Top 10 prospects
For the second straight year, the Hurricanes will pick in the first half of the opening round. If Carolina stays at No. 14, it will be their lowest first-round selection since they chose Cam Ward 25th overall in 2002.
The early returns on the Hurricanes 2007 draft have been good. First-round pick Brandon Sutter is the team’s top prospect and may step into a role with Carolina next year. Third-rounder Drayson Bowman had a breakthrough season this year, scoring 42 goals and adding 40 assists as the leading scorer for the Memorial Cup-winning Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. The Canes fourth-round pick, Justin McRae, was traded to Spokane from Saskatoon midseason and also played a part in the Chiefs title. Plymouth Whalers teammates Chris Terry and Brett Bellemore, selected in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively, both had productive seasons and ended their years with brief stints with the AHL‘s Albany River Rats, Carolina’s top minor-league affiliate. Terry was one of the OHL‘s top scorers, while Bellemore further developed as a big, stay-at-home defenseman.
This year, Carolina has five picks, with their third-rounder dealt in a package to reacquire Matt Cullen from the New York Rangers last offseason, and their fifth-round pick traded to Columbus at the 2007 trade deadline to get Anson Carter.
But talk heading into draft weekend is Carolina could be one of the big movers and shakers in Ottawa. The question is what will Carolina do? Acquire the puck-moving defenseman they covet? Trade one of their top-six forwards to relieve the glut at wing? Or maybe try and move up and get one of the elite blueliners at the top of the draft? It could be a combination of any or all of these scenarios.
But even if Carolina stays pat, they are in good position to get a quality player in a draft considered by many to be one of the deepest in years.
Simply put, Carolina could use more top-end talent and depth at every position. After mortgaging picks (first in 2006 to get Doug Weight, second in 2007 to land Mark Recchi) to build a Stanley Cup winner in 2006, and seeing many of their top picks in recent years flame out, the Hurricanes have started the difficult task of reloading their prospect cupboards, focusing on hard-working, character players.
Carolina is looking to add NHL-ready defense this offseason, and will likely explore the trade and free agent markets to add a pair of top-six rearguards (unless they can make a deal to move up land one of the seemingly NHL-ready defensemen at the top of this year’s draft). They are set at forward and in goal with the big club this year, but will probably address organizational depth at both positions in Ottawa.
As an organization, Carolina has been built n the mold of their captain Rod Brind’Amour, drafting and acquiring character players that show leadership ability and a willingness to put in the work needed to become an NHLer. Sutter, Bowman, McRae and Nick Dodge and other recent picks have been proven leaders and winners for their respective teams. That being said, there are no positions where the Hurricanes couldn’t use more talent.
More than anything, the Canes need more top-flight, can’t-miss talent in their prospect corps. While Sutter, Jamie McBain and Bowman are all solid prospects, none are sure-fire locks to be top-shelf players. Carolina has gathered a nice group of able defensemen, but none are sure to be everyday NHL blueliners. Up front, the Hurricanes have some very good defensive forwards in Sutter, Dodge and McCrae, plus some players who have proven they can score in junior. But again, there is no one the team can count on to be a definite first-line player.
Since the turn of the century, Carolina has had most of their success drafting North American players, with current Hurricanes blueliner Niclas Wallin (fourth round in 2000) the only player drafted out of Europe to play an NHL game from the past seven drafts. In that same time frame, Carolina has had marginal success picking defensemen early in the draft, with McBain and now-Kings rearguard Jack Johnson the only two that seem to be on their way to NHL careers.
The Canes haven’t drafted a goalie since taking Justin Peters in the second round in 2004, but in the past the team has drafted tons of goalies, and it can be expected that they’ll use at least one pick — if not two — on a netminder this year.
The Hurricanes have been all over the board with their forwards in recent years, taking rugged power forward-types (Andrew Ladd fourth overall in 2004), gifted scorers (Bowman last year, Bobby Hughes in the fourth in 2006), or shutdown defenders (Dodge in the sixth in 2006, Sutter last year). But one common thread has been character. The team has looked to players with leadership skills — or even solid bloodlines. Sutter’s family tree is well documented, 2003 second-rounder Danny Richmond‘s father played in the NHL, and Justin Krueger, the team’s seventh-round selection in 2006, is the son of Ralph, the coach for the Swiss national team and a European consultant for the Hurricanes.
Carolina possesses five picks in this year’s draft. Depending on how GM Jim Rutherford goes about acquiring help on defense and moving out some the surplus forwards, the Canes could have more or fewer draft selections by the time the weekend is out.
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: Zach Boychuk, C, Lethbridge (WHL)
Boychuk is the type of player who would have slid in drafts of the past. At 5’9 and 170 pounds, he is rightly labeled as small. But to call Boychuk anything short of dynamic would be a mistake. He is a proven point producer and has top-flight speed and puck-handling skills. Couple that with a solid defensive game, strong work ethic and experience with Team Canada, and Boychuk has the type of package Carolina covets. If he develops as expected, Boychuk could remind Hurricanes fans of another undersized WHLer who eventually found a home in Raleigh — Ray Whitney.