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NHL Draft

Plenty of picks await Hurricanes

GM Ron Francis excited to have seven picks in first three rounds of 2016 NHL Draft

by Kurt Dusterberg / Correspondent

RALEIGH, N.C. -- After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a seventh straight season and trading captain Eric Staal prior to the NHL Trade Deadline, the Carolina Hurricanes are focused on taking a leap toward a brighter future.

They will jump on the springboard at the 2016 NHL Draft June 24-25 in Buffalo with 10 picks, including seven in the first three rounds.

The Hurricanes worked three rookie defensemen -- Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin -- into their lineup this season and likely will turn their attention to the forward ranks after scoring 198 goals, tied for third fewest in the NHL.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say we needed to add some skill," Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said Thursday. "We struggled to score some goals at the right time." 

The Hurricanes will select 13th and 21st in the first round, the latter pick acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in a 2015 trade for defenseman Andrej Sekera. Carolina owns two picks in the second round, one of which was acquired from the New York Rangers in the Staal trade, and three in the third (the final draft order will be set following the Stanley Cup Finals).

Video: Carolina Hurricanes 2015-16 season recap

"It's a good year to have the extra picks because it's a little deeper at the top," said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes director of amateur scouting. "It's not one of the deeper drafts we've ever had [overall], but where we're picking, it's going to be helpful."

With so many picks, Francis is hearing a lot of chatter from teams around the League.

"We've talked about some firm things, yes," he said.

But heading into his third season as Carolina's general manager, Francis remains firm in his approach to building the team: It will be done for the long term.

"We're sticking with the plan," Francis said. "We think we're moving in the right direction. If there's an opportunity to parlay [draft picks] into something that makes our team better, absolutely I'm going to do that. Our goal each and every year is to make the playoffs, and we certainly think we're making strides toward that."

But don't expect the Hurricanes to make a big splash in free agency. Francis often has referred to July 1 as a "dangerous day."

"I think I have to be careful based on where we are," he said. "We had 10 guys in our lineup last year 23 years old or younger. Does it makes sense to give a 32- or 33-year-old a six-year contract for a lot of money? It probably doesn't fit with what we're trying to build."

There is some careful calculation involved. When Francis traded Staal to the Rangers on Feb. 28, it signaled a major change in direction. It also sent a ripple through the dressing room, where brother Jordan Staal remained. Immediately after the season, Jordan was noncommittal about his interest in returning to the Hurricanes, but Francis said he has since worked through the issue with the alternate captain.

"Everything was real good, real positive," Francis said. "His frustration was the team was playing real good at the deadline and we did the things we did. He said he understood. He's excited about the direction we're going in, the players we have, and what the future looks like. Everything was real positive. Nothing to be concerned about, based on our meeting."

While it appears unlikely Eric Staal, an unrestricted free agent, will return, goaltender Cam Ward's career in Carolina might not be over. Since the end of the season, Francis has been clear about his intention to explore other goaltending options through trades and free agency. With those talks presumably nearing the end, Francis sounded open to re-signing Ward, also an unrestricted free agent.

"Do I want to give up a first-round pick for a goaltender who may have a year or two left on his deal and then we lose him?" Francis said. "Not really the plan I'm looking for. 

"Cam takes a lot of criticism, but from December to the end of the year, he was one of the top five goaltenders in the league in goals-against [average] and save percentage. I think there is some merit to revisiting that and we will make a decision very soon." 

With so many early picks, there may be some incentive to trade for an established NHL player, but Francis has not deviated from his cautious approach. 
"I don't know if you ever have enough good prospects," he said. "If you have those prospects in your system, you have tools to get players. You certainly explore that [trade] option. If there's a good NHL-ready player available at the right price, then with 10 picks you have more options to do that."

For now, a draft plan is in place, and the Hurricanes will be a reconfigured team; they also traded forward Kris Versteeg and defenseman John-Michael Liles before the 2016 trade deadline.

"Whether we can get what we want done remains to be seen, but there certainly is a lot of talk at this point," Francis said. "There has been a lot of phone conversation, exploring what's available as far as moving up, or even if we get in a jam and we want to move back.

"I think you'll see some new faces."

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