The Carolina Hurricanes knew they were going to get a great young player with the second selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft; they just weren’t sure who it would be. The Florida Panthers had talked about trading the first pick in the days leading up to the draft, with star goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury being the object of affection for most teams looking at acquiring the pick. This scenario suited the Hurricanes fine, who are set in goal with players like Kevin Weekes, Patrick DesRochers and prospect Cam Ward, and were looking to acquire one of the top young forwards in the draft, either Eric Staal, Nathan Horton or Nikolai Zherdev.
When the Panthers did the expected and dealt the pick to Pittsburgh and Fleury became a Penguin, the Hurricanes knew they were going to get the pick of the litter. It turned out that Staal was the player the Hurricanes coveted the most out of the group, and GM Jim Rutherford was more than happy to select the Peterborough Petes superstar second overall. Staal is a 6-3 rangey forward who draws comparisons to current Hurricane Ron Francis, as well as Red Wings superstar Steve Yzerman.
Staal, a first cousin of Hurricanes prospect Jeff Heerema, is an exceptional skater and playmaker. He has excellent vision on the ice, and accumulated 93 points in only 66 games this past year. He has excellent defensive awareness and talled six goals while his team was short-handed last season. While it might be a stretch to think he can step in and play like the future Hall of Famers he’s been compared to immediately, Staal is probably good enough to crack the Hurricanes opening day roster already.
With the first pick of the second round, the Hurricanes looked to add some depth to their group of defensive prospects with the selection of University of Michigan rearguard Danny Richmond. The 6-0, 175lb Richmond is slight by NHL standards, but makes up for it with a blend of tenacity and skill.
“I’m an offensive defenseman; I take a little bit of a risk. I’d say I’m a cross between Scott Niedermeyer and Chris Chelios. In juniors, I was kind of a nasty player; I like to fight a little bit. I’m a team guy–if someone messes with my teammate, I’ll be the first one jumping in there and protecting him. I can run the power play, I’ve got pretty good feet, and I’ll be responsible defensively. So, hopefully it’ll be a fun ride in Carolina, if I get the opportunity.”
While Richmond was excited about being drafted and taking another step towards becoming an NHLer, he’s realistic about the need to improve his strength in order to make the jump.
“It’s something that’s the least of the problems for some of the guys here, but they said that once I get stronger, I should have no problem. But the battle is I was 172 pounds at the beginning of this year, and I was about 175 when the season ended. Now, I’m up to 188, so it could be an extra adjustment skating with that extra weight. But, I think I’ll be alright, and next year, I think I’ll have a really good season, and hopefully win a national championship for Michigan.”
In the fourth round of the draft, the Hurricanes owned three selections, and used them to take two mammoth defensemen and a goalie prospect. The first player selected was Aaron Dawson, a 6-5, 220lb junior teammate of Staal’s in Peterborough. The huge defenseman is surprisingly mobile for his size, and is an excellent puck carrier. Only 18 years old, Dawson has two years of junior eligibility remaining. With his size and skating abilities, he should have a lengthy pro career; the only question is how much of his potential will he realize?
The second pick in the fourth round was used to take Medicine Hat goaltender Kevin Nastiuk. Nastiuk saw a lot of rubber in 2002-03 as the starting goalie for the woeful Medicine Hat Tigers. While his numbers weren’t great, he was often left to hang out to dry by his overwhelmed defense. The pick was a bit of a surprise considering the Hurricanes had selected goaltender Cam Ward in last year’s draft, and seemed set at the position for years to come. Considering their depth at the position, the Hurricanes can afford to be patient with Nastiuk, who is a young 18 years old, and has two years of WHL eligibility remaining.
The Hurricanes final selection in the fourth round was used to take Czech defenseman Matej Trojovsky. The rearguard spent last season with the Regina Pats, but will lace up his skates for the WHL Swift Current Broncos next season following some expansion draft wheeling and dealing with the Everett Silvertips. Trojovsky is just as big as Dawson at 6-5 and 220lbs, but is more of a defensive player then his new teammate. Like most young defensemen, Trojevsky needs to work on his skating and positioning if he is going to make the leap to the pro ranks. He is a long term project, but has the size to potentially be a physical force on the Hurricanes blue line in years to come.
The Hurricanes wrapped up the draft weekend selecting Tyson Strachan from Vernon in the British Columbia Junior League in the fifth round. Strachan is another huge rearguard at 6-3 and 205lbs. Shay Stephenson was a draft re-entry from the Edmonton Oilers, and was selected in the seventh round. Stephenson is a huge winger from the Red Deer Rebels, standing at 6-4 and 200lbs. In the eighth round, the Hurricanes took Jamie Hoffman, a 6-2 center from Des Moines in the USHL. Finally, the team selected slick playmaker Ryan Rorabeck from the St. Michael’s Majors in the OHL in the ninth round. Rorabeck was a former first round pick of the Majors.
It was a busy weekend for the Hurricanes scouting staff, who selected nine players in total. They added a potential star in Eric Staal, who could provide the team with scoring throughout the next decade and beyond. The organization managed to add size and talent to their talent pool with their later picks, especially along the blue line. Richmond, who just missed out on being a first round pick (selected 31st) has the potential to develop into a premier offensive defenseman. The Hurricanes will get a good look at the new crop of draftees in early September, when their rookie team competes in Ottawa against the young prospects of the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators.