An injury laden 2012-13 season derailed the Carolina Hurricanes hopes of qualifying for the playoffs, a feat they have not accomplished in the past four seasons. General Manager Jim Rutherford's trade for Jordan Staal last year and his long term signing of Russian sniper Alexander Semin signaled that the Hurricanes are in win-now mode and they believe a championship is within grasp.
With the fifth overall draft pick the Hurricanes have an excellent chance to pick up a future franchise player. As the final scouting rankings will reflect, the first round of the 2013 draft is loaded to top end talent and Carolina could potentially be selecting a star player who will be wearing red and black for the next decade.
The Hurricanes however might go the more unconventional route and shop the pick for some proven NHL talent, more specifically a top four defenseman or scoring winger.
Top 10 prospects:
Carolina's primary need is to shore up their less than stellar defensive corps. After Joni Pitkanen, Justin Faulk, and Tim Gleason, there are quite a few question marks surrounding the defense. Youngster Jamie McBain is a name that has been twirled around in trade rumors. With offensive defensemen Joe Corvo and Marc-Andre Bergeron not expected back next year, Carolina needs at least two everyday NHL defensemen who can fill out their ranks.
Uncertainty surrounds the futures of former Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner and veteran forward Tuomo Ruutu. Skinner, who has had unfortunate luck with injuries during his young career, has been mentioned as potential trade bait. Ruutu has been the subject of both trade speculation and a potential amnesty buy out, as his production has slipped and he has a salary cap hit of 4.75 million dollars. If Ruutu is indeed on the block, Carolina will need to avoid another Jussi Jokinen situation where they lose a roster player for nothing.
The biggest need on this team is sustained health. The Hurricanes suffered plenty of injuries last season but none more devastating than the loss of former Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward. If Carolina can keep the injuries to a minimum, there is no reason they cannot achieve a playoff berth.
Carolina is not traditionally an organization that rushes its prospects into the NHL. Rutherford has done a good job of balancing talent in Charlotte and Raleigh, and the coaching staff typically puts players in a position to succeed.
The center position is an area of strength for the Hurricanes. Riley Nash, Zac Dalpe, and Victor Rask headline the Hurricanes top center prospects. The pro team also has their top two line centers penciled in for the considerable future, and Ruutu can always fill in at the pivot if needed.
An aspect that often goes unappreciated in Carolina is the stability at the highest levels of ownership and management. Owner Peter Karmanos and GM Rutherford have held their respective positions in the organization since 1994 and have overseen the small market team to two Stanley Cup Finals, including one championship.
The main focus of concern for Carolina entering the 2013-14 season is the same as it was last year, depth. Teams without depth at all positions will eventually succumb to mediocrity, filling out important roster spots with AHL players or prospects who were not ready to be called up. Injuries to Pitkanen and Ward exposed the Hurricanes as a team with an extremely shallow defensive corps and no true legitimate backup goaltender. The Hurricanes let in an unseemly 159 goals last year, which was second most in the league behind the Florida Panthers.
The Hurricanes also have depth issues at forward, and were unable to get much offense from their bottom six. With most of the team's offense coming from the sensational Tlusty-Staal-Semin line, and the adequate secondary unit of Jordan Staal and Skinner, the rest of the squad was near invisible.
There are no true NHL ready prospects outside of perhaps Kitchener Rangers' defenseman Ryan Murphy. Rask could become a decent two-way forward in a few years. Nash made a name for himself last year and could continue to develop into an anchor on the bottom-six.
The Hurricanes will enter the 2013 NHL Draft with the 5th, 35th, 66th, 126th, and 156th picks of the draft. Carolina will not receive compensation for Jokinen since the Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Carolina is a team that prides itself on filling their ranks with North American players. This is especially apparent on the NHL roster, with only Tlusty, Semin, Ruutu, and Pitkanen born outside of North America. The only European taken by Carolina during last year's draft was Sweden's Erik Karlsson.
Aleksander Barkov, C, Tappara (SM-liiga)
The Carolina Hurricanes would be pleased to select a surefire top six forward like Aleksander Barkov. At only 17 years old, Barkov is the highest rated European skater available in this draft and has a huge frame that he will continue to grow into. The half-Finn half-Russian is a tremendous power forward with exceptional playmaking ability. His size, natural hockey sense, and ability to play against men at such a young age assures that he will be able to dominate all three zones in the NHL by the time he matures.
Robert Theodorson wrote this article.