It is a new era in the Carolina Hurricanes front office. The only general manager Raleigh had ever known, Jim Rutherford, “retired” then took the same job in Pittsburgh, leaving his understudy, former player Ron Francis, on his own for his first NHL Draft.
Many have wondered since Francis’ promotion if the team’s operations would mirror those under Rutherford or be reborn under its new GM. If the results from the 2014 NHL Draft are indication, some things will change while some could stay the same.
Carolina’s first pick was a bit of a surprise, but after that the Hurricanes reverted to some past tendencies with their other picks.
Under Rutherford, the Hurricanes were leery of taking a defenseman in the first round. Only when the decision was seemingly obvious – Jack Johnson third overall in 2005; Ryan Murphy in 2011 – would the team pull the trigger on a defender with their top pick.
So the selection of Fleury, the consensus second-best blue liner in the draft behind first overall pick Aaron Ekblad (FLA), suggests a shift in philosophy for a team now being steered by Francis.
Many call Fleury, chosen seventh overall, a safe pick. A big, mobile defenseman who is capable in his own end – though not overly physical – and shows inklings of offensive upside. The Hurricanes see potential.
“He’s not known for his offensive game yet, but the upside is really unlimited we think,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting. “He’s just scratching the surface as a player.”
Fleury’s combination of size and hockey sense make him intriguing, plus his maturation into a go-to player for Red Deer can not be overlooked. With 2012 seventh overall pick Matt Dumba (MIN) moving on from Red Deer to Portland of the WHL, Fleury was an alternate captain and all-situations player for the Rebels, more than doubling his output from his first full junior season with eight goals and 38 assists in 70 games.
He furthered bolstered his resume with outstanding international performances, playing top pairing minutes at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and Under-18 World Juniors, being named the latter tournament’s best defenseman.
Fleury, who was been compared to Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester by both himself and Francis, will be given an opportunity to make an impression at training camp this summer, but should be expected back in Red Deer for 2014-15.
“We don’t want to rush him at this point,” Francis said. “If he needs time in Red Deer, that’s a good program with good coaching. We’ll send him back there and let him develop. But we want to do what’s right for him long term.”
Fleury will continue on developing his game. On top of his evolving offensive game, Fleury thinks there is room to improve in other areas.
“Be more physical,” Fleury said when asked what he can work on going forward. “I think that will come with getting stronger and more mature.”
Fleury met with the media following his selection by the Hurricanes, with some of his comments being included in this HF video.
While the selection of Fleury was a bit unexpected, the Hurricanes’ decision to select a Plymouth Whaler – the first of two they took on Day 2 of the draft – was not. When a run on goalies started to occur to start the second day of the draft, Carolina did not hesitate to select Nedeljkovic with their second round pick.
Nedeljkovic was considered by some to be the best goaltender in the draft, only knocked for his average size but admired for his athleticism and compete level. And no one knows it better than new Hurricanes assistant general manager Mike Vellucci, who coached Nedeljkovic the past two seasons in Plymouth.
Nedeljkovic was arguably the sole reason the Whalers kept its 23-year playoff streak alive, earning him OHL Goaltender of the Year honors – the first Whaler and just third American win the award – along the way.
The third goalie selected in the draft, Nedeljkovic was called “probably the most naturally athletic guy in the whole draft” by an anonymous scout quoted in The Hockey News. On top of that, Nedeljkovic is known for his never-say-die attitude toward stopping pucks.
“I’m definitely very athletic,” Nedeljkovic said. “I’ve never given up on a play….I’m always battling and competing no matter what the score is or no matter how lost I seem to be in the play.”
Nedeljkovic was a workhorse for Vellucci and Plymouth last season, playing 61 of 68 games, leading his former coach to say he was “definitely our MVP.” Nedeljkovic also credited Vellucci for his success.
“I can’t say enough about coach Vellucci,” he said. “I don’t how much of a say he had in picking me…but I definitely wouldn’t be here without what he’s done with me.”
The Parma, Ohio, native combines his athleticism and never-quit style with exceptional focus, and he uses that to make up for any perceived lack of size he might have.
Nedeljkovic was a standout for Team USA at the Under-18s, where he led the United States to gold with a 5-1 record and 1.84 goals-against average. He also earned silver backstopping the US at the Ivan Hlinka tournament.
Nedeljkovic will be back with Plymouth as the number one goalie next season.
After having his named called at the 2014 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, Nedeljkovic met with the media, with some of his comments captured in this HF video.
Warren Foegele, LW, St. Andrew’s College (CAHS)
3rd round, 67th overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 180 lbs
The Hurricanes took a bit of a chance in choosing Foegele, selecting him with their third round pick despite the fact that he has been playing high school hockey in his native Ontario.
Foegele was passed over by major junior teams, but opened the eyes of scouts with a 107-point season in 2013-14 – and a six-inch, 30-pound growth spurt. His late development took him from undersized and overlooked to NHL prospect with a chip on his shoulder.
“All your best friends get drafted…that definitely was a motivator that I have to change my game and prove everybody wrong,” Foegele said of being passed over by junior teams prior to this past season.
There is still some concern that Foegele, who will join 2013 third-rounder Brett Pesce at the University of New Hampshire in the fall, will be behind the curve due to the lesser competition he has faced thus far, but the Hurricanes think he has the potential to overcome that and perhaps even grow more.
“The level of play is a little bit below than what we usually like to deal with,” MacDonald said of Foegele competing against high school players. “But we feel he has a lot of upside. He plays a power game. He plays very physical.”
Foegele’s best asset may be his speed, but he is also a determined player without the puck, willing to be physical, and possesses a hard shot.
Foegele has also been training with ex-player Gary Roberts, who has helped several players – including Hurricanes sniper Jeff Skinner – with offseason conditioning.
“It’s helped me tremendously,” Foegele said of his training with Roberts. “Most of my game now is focused on explosiveness, and I think most of that comes from Gary.”
Foegele spoke with Hockey’s Future at the 2014 NHL Combine, with that conversation being captured in this HF video.
Josh Wesley, D, Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
4th round, 96th overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 195 lbs
With the first of two consecutive picks in the fourth round, Carolina chose Wesley, the son of former Hurricanes defenseman Glen. The organization is very familiar with Wesley, who grew up in the Triangle, celebrated on Carolina’s home ice during his father’s Stanley Cup win in 2006, and was there when Glen’s number 2 was retired by the Hurricanes in 2009.
But the familiarity does not end with Josh’s childhood. Wesley played last season for the Plymouth Whalers, the de facto junior farm team of the Hurricanes, and played under Vellucci.
There was certainly some nostalgia – and no shock – when Carolina took Wesley. But the team said it was not just about taking the son of a former player and current front office member.
“We didn’t take him just because he’s Glen Wesley’s son,” MacDonald said. “We took him because we think he’s a prospect. He’s got some size and some skill.”
Francis said there was a lot of discussion about what they would do if Wesley was available at a spot where the team wanted to select him.
“I asked Glen back in January if the draft fell a certain way and we ended up drafting Josh, would he be OK with that?” Francis said. “And I think you saw by the reaction on [Josh’s] face today he was more than okay with it.”
“All he knew was the Carolina Hurricanes. He didn’t want to get just drafted to the National Hockey League, he wanted to get drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes.”
For Wesley, he knows there will be expectations and big shoes to fill, especially for a player who just moved to defense just three seasons ago.
“It will be a little bit of pressure,” the younger Wesley said. “I know that people are going to start comparing me to him. But I’m my own guy….I’m a totally different player. I worked really hard to get where I am.”
Vellucci said Wesley was Plymouth’s best defender last season, playing against the opposition’s best forwards each night. His steady and simple game is reminiscent of his father once he joined Hartford and then Carolina, and he is a character player who fought four times in his first OHL season.
“We feel he has some upside and we haven’t seen the best of Josh yet.,” MacDonald said.
Wesley will rejoin Nedeljkovic in Plymouth next season.
Lucas Wallmark, C, Lulea (SHL)
4th round, 97th overall
Height: 6-0 Weight 175 lbs
The Hurricanes then selected Wallmark, who was passed over in the 2013 draft, with the next pick in round four.
Wallmark is a two-way player who excels at faceoffs – International Scouting Services ranked him the fourth best on the draw in their 2013 draft guide – but can also be a capable scorer and playmaker.
“We liked him a year ago,” MacDonald said. “He has a lot of upside. He’s a skilled player who’s continuing to develop his game.”
Scouting reports say Wallmark tends to go unnoticed at times, but still finds a way to impact the game and get on the scoresheet.
“He had a good World Junior Tournament,” MacDonald said. “He probably should have been drafted a year ago. He’s got some skill and he can skate.”
Wallmark had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 41 games in Sweden‘s top league last season and helped lead Sweden to a silver medal at the 2014 World Juniors, finishing third on the team in scoring.
Wallmark will play in Sweden in 2014-15.
The Hurricanes went for a high-energy glue guy with their sixth choice by taking Bishop.
While Bishop’s scoring numbers are modest (33 points in 56 games), he makes his mark as an all-situations, all-areas player who makes the opposition compete for every inch of the ice.
“I’m just a 200-foot player who works hard at all ends of the rink and does whatever the coach asks me to do,” Bishop said.
McKeen’s Hockey rated him the second-best defensive forward in the draft, and he was a third-line energy player for Canada at both the Ivan Hlinka, Under-17 and Under-18 tournaments.
MacDonald said he stood out in that role, specifically in Finland at the Under-18s, and understands his job on the ice.
“He’s the kind of player who can play with good players,” MacDonald said. “He’s a good support-type player.”
The third overall pick in the 2012 QMJHL draft, Bishop plays bigger than his frame and is a tireless worker who finished his checks.
He will return to Cape Breton for a third major junior season in 2014-15.
Kyle Jenkins, D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
7th round, 187th overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 166 lbs
With their final pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, the Hurricanes selected another familiar player in Jenkins, a smart, two-way defender with some offensive upside.
Jenkins spent most of last season playing alongside 2013 sixth-rounder Tyler Ganly with Greyhounds. He registered 28 points in 63 games, second only on the team to 2013 seventh overall pick Darnell Nurse (EDM), on Sault Ste. Marie’s second pairing.
While Jenkins is listed at 166 pounds, he said he was up to 175 as of the draft and planned to continue to add bulk.
“I’m looking forward to putting on more weight as time goes on,” Jenkins said. “[I want to] add more size as well as work on skating.”
Jenkins will return to the Soo in 2014-15.