Hurricanes 2003 draft evaluation

By Cory Lavalette

The final eight selections of Carolina’s 2003 draft have played just 51 NHL games, but the second overall selection netted them a franchise center who helped them hoist a Stanley Cup. 

The Hurricanes averaged 42 NHL games per pick in 2003.

Eric Staal, F

1st round — 2nd overall (Peterborough — OHL)
Status: NHL Player
NHL games: 327

When Carolina GM Jim Rutherford made Eric Staal the second overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, many thought the Hurricanes were getting a franchise center in the mold of Hurricanes/Whalers icon Ron Francis — a playmaker whose size and skill would lead the team for the next decade-plus.

While Staal hasn’t been the Ron Francis-type assist man many thought he would be, he has proven to be a lethal scorer who can take over a game in the offensive zone. He also made huge strides in his defensive game in 2007-08, becoming better than average as a penalty killer. With last year’s injury to captain Rod Brind’Amour, Staal also showed the leadership qualities that have him earmarked for the Hurricanes’ captaincy when Brind’Amour hangs up his skates.

Staal’s games played (327), goals (124), assists (159) and points (283) are all currently the best among the class of 2003. Only Thomas Vanek is within 20 goals of him, and Staal’s assists are 42 better than second-place Patrice Bergeron.  On top of that, Staal has proven extremely durable, skating in all 82 regular-season games the past three years.

But Staal’s greatest accomplishment came in 2005-06. After spending the 2004-05 lockout playing for Carolina’s AHL affiliate in Lowell, Mass., Staal had his only 100-point season to date, scoring 45 goals and adding 55 assists. He then led all playoff scorers with 28 points on nine goals and 19 assists during the Hurricanes’ 25-game journey to the Stanley Cup. Staal’s one weakness has been in the faceoff circle, where he’s yet to win 50 percent of his draws over the course of a season.

The youngest Staal sibling, Jared, is draft eligible this season.

Danny Richmond, D

2nd round — 31st overall (Michigan — CCHA)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games: 49

Following his selection in the draft, Danny Richmond decided to leave the University of Michigan for the OHL’s London Knights, saying he wanted to play the more rigorous schedule of major junior over the 40-something games the NCAA offers.

After a season in London, Richmond joined the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate in Lowell, playing all of 2004-05 there before earning a call-up to Carolina in 2005-06. But after being shuttled back and forth to Lowell a few times — playing 10 games in Carolina — the Canes dealt Richmond and a 2006 fourth-round pick to Chicago for Ukranian blueliner Anton Babchuk and a fourth-rounder in 2007.

Richmond has yet to crack the Blackhawks’ blue line full time, playing 39 games the past three seasons with Chicago. His three career assists surely fall short of the offensive expectations set for Richmond coming out of the draft. And while he has shown a willingness to fight and play a gritty style, he’s likely not big enough (6’, 192 lbs) to play a tough-guy role each night in the NHL. Richmond is a restricted free agent this offseason. The return on the trade — Babchuk — has since left North America, frustrated that he was unable to earn a full-time role in the NHL.

Aaron Dawson, D

4th round — 102nd overall (Peterborough — OHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL totals: 0

Without a third-round selection, the Hurricanes next pick was Staal’s Peterborough teammate Aaron Dawson, a 6’5, 220-plus pound defenseman. A shoulder injury cost Dawson most of the 2003-04 season and he struggled the following year. While he gradually improved and became a solid blueliner for Peterborough, including being named the OHL’s Most Improved Player in the Petes’ 2005-06 OHL championship season, Dawson’s injury problems and the uncertainty of the NHL lockout led to Carolina deciding against signing him to an entry-level contract.

After five seasons in the OHL, Dawson was offered a free-agent contract by the AHL Peoria Rivermen but decided to instead play at the University of Prince Edward Island. Dawson plans to continue playing for UPEI for the next two seasons and earning his degree, then hopes to still make a run at a pro career.

Kevin Nastiuk, G

4th round — 126th overall (Medicine Hat — WHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL totals: 0

Nastiuk is one of several mid-range goalie prospects Carolina has stockpiled in their minor-league system. When healthy, Nastiuk was solid in net in both the AHL with Albany and ECHL with the Florida Everblades. But with the Hurricanes trying to re-sign Michael Leighton and make him Cam Ward’s backup, Nastiuk would be — again — in a three-way battle with Justin Peters and Daniel Manzato for a spot in the Carolina goaltender pipeline.

Nastiuk has proven to be a serviceable minor-leaguer — compiling a winning record and sub-3.00 goals-against average each of the past three years — but his climb to the NHL will be a steep one in Carolina. As a restricted free agent, Carolina needs to decide where Nastiuk fits in to their future plans.

Matej Trojovsky, D

4th round — 130th overall (Regina — WHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL totals: 0

Carolina’s third and final fourth round pick, Matej Trojovsky, never panned out. Like Dawson, Trojovsky was a big blueliner at 6’5 and around 230 pounds. But his size didn’t translate to success in the WHL. While he did accumulate the kind of penalty minutes befitting a big, tough defenseman, his play in his own zone was simply not up to snuff. After five WHL seasons, Trojovsky returned to his homeland and played two seasons in the Czech league in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

Tyson Strachan, D

5th round — 137th overall (Vernon — BCHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL totals: 0

Strachan was the fourth and final defenseman chose by the Canes in the 2003 draft. Like Dawson and Trojovsky, Strachan was built for the old-style NHL at 6’3 and 225 pounds. But he failed to catch on with the Hurricanes.

Taken out of the BCHL, Strachan played four seasons at Ohio State of the CCHA before joining Albany for the end of the 2006-07 season. But Strachan played just one game the end of that season and was released by the River Rats in late March.

Strachan tried out with Quad City of the AHL last fall, but ended up splitting time between the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen and ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers. In 34 games with Peoria, Strachan had a goal and two assists for the Rivermen and was plus-5. Strachan earned a spot on the ECHL’s National Conference All-Star Team for his play with Las Vegas, scoring twice and adding seven assists and recording a plus-17 in 25 games.

In both the ECHL and AHL, Strachan has shown a willingness to fight, going five times with the Rivermen and six with Las Vegas this past season. By combining toughness and solid defensive play, Strachan can still hold out hope for moving up.

Shay Stephenson, LW

7th round — 198th overall (Red Deer — WHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 2

Stephenson was originally a ninth-round selection of the Edmonton Oilers in 2001 but re-entered the draft in 2003. The Hurricanes used a seventh-round choice on Stephenson, but like Edmonton, never signed the big left winger.

Stephenson subsequently signed a free-agent deal with Los Angeles, playing 62 games with the ECHL’s Reading Royals and getting a six-game tryout with AHL’s Manchester Monarchs in 2005-06. Stephenson made the Monarchs in 2006-07 and earned a two-game call-up with the Kings in March 2007. Pointless in his brief time with the Kings, Stephenson finished the season with 11 goals and 10 assists in 55 games with Manchester. The Kings did not tender him an offer following the 2006-07 season and Stephenson went overseas, playing this year with Milan in Italy.

Stephenson’s size (6’4, 200 lbs) and willingness to play a gritty game gave him a shot as an NHL grinder, but few players that end up in Italy wind up making it back to the NHL.

Jamie Hoffmann, F

8th round — 230th overall (Des Moines — USHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL totals: 0

Carolina used an eighth-rounder on Jamie Hoffman, hoping to strike gold with a talented athlete. Instead, after scoring 14 goals and assisting on 25 others for the USHL Des Moines Buccaneers, Hoffman hung up his skates to pursue the sport he wasn’t drafted in —- baseball.

After being selected by Carolina, Hoffman was courted by Colorado College of the WCHA and Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers. While it was a difficult decision, Hoffman chose baseball. He told MLB.com in late May, "I told my folks that I wanted to play college hockey, and I wanted to play pro baseball. My mom told me, ‘Jamie, you can’t do that.’ So I had to make up my mind, and I weighed the options. … It was pretty tough."

In his first pro season, Hoffman led the Gulf Coast League in hits (71), triples (seven), RBI (36) and runs (40) and was tabbed by Baseball America as the league’s 13th-best pro prospect. In 2006, Baseball America named Hoffman the best defensive outfielder in the Dodgers system. He is currently playing for the Jacksonville Suns, his first season with the Dodgers Double-A affiliate in the Southern League.

Ryan Rorabeck, C

9th round — 262 overall (St. Michael’s — OHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL totals: 0

With their final pick, the Hurricanes chose center Ryan Rorabeck. While Rorabeck was a solid leader and offensive contributor for three-plus seasons with the now-defunct St. Mike’s Majors, his chance at a pro career may have ended with his in-season trade to the Belleville Bulls in 2004-05. He was hampered by a shoulder injury after joining the Bulls and never regained the form that made him an NHL draft pick. He played just 57 games in less than two seasons with the Bulls before coming to a mutual decision with GM George Burnett that his recurring shoulder injury wouldn’t allow him to continue playing his overage year.

After playing 21 games for St. Mary’s University in 2006-07, Rorabeck was out of hockey this season.