After a horribly disappointing 2009-10 season, the Hurricanes had 11 selections in the weeks leading up to the NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles. The organization’s main concern was adding more depth to a system that, while better than recent years, still needed top-to-bottom help.
GM Jim Rutherford has long been against using first-round picks on defenseman and was true to those beliefs, passing on highly rated blueliners Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley as they tumbled down the draft order in favor of a forward for the fourth straight season.
In the end, the Canes selected eight players, finishing with five defenseman, two forwards and a goalie. They used the other three picks to acquire former Edmonton first-rounder Riley Nash, Jared Staal — a one-time second-round pick of Phoenix and youngest brother of Carolina captain Eric — and depth forward Jonathan Matsumoto. They also acquired defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti for a second-round pick in 2011.
While many expected him to go in the middle of the first round, Jeff Skinner was selected seventh overall by Carolina. Skinner fills an immediate need for Carolina: scoring. The Rangers forward scored 70 total goals in 2009-10, including a 50-goal regular season and a 20-goals-in-20-games postseason.
He was also considered one of the best — if not the best — pure scorer in draft. In the eyes of many draft pundits, Skinner was rivaled only by first overall pick Taylor Hall at putting pucks in the net.
Max Giese, a scout with Red Line Report, thinks Skinner bests even Hall.
“Carolina got the best goal scorer in the draft,” Giese said. “He’s average-sized and isn’t an explosive skater, but he has a gift for being at the right place at the right time with the puck on his stick just long enough to put it in the back of the net.”
Skinner also fits the mold of many recent Hurricanes draft picks: determined and hard-working, even if a bit undersized.
“He’s a short but thick kid who brings an edgy, chippy game to the rink and will score a lot of goals at any level he plays at,” Giese said. “He’s not a great defender, but he’s shown the determination to improve. He started the year off with a so-so U-18 camp in Calgary and then was put on the 4th line for the Ivan Hlinka tournament, but all he did there was score goals and eventually was moved up to the top line and top power play.”
Skinner will be given the chance to make the Hurricanes this fall. While the No. 3 center job is still up for grabs, Skinner may be more suited at wing given his size.
“I played center most of the last season," Skinner told CanesCountry.com. “But I played wing a few times, like at the prospect game and stuff like that. I played wing half the time in my first year. I don’t mind it. I prefer center, but I can play either or."
Justin Faulk, D – U.S. NTDP Under-18
2nd round, 37th overall
6’0, 205 pounds
With their second choice the Hurricanes selected Faulk, a defenseman headed to Minnesota-Duluth in the fall. While considered a well-rounded defender, Faulk is perhaps best known for his big shot from the point.
"I think I’m an all-around player but I’m pretty good offensively,” Faulk said shortly after being chosen. “I can shoot the puck well, skate the puck pretty well, and I’m a pretty tough player.”
Faulk proved his offensive skills this season, scoring 21 goals in 60 games with the Under-18 team. Giese considers Faulk a steal at No. 37.
“[Faulk’s] a first-round caliber player that was still available in the second round,” Giese said, “I don’t agree with the comparisons made to Kevin Shattenkirk,. I like Faulk just as much as the next guy but the two players are different. Faulk isn’t going to be the creative power play quarterback at the next level, but he will play on the power play acting as the triggerman with his bomb from the point. He’s a very smart, mobile and solid in all situations-type. He lacks prototypical height, but he’s very thick and hits hard. He’s a great character guy who can play in all-situations, and his shot is one of the best in the draft.”
Still, even Faulk knows he needs to improve defensively to get to the next level.
“[I just need to] keep working on my defensive zone,” Faulk said. “I think it’s pretty good but it can be a bit better. I guess working on every part of my game too, just improving every aspect.”
Mark Alt, D – Cretin-Derham (Minn.) High
2nd round, 53rd overall
6’3, 199 pounds
A year ago, Alt may’ve very well been off to Iowa or Kansas for college. But not to play hockey — neither school even has an NCAA team — but instead football. Alt was a two-star quarterback recruit who was being pursued by several BCS schools. His dad, John, was a two-time All-Pro offensive lineman with the Kansas City Chiefs, playing 13 seasons in the NFL in the 1980s and ‘90s.
Instead, Alt will join the Minnesota hockey program after going in the second round to Carolina.
Alt is obviously extremely athletic, having thrived in two vastly different sports. He has ideal size for a defenseman but is also a very good skater. The biggest question might be whether or not he’s fully committed to hockey.
“He has always wanted to play hockey but his father wanted him to pursue football,” Giese said. “It seemed like every week new information was coming out as to which way he was going to go.”
But Alt told CollegeHockey247.com in February — prior to college football’s National Signing Day — that football was his top choice.
“I like hockey a lot and I know I have a great future there, but I’d want to play football first,” Alt said.
But his decision to go to Minnesota, followed by being such a high pick in the draft, surely has Alt’s future fixated on hockey. Given his talents, it seems like a wise choice.
“He has great size — although he’s lanky and needs to fill out— plays an assertive two-way game, and is a naturally gifted skater for a player of his size,” Giese said. “He likes to push the puck offensively and can do so with good speed, but he still has a lot to learn about the game. He’s still quite raw in terms of tactical play but his athletic potential is outstanding. He’s a great kid, too.”
Danny Biega, D – Harvard (ECAC)
3rd round, 67th overall
6’0, 200 pounds
The Hurricanes have never shied away from selecting players from hockey families: Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter come from two of the sport’s best-known lineages. Biega, their first third-round pick, is the third hockey-playing brother at Harvard, with a fourth — just 15 — in the wings.
Biega is not only talented but also plays with an edge and is considered one of the better open-ice hitters selected.
“Little things such as a big hit can definitely change the momentum, and I that’s something I think I can contribute defensively,” Biega said. “Whether that be in the corner or an open-ice hit, I feel it will motivate the team and it definitely gives momentum.”
Giese said Biega’s size makes him deceiving because, despite being around 6 feet tall, he can physically dominate opponents.
“He’s a well put together athlete, a fitness freak with great strength, and is mobile too,” Giese said. “He has a nice physical side to his game and his strength is deceptive because on the ice he looks smallish, but then he’s pushing guys around and containing larger players one-on-one.”
Furthermore, he was arguably the top player at the NHL Combine. He finished in the top 10 in 17 of the 31 tests.
“Obviously, it was just a fun experience,” Biega said of the combine. “I think it was beneficial being at university, being at Harvard. We work out throughout the whole season, and I think that benefited me for the combine. As far as results go, I think it displayed our lifting program and how we work there at school.”
It wouldn’t be a Hurricanes draft without a Plymouth Whaler. Levi became the fourth Plymouth player selected in the past four drafts when Carolina took him with their second selection in the third round. The Whalers and Hurricanes are both owned by Peter Karmanos Jr.
“I knew that they’re owned by the same person,” Levi said. “But I had no idea [they might pick me]. It just caught me by surprise. I was actually just texting Scott Wedgewood, who got drafted before me, to congratulate him and then all of a sudden I heard my name called and it was really spectacular.”
Levi is a big blueliner who mainly focuses on his own end.
“I’d say I’m more of a stay-at-home defenseman,” Levi said. “The past couple years I’ve really focused on being more defensive than offensive and kind of toned my game to that aspect. I really wanted to take care of those defensive responsibilities before I try to do anything offensive, and that’s worked pretty well for me.”
Giese sees Levi in the same light.
“Levi can bring it physically, too. But despite having a heavy shot his offensive upside is limited,” Giese said. “He doesn’t have the vision or hand skills to develop into an offensive contributor. His future lies in his ability to defend. For the most part he plays a sound, physical, stay-at-home game and makes a good first pass, but his decision-making can go awry at times.”
Justin Shugg, LW – Windsor (OHL)
4th round, 105th overall
5’11, 194 pounds
When Taylor Hall is your teammate, it’s easy to go unnoticed even when your part of back-to-back Memorial Cup champions. Hall cast a shadow on the rest of his Spitfires teammates, Shugg included.
“For sure,” Shugg said when asked if playing alongside Hall was tough. “I wish I would’ve gotten drafted a little higher than this. But being taken by Carolina, a great organization, I can be there within the next three years to five years playing in the NHL one day, which is every Canadian boy’s dream.”
Shugg had 39 goals and 79 points for the Spitfires last season, second to only Hall, and will get the chance to lead Windsor in their attempt for a third straight Memorial Cup.
“Everyone talks about maybe a possible three-peat next year,” Shugg said. “Hopefully we can make history and win a third Memorial Cup. I think if we’re over .500 by the trade deadline that [Spitfires GM] Warren Reichel will make some trades. They’ve asked me to be a leader of this team coming up next year. Hopefully I can be awarded the captaincy for Windsor if some guys don’t come back, and I can lead the troops to another Memorial Cup.”
Those character and leadership qualities were what drew Carolina to Shugg.
“I think he’s a guy who Jim [Rutherford] and [assistant GM] Jason [Karmanos] both saw live … and there was a lot there that [they] liked,” Ron Francis, assistant head coach and director of player development, said. “I think any time we draft a player we certainly try to get a player with character and leadership abilities, the kind of guys who are going to help you when the going gets tough, and we certainly feel he fits that mold.”
On top of leading the Spits, he’ll need to prove he can produce as a top option.
“I think I’m a two-way guy,” Shugg said. “I love to score goals and be an offensive guy, but at the same time, I’d do anything to win. I think I’m a born winner. I take a lot of [pride] in the defensive side of my game. I love blocking shots and doing everything it takes to win.”
Giese said Shugg still needs to improve in all zones, but that he knows how to get into scoring areas.
“He’s sort of a poor man’s Jeff Skinner — not overly big or fast, but has a knack for getting into the right spot to score a lot of goals,” Giese said. “He’s average away from the puck, but he put up some great numbers playing the power play on a stacked Windsor team.”
Shugg will enter 2010-11 with something to prove. Not only does he need to show he can win without Hall, but he wants to show all the teams that passed on him in the draft that they missed out.
“I’m not going to lie, I expected to go late second, early third, but with the drafting you never know what can happen,” Shugg said. “But I’m happy where I landed.”
Stahl has a familiar sounding last name, even if the defenseman isn’t related to the two Staal brothers in the Canes’ organization. But like Ranger Marc Staal, Stahl is a defense-first blueliner who takes care of things in his own end.
However, he is more physical and a big-time hitter who makes things difficult on opponents. He had 15 fights with the Bruins this past season — totaling 146 penalty minutes — but managed just six assists in 59 games.
“Tyler Stahl is a big, tough guy to play against,” Tony MacDonald, Hurricanes director of amateur scouting, said in a video interview on CarolinaHurricanes.com. “He’s a very physical guy and makes you pay the price, but he’s not a dumb player and he’s not just out there to hammer people.”
Frederik Andersen, G – Frederikshavn (DNK)
7th round, 187th overall
6’4, 220 pounds
With their final pick, Carolina filled a depth need by selecting Danish goaltender Andersen. Denmark has never produced an NHL goalie and just seven skaters have ever made it, but Andersen is already making a name for himself.
The big netminder stunned Finland at the World Championships this summer, outdueling Nashville’s Pekka Rinne in a 2-1 overtime win. That capped a year where he was the Danish league MVP with a save percentage of .932.
Giese thinks Carolina might have found a hidden gem in Andersen.
“I have to give props to my boss [RLR chief scout and publisher] Kyle Woodlief on this one,” Giese said. “He saw Andersen at the World Championships and named him Redline’s Super Sleeper Pick. I’ve never seen him, but the book on him is that he’s a huge netminder with good athleticism and he’s a mentally strong battler who doesn’t give up on pucks. At his size and his ability to steal games at the World Championships, he could be a diamond in the rough.”