Carolina Hurricanes 2011 draft preview

By Cory Lavalette

Photo: Mark McNeill is a determined athlete and versatile player, able to play more than one forward position and in many different situations. (Photo courtesy of WHL)

Top 10 prospects:

1. Zac Dalpe, C
2. Zach Boychuk, C
3. Justin Faulk, D
4. Brian Dumoulin, D
5. Drayson Bowman, LW
6. Riley Nash, C
7. Bobby Sanguinetti, D
8. Oskar Osala, LW
9. Justin Peters, G
10. Chris Terry, LW

After arguably landing the biggest catch in the 2010 draft by selecting Calder Trophy finalist Jeff Skinner seventh, the Carolina Hurricanes will again select in the top half of the draft, choosing 12th overall. The Canes hold six picks heading in to the draft, having traded their fifth-round pick to Florida in the deadline deal that brought Cory Stillman back to Raleigh. That pick has since been sent to Winnipeg (then Atlanta).

Team Needs

The Hurricanes have managed to strike a good balance of forwards, defense and goaltending in their system. But with several of their top forward prospects poised to make the leap to the NHL, Carolina will likely focus on rebuilding up front and adding a couple defensemen. With Skinner jumping directly to the NHL last season and Dalpe, Boychuk and Bowman all in line to get shots in Raleigh, Carolina lacks top-end forward depth. Throw in Oskar Osala‘s decision to sign in the KHL next season, and the Hurricanes have to add more forwards to the mix.

With the center position pretty stocked with Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter in the team’s long-term plans, the Canes might look to a winger – or center who is versatile enough to play wing – with their top pick, especially if he can bring some power forward attributes or top-notch passing skills to Carolina’s top-six down the road.

Organizational Strengths

The Hurricanes think they have NHL-ready forwards that can contribute as soon as next season, plus have seemingly struck gold with overachieving later-round picks like Chris Terry and Justin Shugg. But perhaps most impressive is the group of defensive prospects they’ve accumulated. Second-round picks Brian Dumoulin and Justin Faulk look like sure-fire NHLers, while they have raw, but talented, blueliners Mark Alt and Austin Levi progressing into possible great finds. Throw in Michal Jordan, who had a solid first season in the AHL with Charlotte, Harvard standout Danny Biega, and several others, and Carolina has plenty to be excited about on the back end.

Organizational Weaknesses

Carolina’s biggest issue is a lack of younger forward prospects to replace those who are ready or close to making the jump to the NHL. Shugg was the team’s only forward prospect to play major junior this past season, and he will likely begin his professional career in 2011-12. So the team needs an influx of young forwards to become the next wave of promotable players.

Goalie Justin Peters, who backed up Cam Ward in Carolina last season, is poised to move back to the AHL to compete with Mike Murphy for the top spot in Charlotte, so Justin Pogge will not likely be re-signed. The team’s 2010 seventh-round pick, Denmark‘s Frederik Andersen, will play in the Swedish Elite League next season after playing his entire career in his home country. Carolina could look to add another goaltender for depth, but it’s not a necessity.

Draft Tendencies

GM Jim Rutherford’s draft philosophy is quite clear in both words and action: the team prefers not to use their first-round pick on a defenseman unless they feel he can contribute almost immediately. Furthermore, the team has shied away from using their early selections on Europeans (none selected in the first two rounds in more than a decade) and has had almost no success with players from the QMJHL, with 2009 first-rounder Philippe Paradis (CHI) – who was chosen 27th overall yet dealt less than six months after he was drafted – the most recent example.

Carolina has also made it recent practice to use picks on collegiate or college-bound defensemen. In each of the past two drafts and three of the last five, Carolina has used their second-round pick on a college rearguard and hit the mark all three times, having chosen Faulk, Dumoulin and Jamie McBain in 2010, 2009 and 2006, respectively. The Canes are also known for taking their chances with players from the Plymouth Whalers, an OHL team owned by Carolina CEO Peter Karmanos Jr.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:

No. 12: Mark McNeill, C

McNeill is a hard-working and motivated player who thinks team before self. His versatility to play center or wing in all situations is something Carolina covets (see Jussi Jokinen), and he’s a known workout warrior – an attribute the Hurricanes admire in their players. He adds much-needed size to the forward ranks and is also a smart player that isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas.