Headed into the 2008 off-season, there were two distinct trends in the Hurricanes' draft history under GM Jim Rutherford: they preferred not to draft defensemen or European forwards in the early rounds. For the most part, the Hurricanes elected to use their picks on forwards playing in North American leagues. The 2008 draft class was a very talented crop, but most of the better prospects were defensemen.
Rutherford publicly admitted that it was possible the Hurricanes could take a defenseman, but they were taking a wait-and-see approach with the 14th overall pick, because draft lists vary greatly from team-to-team outside the top 10. By the time it was the Hurricanes turn to pick, they were left with the option of drafting Zach Boychuk, a scoring winger widely considered to be the best forward still available, or taking a chance with two defensemen that carried some considerable risk at the time: the undersized, featherweight Erik Karlsson (OTT), or the very raw Jake Gardiner (TOR), whose decision to commit to Wisconsin almost made certain the Hurricanes wouldn't draft him after the failed Jack Johnson (CLB) experiment in 2005.
In retrospect, the Hurricanes made the wrong pick. Karlsson or Gardiner would look fantastic on the Carolina blue line right now, but the Hurricanes needed a forward as much as they needed a defenseman at the time, and the two other options did not fit Carolina's strategy.
Zach Boychuk, LW, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL) – 1st round, 14th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 82
It is not as if the Hurricanes didn't give Boychuk a chance. Despite undergoing wrist surgery late into the summer of 2008, Boychuk played well enough to make the NHL opening night roster, becoming only the second player in franchise history to make his NHL debut the same year he was drafted. After just two games, Boychuk was returned to Lethbridge where he went on the claim MVP honors and win gold with Team Canada at the 2009 World Junior Championships.
Boychuk turned pro the following season and stayed with the Hurricanes for 31 games, scoring three goals and nine points before being assigned to AHL Albany in April. As an AHL player, Boychuk was a considerable offensive force, scoring 146 points in 178 games. After scoring 32 points in 37 games during the lockout with Charlotte, it was clear Boychuk had nothing left to prove at the AHL level. He received a one-game audition with Carolina before being waived and subsequently claimed by Pittsburgh.
Boychuk lasted just seven games and posted zero points and a minus-two rating before getting waived yet again and claimed by Nashville. While the Hurricanes and Penguins failed to find a suitable role for Boychuk, that will not likely be the case in Nashville, where the Predators have a reputation for finding serviceable players on the waiver wire, including Bobby Butler and Brandon Yip. Boychuk is the type of team player Nashville covets. Like Butler and Yip, Boychuk is undersized, but possesses good enough hockey sense and ability to be a versatile player for Barry Trotz.
Having taken a forward in the 1st round, there was a chance Carolina would take a defenseman in the 2nd round, but after seeing Patrick Wiercioch (OTT) go to Ottawa at 42nd and Justin Schultz (now with Edmonton) go to Anaheim at 43rd, the Hurricanes took Zac Dalpe instead. Happy with getting Boychuk at 14th, the Hurricanes felt they could take a little more risk with their 2nd round pick. Dalpe turned down the opportunity to play with the Plymouth Whalers and committed to Ohio State, meaning that the Hurricanes had to hold off on signing him and wait at least a couple of years.
Dalpe progressed faster than expected, becoming the Buckeyes' top scorer by his sophomore season. He inked his entry-level deal shortly afterwards and joined the Albany River Rats for the conclusion of their season and the playoff run, where he scored 15 points in 17 games overall. Like Boychuk and Drayson Bowman, Dalpe had no trouble finding the net at the AHL level, but with his entry-level deal expiring this June, he has appeared in just 38 games for Carolina. Boychuk earned a one-year deal from Carolina after his entry-level deal, and it looks like Dalpe is headed down the same road. Dalpe has played well enough to get a second look, but his future in Carolina remains murky as his ceiling continues to get lower.
A smooth-skating defenseman, it took Jordan two-and-half season in the AHL before getting his first taste of the NHL. A standout on the Plymouth Whalers blue line during his final major junior season, Jordan made a relatively seamless transition to the AHL. He appeared in 67 regular season games and another 16 in the playoffs in his rookie season. While Jordan struggled with some of the league's bigger forwards, it was a good sign that he was getting consistent ice time on a good team under head coach Jeff Daniels.
Defensemen take longer to develop because it is a much harder position to play at the pro level but it does not look like the Hurricanes are in a hurry. In fact, Jordan's development is right on schedule as the team prepares to move ahead with Justin Faulk, Jamie McBain, and Ryan Murphy as the core of their defense. There is a chance Jordan could sneak into the conversation as a third-pairing defenseman, but that will hinge on Jordan earning a second contract with the Hurricanes and his continuing development.
Mike Murphy, G, Belleville Bulls (OHL) – 6th round, 165th overall
NHL Games Played: 2
Despite being a late pick, Mike Murphy was twice named goaltender of the year with Belleville and a potential late round gem for Carolina. By his second AHL season, Murphy was considered Charlotte's starting goaltender after starting 14 of the Checkers' 18 playoff games, supplanting Justin Pogge. In the final year of his entry-level contract, Murphy's play slipped a little, losing playing time to both Justin Peters and John Muse.
Despite this, the Hurricanes fully intended to give Murphy an extension, but in late May, Murphy announced that he was signing with Spartak Moscow of the KHL, where he felt he would get more playing time. The move came as a complete shock to the Hurricanes, who planned to have Peters and Murphy battle for the Checkers' starting job. Regardless, in late June the Hurricanes elected to tender Murphy a qualifying offer, meaning the Hurricanes retain his NHL rights. Murphy's stint with Spartak lasted just seven games, posting a 1-5-0 record with a 4.54 goals against average and .877 save percentage. Murphy was released in November and has yet to sign with another team. At this point, his surprising, and perhaps rash, decision to play in the KHL has backfired, though a return to Charlotte has not been ruled out. If that is the case, Murphy will have to start over and battle Muse for minutes in the AHL while Peters backs up Cam Ward next year.
If Morneau's draft stock had not increased like it did after he moved from Acadie-Bathurst to Baie-Comeau, there was a good chance he never would have been drafted. Considered a player of average size in the QMJHL, but certainly one of the more physically mature players at the time of the draft at around 190 pounds, Morneau's ceiling was always limited. He was a hard-working player but lacked the talent and ability to be successful on the ice. After one year with Baie-Comeau, Morneau played another two years with Val-D'Or and finished his final major junior season with Gatineau and PEI. Following his junior career, Morneau suited up for Concordia University for the 2011-12 season before retiring.