Hurricanes 2000 draft evaluation

By Glen Jackson

The Carolina Hurricanes ended up pulling the trigger on one of the bigger trades on draft day in Calgary in 2000 when they acquired Sandis Ozolinsh and a second round pick from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Nolan Pratt, their first (14th overall) and second round (47th overall) picks as well as the second round pick (63rd overall) that had been acquired from Philadelphia. A proven offensive defenseman secured at the expense of a few high round picks, the ‘Canes headed into the draft hoping to find more.

As was the case with the 1999 draft, their selections of Plymouth Whalers players left something to be desired. The Whalers alumni who have made a name for themselves in the NHL have eluded the ‘Canes through the draft, though Justin Williams was acquired via trade January 20, 2004. Meanwhile they have selected plenty of NHL busts from their ownership group’s OHL franchise.

The eight Hurricanes picks from 2000 have played a total of 309 NHL games, for an average of 38 per pick. This is a respectable mark, but one was an overage pick out of it (Niclas Wallin, 25 at the time of the draft). Even if they are able to coax Magnus Kahnberg over from Europe and into a Hurricanes uniform, the class was not the strongest, but without a first round pick that year it would have been difficult to do much better.

The Hurricanes have always shown a family approach to running an organization both literally (Assistant GM Jason Karmanos is principal owner Peter Karmanos Jr.’s youngest son) and figuratively (virtually every draft year the team selects players from another organization owned by Karmanos Jr., the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers). And so, it comes as little surprise that after the wait until the second round when the pick they acquired from the Avalanche in the Ozolinsh trade came up, the ‘Canes would select another in a long list of Plymouth Whalers drafted in franchise history.

Tomas Kurka, LW – 2nd round, 32nd overall (OHL – Plymouth)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 17

Kurka had just finished a good season for the Plymouth Whalers in 1999-00 in which he’d had 64 points in 64 games, good enough for fifth in team scoring behind the likes of Justin Williams and Stephen Weiss. It was Kurka’s rookie campaign in the OHL after coming over from the Czech Republic to play. He had one more season with Plymouth and finished his OHL career just shy of an average of one point per game.

Kurka is small at 5’11, 190 lbs, but his speed and skill had given the ‘Canes hope that he could be a second line winger. He was also praised for being responsible in his own end and the ‘Canes signed Kurka to a contract and assigned him to the AHL’s Lowell Lock Monsters.

As a pro rookie he managed 13 goals and 15 assists in 71 games in the 2001-02 regular season and he added a goal and an assist in five games in the playoffs. In 2002-03 he played 61 games with the Lock Monsters (17 goals, 12 assists), but he also got his first crack at the NHL.

Kurka got off to a good start with the Hurricanes, scoring a goal in his first NHL game, but after 14 games he finished with only two goals and had three helpers. The speedy winger with good skills would get another shot at the NHL the following season but it was for only three games and with limited ice time his only contribution was three shots on goal. Kurka’s AHL goal scoring total of six in 2003-04 was also less than inspiring.

That was why, on July 1, 2004, the Hurricanes allowed Kurka, along with a number of other former prospects, to become Unrestricted Free Agents in what was a mini house cleaning measure for a financially limited organization heading towards an impending NHL lockout.

Kurka returned home to play for Litonov of the Czech league where he remained for 29 games, scoring a goal and five assists, before the AHL’s Providence Bruins came calling, signing the 23-year-old for the remainder of the 2004-05 season. He scored eight goals and added three assists in 40 games for the Bruins in the regular season, and added five points (4 goals) in 11 playoff games.

Although not currently a prospect within any NHL team’s system, there is a remote chance he might get another chance when the NHL resumes, but at this point he must be considered a bust as far as the NHL goes.

Ryan Bayda, LW – 3rd round, 80th overall (WCHA – U. of North Dakota)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL Games Played: 69

In 1999-00 Bayda had an excellent freshman year at the University of North Dakota when he scored 17 goals and 23 assists in 44 games and was named to the WCHA All-Rookie team. The Hurricanes elected to take the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native 80th overall and following that Bayda went on to round out an excellent college career, amassing 146 points in 127 games.

His final season in college was 2001-02 and as soon as he was done there ‘Canes signed him and shipped him to finish the season with the Lowell Lock Monsters. He played three regular season games, scoring a goal and an assist, as well as five playoff games in which he scored three goals. He began the 2002-03 season with Lowell after nearly making the ‘Canes out of camp, and continued to score well enough that the Hurricanes gave him the call up and he played his first NHL game on February 14, 2002. In total, the hard working winger with adequate skating and shooting ability played 25 games with the ‘Canes in 2002-03 and scored four goals along with ten assists.

Bayda’s 2003-04 season was split almost evenly between the AHL (34 games with the Lock Monsters, 44 with the Hurricanes), but while he continued to produce with Lowell, in the NHL he only managed three goals and three assists, or less than half the points in almost double the number of games from the season before.

The 2004-05 season was his last under the initial contract with the ‘Canes and he scored only 17 goals and 23 assists in all 80 games for the Lock Monsters, which placed him sixth in team scoring. Bayda played in nine of the Monsters’ 11 playoff games and scored three goals and three assists which was, again, sixth in team scoring.

It will be interesting to see what the ‘Canes decide to do with Bayda, who is smaller than Kurka and also an NHL bust at this point, but it might seem premature to walk away from the 24-year-old who showed such promise in his rookie year.

Niclas Wallin, D – 4th round, 97th overall (SEL – Brynas Gavle)
Status: NHL player
NHL Games Played: 223

Wallin spent four years in the Swedish Elite League as a reliable defensive defensemen before being drafted by the Hurricanes at 25 years of age. Wallin began 2000-01 with the Hurricanes before being assigned to injured reserve, and then the Cincinnati Cyclones of the IHL. In total Wallin was twice assigned to the Hurricanes’ IHL affiliate and played a total of eight games while he finished with 37 games for the Hurricanes and had two goals and three assists.

Over the next three seasons Wallin played at least 52 games with the ‘Canes each year including his 23 playoff games in 2001-02 in which he scored two goals and an assist. The Hurricanes were one of three teams that found an NHL-caliber defenseman in an overage European at the 2000 Entry Draft (Los Angeles with another fourth rounder, Lubomir Visnovsky, and Minnesota with Lubomir Sekeras in the eighth round are the others).

Prior to the lockout, in July, 2004, the Hurricanes signed the Boden, Sweden native to a two-year contract. Wallin spent 2004-05 back in the SEL with Lulea along with Hurricanes teammate Justin Williams. He had six goals and seven assists in 39 games.

Jared Newman, D – 4th round, 110th overall (OHL – Plymouth)
Status: NHL bust

NHL Games Played: 0

After being drafted, Newman, a defensive defenseman, played two more seasons for the Plymouth Whalers with his best offensive numbers coming in 2001-02 when he had two goals and 14 assists in 60 games.

Durability has been a concern through his entire hockey career and as a pro the 2003-04 season was his best as far as games played with 42. In 2004-05 Newman only played in 16 games for the Florida Everblades. His last game fell on January 7th, after which he was placed on the 7-day injured reserve before being moved to the 30-day IR after because of concussion symptoms. The 23-year-old hasn’t played in another game since, including the ‘Blades lengthy playoff run which sees them currently Trenton Titans in the Kelly Cup Finals.

Although technically still a prospect in the Hurricanes’ system, it looks very unlikely that Newman will ever play in the NHL.

J.D. Forrest, D – 6th round, 181st overall (US National U-18)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Even after their first round selection of David Tanabe in 1999 and the acquisition of Ozolinsh in a trade the day before, the ‘Canes went looking for more offense from the blueline on the second day of the draft. They selected Forrest, a native of Auburn, New York, with their sixth round selection after his three years spent with the U.S. National Development Program.

Following the draft the offensive defenseman headed off to Boston College where he played for four seasons. His senior year was his least productive and the ‘Canes let Forrest slip away to Finland where he played in 2004-05 for SaiPa. Forrest got off to a quick start, scoring five goals and four assists in his first 20 games, but by season’s end he added only two goals and eight more assists in his final 33 games.

Forrest had been recognized by the ‘Canes for his excellent puck handling, passing, and offensive awareness, but at 5’9, 170 lbs his lack of size has been a very real concern, especially when it comes to playing in North America as a pro.

Magnus Kahnberg, LW – 7th round, 212th overall (SEL – Frolunda)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL Games played: 0

Kahnberg could potentially be one of the Hurricanes’ best late round selections if, of course, they can get him into a ‘Canes uniform one day.

The 25-year-old has been a rising star in the Swedish Elite League, especially in 2003-04 when he scored 33 goals and added 16 assists in 50 games. His numbers dropped off significantly in 2004-05, however, with only 15 goals and 8 assists, but some of the dip can be attributed to NHL’ers making the SEL a bit more competitive or taking some of his ice time (i.e. P.J. Axelsson) in Frolunda, where he has played full-time for five seasons. Statistics do not tell the entire story though, and Kahnberg has continue to score highlight reel goals with the type of offensive skill that the Hurricanes are in need of.

Kahnberg just finished his second World Championships with the Swedish senior team. Both years he played seven of the nine games for Sweden. In 2005 he had two goals and was a -3, while in 2004 he had a goal and an assist with a +2 rating.

Although 2004-05 was somewhat of a step back for Kahnberg, it certainly appears that he is ready to test the NHL waters. What happens will depend on the landscape that the new CBA will create, Kahnberg’s own priorities for his hockey career, and, of course, reaching a contract with the Hurricanes.

Craig Kowalski, G – 8th round, 235th overall (NAHL – Compuware)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

What has become another good late round pick, the Hurricanes picked Kowalski up from Compuware, a Detroit youth hockey program that falls under the ownership of Karmanos and company. In this instance, giving a young player in the same hockey “family” a chance has produced a decent prospect for the Hurricanes, especially as far as eighth round picks go.

After three good seasons with Northern Michigan University, Kowalski was signed by the Hurricanes and assigned to the Florida Everblades for 2004-05. The rookie began the year well and he was beginning to edge fellow Hurricane prospect Rob Zepp as the team’s go-to goaltender when groin troubles surfaced which caused Kowalski to miss most of the final three months of the regular season. He finished with a 13-6-6 record along with a 2.87 goals against average and .906 save percentage.

Goaltender Tyler MacKay began the playoffs for the Everblades but Head Coach Gerry Fleming began to give Kowalski some games early on. Kowalski has played in six playoff games and is 3-0-0 with a goals against average of 3.27 along with a .870 save percentage. His numbers were better before the first game of the Kelly Cup finals when Kowalski relieved MacKay but still surrendered four goals to the Trenton Titans over a little more than two periods of play.

The question on Kowalski is how significantly the groin troubles that plagued his senior year of college and then resurfaced again with the Everblades have affected his first pro season. A healthy season is what he needs next fall.

Troy Ferguson, F – 9th round, 276th overall (CCHA – Michigan State)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

With their last pick of the 2000 draft the Hurricanes picked Troy Ferguson, a low-scoring forward from Michigan State (41 points in 161 games). Ferguson is the son of the man behind the draft day decisions for the Hurricanes, Director of Amateur Scouting Sheldon Ferguson.

However, the ninth round is the time of longshots and frequent busts and Ferguson fell into the latter group. When college finished in 2002-03 he played six games for the Lock Monsters and scored a goal, but his hockey career ended there. Ferguson elected to pursue a medical degree and did not return to hockey.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.