For the third consecutive year, the Carolina Hurricanes hold one of the first dozen picks of the NHL Draft. With franchise cornerstones Eric Staal and Cam Ward firmly in their prime, Carolina is looking to improve and return to the postseason in 2012-13.
Top 10 Prospects:
Carolina has the core pieces to be a contender. Star forwards? Check (Staal, Jeff Skinner). Top netminder? They have one (Ward). Character players? Got 'em (Tuomo Ruutu, Tim Gleason, Brandon Sutter). Justin Faulk probably deserved to be a Calder finalist for his efforts last season (and he will only get better) and both Jiri Tlusty and Jay Harrison showed that they could be everyday NHLers.
But there are still holes to fill.
First and foremost, Carolina needs to find a permanent running mate for Staal. With Staal and Skinner unable to mesh on a line together, coach Kirk Muller found some chemistry between his captain and Tlusty. But the team sorely needs a point-producing player that will push Staal to greater heights. The question is whether that player will come via trade, free agency, or the draft (Carolina has extra picks and the assets to move up from the No. 8 spot if they can find a willing trade partner and a player they covet).
There's also still a need for a legitimate No. 1 defenseman. Joni Pitkanen can log the minutes of a top blueliner, but injuries and inconsistency have plagued him throughout his career. Faulk could make the leap, but that's expecting a lot of a 20-year-old. Getting a high-price defenseman out of free agency seems unlikely as well.
The Hurricanes could use an impact player anywhere, but if there's one position where the future is bright it's on defense. Murphy, Dumoulin, and Sanguinetti should all compete for a roster spot in camp, and the team already has young blueliners Jamie McBain, and Faulk in the top-six. Toss is Biega, Mark Alt, Austin Levi, Keegan Lowe and others, and the Hurricanes look good on the back end for a long time.
The team's goaltending pipeline took a big blow this offseason when Swedish Elite League standout Frederik Andersen opted to not sign with Carolina and re-enter the draft. Mike Murphy, a restricted free agent, also left the team, signing a two-year deal to play overseas in the KHL. And Justin Peters, the team's backup two seasons ago, is an unrestricted free agent and could leave the franchise. So drafting a goalie will surely be a consideration, if not a priority.
The team still lacks a sure-fire forward prospect. Dalpe has had two seasons to earn a full-time spot in Carolina, but has been unable to carve out a role. Rask is promising, but still needs seasoning after just one season in North America. Undrafted forward Jeremy Welsh, who starred for Frozen Four participant Union the past three season, was a huge signing at the end of the regular season and could be in the Carolina lineup from the get-go, but he will need to prove his scoring touch can translate to the NHL.
GM Jim Rutherford has often stated that he believes using a first-round pick on a defenseman is not prudent, opining that by the time a defender is ready to contribute he is headed to free agency. But that didn't stop him and the Hurricanes from selecting high-flying rearguard Ryan Murphy 12th overall last season.
Still, that was only the second time in the last 10 drafts that Carolina used a first-round pick on a defenseman, and both times the player fell in their lap: Murphy slid to No. 12 despite being ranked seventh or eighth by most draft pundits; and Jack Johnson slipped to them at No. 3 in 2005 when Anaheim opted for Bobby Ryan over Johnson after the Penguins selected Sidney Crosby first overall.
Carolina has also made a habit of drafting or acquiring players with NHL bloodlines. In last year's draft, they took Lowe (son of Oilers great Kevin) and Brody Sutter (the youngest of three Sutters whom Carolina holds rights) with two of their six picks. The team has had success drafting NCAA defensemen and also tends to lean on the OHL and WHL for their prospects. The OHL's Plymouth Whalers (also owned by Hurricanes CEO Peter Karmanos) is often a feeding ground for Carolina on draft day: the team has selected a total of five Whalers in the past five drafts, picking at least one in each year except 2009.
On the flip side, only one QMJHL player has been selected in the first four rounds since 2003, and that player, 2009 27th overall pick Philippe Paradis, was traded less than a year after he was chosen. Carolina has also had little success with European players in the draft, although Rask and Andersen both look like good picks in hindsight, even if Andersen, a seventh-rounder in 2010, winds up elsewhere.
The Hurricanes pick 8th, 38th, 47th, 69th, 99th, 115th, 120th, 129th, 159th and 189th. The 47th pick (second-round) came from the San Jose Sharks in a trade for defenseman Ian White.
Since moving to Raleigh, the team has never chosen eighth overall. In 1980, the Hartford Whalers selected defenseman Fred Arthur eighth overall, but he played in just 80 career games (just three with Hartford, the rest with Philadelphia) in three seasons before retiring and going on to medical school rather than face demotion to the minors.
No. 8: Griffin Reinhart, D, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Despite all of the above information about Carolina's strength on defense and aversion to using a first-round pick on defense, it's hard to pass on Reinhart. While Carolina has several blueliners on the horizon, none bring the combination of size and strength that Reinhart possesses.
At nearly 6'4 and already 200-plus pounds, Reinhart has an NHL body – with room to get even bigger – without sacrificing much mobility. He's also a near-perfect foil to Ryan Murphy, who likes to freewheel and create offense above all else. Reinhart is more steady and focused on his own end, but also possesses offensive upside. He won't sizzle like Murphy, but he's capable of putting up points, playing on the power play and moving the puck.
Reinhart is not a bone-crushing player, but his strength is evident and he's not afraid to use it when necessary. Throw in that his father, Paul, was a veteran of 600-plus NHL games, and his two brothers are potential pros as well (the oldest brother, center Max, was chosen in the third round by Calgary in 2010) and Reinhart starts to make more sense in terms of Carolina's draft tendency toward drafting character players with strong bloodlines.