considering the following players, who all qualify under the age limit, but have played too many NHL games: Jeff SkinnerJustin FaulkElias LindholmVictor RaskJoakim NordstromRyan MurphyTeuvo TeravainenAndrej NestrasilNoah HanifinBrett PesceJaccob Slavin and Phil Di Giuseppe.

So in addition to a fifth-ranked farm system, the Hurricanes have 12 players who finished the 2015-16 season on NHL rosters and are 26 or younger.

Oh, and by the way, as impossible as it is to believe, Jordan Staal is only 27.

This, of course, was the plan all along, from the day Ron Francis moved into the office at the end of the hall on the fourth floor of PNC Arena. It was never about a quick fix, or getting into the playoffs for one year. It is about getting into the playoffs every year. The Hurricanes are nearing that corner, and once they turn it, they may not look back for a long, long time.

“For a team in a smaller market, it’s important to draft well,” Francis said the day he took over as general manager. “It’s not as easy for us to go out on free agent day and spend the big bucks. It’s important to draft properly and to develop properly, and if we can do that, we’ll be competitive with anybody.”

To that end, Francis not only surrounded himself with experienced and dedicated staff, he dove in headfirst himself. Even before he officially took over as GM, he was traveling to ice rinks from Western Canada to Finland to put his own eyes on potential Hurricanes prospects. Some GMs are content to leave the scouting completely to the scouts, or rely on video. While Francis trusts and leans on his staff, he also feels it is important to invest his own time seeing players in person – talking to their coaches and billets to glean as much as possible about a prospect’s character as well as his on-ice skills.

As we enter year three of GMRF, it is clear his hard work is paying dividends. Through drafting and trades, Francis has assembled an enviable roster of young players – the Hurricanes iced the youngest group of forwards and the youngest group of defensemen in the NHL last season. And as Pronman’s rankings show, Carolina holds a stockpile of talent right behind them.

It was critical for the continued progression of the organization that Francis continue to see his plan through. By extending his contract today, owner Peter Karmanos Jr. made sure he’ll be able to do exactly that.

Francis has built the foundation. The only question now is just how high the roof will be.

Mike Sundheim
MIKE SUNDHEIM is the Vice President of Communications and Team Services for the Carolina Hurricanes.

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