For the seventh time in eight seasons, the Hurricanes enter the NHL offseason with a top-15 pick in the upcoming draft. With the fifth overall selection on June 26, Carolina should be able to add to its stockpile of young talent, and perhaps even land a player that can contribute as soon as next season.
The Hurricanes will likely be at the mercy of the teams selecting in front of them; Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are all but guaranteed to go 1-2, leaving forwards Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome, and defenseman Noah Hanifin the most likely candidates to round out the top five. Regardless of who falls to Carolina, the team will be adding another piece in its quest to return to the postseason after failing to qualify for six straight seasons.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Haydn Fleury, D
2. Alex Nedeljkovic, G
3. Brock McGinn, LW
4. Jaccob Slavin, D
5. Trevor Carrick, D
6. Roland McKeown, D
7. Brett Pesce, D
8. Sergey Tolchinksy, LW
9. Warren Foegele, LW
10. Andrej Nestrasil, C/W
More than anything, the Hurricanes need their underachieving forwards—Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin—to regain top form. That being said, there is no doubt that Carolina has holes to fill this offseason.
Tops on the list will be the defense, with a partner for emerging star Justin Faulk the priority. Andrej Sekera played with Faulk for much of the last two seasons prior to being traded to Los Angeles at the trade deadline, and he will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. But the price for top pairing blueliners is steep—the team and Sekera attempted to hammer out an extension prior to the deadline, but couldn’t—and the Hurricanes could have more luck prying a top defender from a cap-strapped team.
Carolina also needs more help on offense, and the moves they make this offseason should set the course for the franchise’s future. Will Eric Staal or Skinner be traded? Is Elias Lindholm’s future at center or wing? The players brought in by the Hurricanes during the offseason will hint at what second-year GM Ron Francis has planned for the short and long-term future of the team.
Carolina has done a good job adding young talent to its defensive pool. High draft picks like Fleury and Ryan Murphy should play a role in the future, while mid-round picks such as Carrick, Pesce and Slavin are all on course to be future NHLers. Roland McKeown, acquired from the Kings at the trade deadline, could be a future shutdown defender.
The Hurricanes are set in goal for this season with both Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin on the last year of their contracts, and they think they have a future starter in Nedeljkovic.
Carolina also has options at center ice, with Victor Rask, Lindholm, and both Staals all capable of being top-three centers, and prospects like Clark Bishop, Brody Sutter and Lucas Wallmark looking like future contributors.
Carolina has one of the league’s youngest lineups, with players like Faulk, Lindholm, Rask, and Skinner all playing significant roles with the NHL team. But the quick promotion of those players has left the cupboard somewhat bare in the minor league ranks. That is most evident at forward, where Carolina has struggled to develop wingers.
The Hurricanes have high hopes for two undersized left wings—the plays-bigger-than-he-is McGinn and the undrafted dynamo Tolchinksy. But other than Lindholm and Skinner, who each spent little or no time in the development funnel, Carolina has been unable to groom the kind of talent that perennial contenders like Los Angeles and Chicago seem to produce year after year.
In the past, the Hurricanes had three well-known draft tendencies:
• Rarely using a first-round pick on a defenseman
• Seldomly selecting a QMJHL prospect
• Frequently drafting Plymouth Whalers alumni
For various reasons, the team’s predisposition to all of those things has disappeared. For one, long-time GM Jim Rutherford exited following the 2013-14 season, making way for Francis. Francis showed no reluctance to draft a defenseman last year, picking Fleury seventh overall, and may do the same this year if Hanifin is available at No. 5. Francis also took a player from the QMJHL in last year’s fifth round, Bishop.
In January of the following year, the Hurricanes’ long relationship with Plymouth (which is owned by Carolina owner Peter Karmanos) ended when the team was sold and a moved planned to Flint, Michigan.
So what will Francis & Co. do at this year’s draft? Francis has made it clear that one attribute alone— size, speed, skill, etc.—will not dictate who the team selects. But the scouting department, led by Tony MacDonald, is still mostly intact, so one can expect a few things.
The Hurricanes have chosen multiple OHL players in each of the last five drafts, including three last summer. Carolina has also often scoured the college ranks for defensemen, finding Faulk, Pesce, Slavin and Danny Biega all as NCAA players or commitments.
After stockpiling Finns on the NHL roster for a few years, the team has looked to that country’s western neighbour, Sweden, and hit the mark with Rask, a 2011 second rounder, and Lindholm (fifth overall in 2013). The team also has Erik Karlsson (fourth round in 2012) and most recently Wallmark, who was selected by Carolina in the fourth round last summer.
Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results
5. Noah Hanifin, D, Boston College (Hockey East)
With Strome and Marner off the board, the decision is pretty easy for Carolina: add to their defensive stockpile. Hanifin has long been considered the best defensive prospect in this draft, so getting him at No. 5 is a coup for Carolina. At 6’3 and 203 pounds, Hanifin has the size to play in the NHL today. When you add in his all-situations skillset to the mix, Carolina will have a potential top pairing partner for Faulk for a long time.
Not only does Carolina get another piece for its future, but it may be able to count on Hanifin to contribute to its top six from day one, easing the pressure on Francis to add multiple long term, high-priced defensemen in the offseason. It’s a slam dunk pick for Carolina: they not only draft the best available player, but they potentially address their biggest concern at the NHL level.