Hurricanes 2004 draft evaluation

By Cory Lavalette

Not only did the Carolina Hurricanes host the 2004 Entry Draft, but they went out of their way to make a splash, moving up to No. 4 overall to get the player they wanted. But it might be the mid-round picks that become the biggest contributors to the franchise down the road. Half of the team’s eight selections were defensemen, along with two goalies and two forwards.

The class played 258 games, for a per-pick average of 32.25 games per pick.

Andrew Ladd, LW — Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
1st round, 4th overall
Status: NHL player
NHL games: 239

Set to select eighth overall, the Hurricanes received a roar of approval from the home crowd when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the team had traded with Columbus for the right to select fourth. Their choice was Ladd, a fast-rising prospect who was chosen to provide the team with size up front.

The first three picks in the draft — Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Cam Barker — were fairly clear top choices in 2004, but Ladd’s selection wasn’t a surprise at No. 4. Ladd made his NHL debut two seasons later, playing 29 regular-season games in Carolina’s 2005-06 championship season. But his biggest contributions came in the postseason where he played 17 of the team’s 25 games en route to the Stanley Cup. While he played fewer than 10 minutes a night, Ladd provided a physical presence on an otherwise finesse team.

After his impressive debut, the Hurricanes had high hopes for Ladd. But injuries and inconsistency hampered Ladd’s development and he was traded to Chicago at the 2008 trade deadline for fellow underachiever Tuomo Ruutu. Ladd, like Ruutu in Carolina, found his game this season, scoring 15 goals and adding 34 assists. He also finished 13th in the league with a +26. The trade will likely go down as one that benefitted both teams and players.

Justin Peters, G — Toronto St. Michael’s Majors (OHL)

2nd round, 38th overall
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games: 0

Peters was the sixth goaltender taken in the 2004 draft, and this past season was his first as the No. 1 goalie with Carolina’s AHL affiliate in Albany. Peters played four years in the OHL with Toronto St. Michael’s and Plymouth and has now played three professional seasons.

Peters spent the majority of 2006-07 with Albany but was behind Colorado prospect Tyler Weiman on the depth chart. Peters was 10-18 with a 3.26 goals-against average and .886 save percentage.

After Carolina’s acquisition of journeyman Michael Leighton, Peters spent the following season with Carolina’s ECHL affiliate, the Florida Everblades, so he could play more games than he would backing up Leighton with the River Rats. With Leighton moving up the Hurricanes this season, Peters outdueled Daniel Manzato for the top spot with Albany and went 19-30-4 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.

With two-time OHL goaltender of the year Mike Murphy set to begin his pro career next season and Leighton’s contract expiring after 2009-10, Peters will need to showcase himself next year to be considered as Cam Ward’s backup in 2010-11. If not, Murphy could leapfrog him in the organization’s pecking order.

Casey Borer, D — St. Cloud State (NCAA)

3rd round, 69th overall
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games: 14

Borer has to be considered a successful third-round pick. His size, instincts in all three zones and growth as a player all point to him being a full-time NHLer down the road. But Borer has been slowed by unfortunate injuries that have cost him the end of the past two years.

After exhibiting considerable poise in an 11-game stint with Carolina during his first pro season in 2007-08, Borer injured his knee and missed the end of the regular season along with the River Rats’ seven-game, opening-round playoff series loss.

Borer recovered in time for the start of training camp this year, and again earned a three-game recall to the Hurricanes. While his numbers were down in Albany, Borer continued to make strides in establishing himself as a go-to prospect for the Canes. But again he faced an unfortunate injury, fracturing a vertebrae in his neck in the River Rats’ February bus crash. The accident cost him the remainder of the season, but Borer was fortunate that his career — and life — were never in jeopardy.

Borer has an outside shot of earning a roster spot with Carolina next season, but will face stiff competition from several of his Albany teammates.

Brett Carson, D — Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
4th round, 109th overall
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games: 5

With their fourth selection, the Hurricanes took Carson, Ladd’s Calgary teammate. With Ladd gone to the Blackhawks, Carson could be considered the franchise’s top prospect from the 2004 draft. At 6’4 and 220 pounds, Carson is Carolina’s biggest defensive prospect. While he doesn’t play a punishing style, Carson’s size, positioning and serviceable skating and puck-moving skills make him a good candidate as a future second- or third-pairing blueliner.

After playing 63 games with Albany in his first pro season in 2006-07, Carson emerged as a reliable defender last season and even added some offense to his game this year, putting up a career-best 35 points, including six goals, in 69 games.

But Carson made his biggest strides during his five games with Carolina. He was held pointless, but was reliable in his own end while playing more than 20 minutes in each of his first two NHL games. He even earned 5-on-3 penalty-killing duty.

Like Borer, Carson will be competing for a spot with the Hurricanes next year.

Magnus Akerlund, G — HV 71 Jrs. (Sweden)
5th round, 137th overall
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games: 0

The second goaltender chosen by the Canes in the 2004 draft, Akerlund is still Carolina property but has never left Sweden. Akerlund has bounced between Allsvenskan (the Swedish second league) and Elitserien (the SEL’s top league) the past few seasons.

This year, Akerlund played just 10 games, but seven of them were with Timra in the top league, Elitserien. He finished with a 2.08 goals against average and .927 save percentage as the team’s backup, the best numbers of his career. With Timra starter Johan Backlund signing a contract with the Flyers in March, Akerlund could assume the No. 1 job in 2009-10.

With several SEL goalies making the jump to the NHL in recent seasons, it’s not inconceivable to think Akerlund could one day make his way to North America.

Ryan Pottruff, D — London Knights (OHL)
7th round, 202nd overall
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 0

Pottruff was traded from London to Guelph during the 2004-05 season and never emerged. The biggest news Pottruff made in junior was a two-handed slash to London’s Corey Perry, his teammate with the Knights earlier that season. Pottruff earned a 12-game suspension and Guelph coach Dave Barr, who was accused by some of calling on his players to injure Perry, received 15 games.

Pottruff was never signed by the Hurricanes and played college hockey for the University of Lethbridge the past two seasons.

Jonas Fiedler, RW — Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
8th round, 235th overall
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 0

Fiedler is one of several Plymouth Whalers players to find themselves the property of the Hurricanes. Fiedler was first chosen by San Jose in 2002, going 86th overall in the 2002 draft. When he wasn’t signed by the Sharks, the Czech winger re-entered the draft and was selected by Carolina.

After four years with Plymouth and a two-game, end-of-season stint with the Florida Everblades in 2005, Fiedler returned to the Czech Republic and has played there since. The Hurricanes continue to hold Fiedler’s rights.

Martin Vagner, D — Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)

9th round, 268th overall
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 0

Like Fiedler, Vagner was selected once before and Carolina chose him on his second time through the draft. Vagner was the 26th overall pick of Dallas in 2002 but never signed with the Stars.

After four seasons in the QMJHL, Vagner returned to the Czech Republic. He has played there since, but Carolina still retains his rights.