Hurricanes 2006 draft preview

By Glen Jackson

Hurricanes Top 10 Prospects

1.Jack Johnson, D
2.Cam Ward, G
3.Andrew Ladd, LW
4.Anton Babchuk, D
5.Kevin Nastiuk, G
6.Justin Peters, G
7.Casey Borer, D
8.Brett Carson, D
9.Chad LaRose, RW
10.Nate Hagemo, D

Team Needs

With seemingly minor roster adjustments the Hurricanes were suddenly one of the best teams in the NHL in 2005-06, going from 22nd best in the league before the lockout to third best this regular season, and so it’s a challenge to poke too many holes in the roster, especially after they became Stanley Cup champions.

There will potentially be some free agent departures at forward such as Mark Recchi and Doug Weight, who the ‘Canes traded for late in the season as well as their first and fourth round picks in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, but much of the core of this championship team will be in place again next season. There are also a number of restricted free agents who will need new contracts including Eric Staal, Justin Williams and Erik Cole, who suffered a serious vertebrae injury in March but will be back for next season after missing all but the final two games of the playoffs.

On defense, it appears that Rutherford intends to bring Jack Johnson and Anton Babchuk into the fold next season, meaning expensive deadweight like Oleg Tverdovsky, who has two years and $5 million remaining on his contract, might need to be unloaded somehow. However, 37 -year-old Glen Wesley might also finally retire and rest his aching body after 18 seasons in the NHL and both Frantisek Kaberle and Niclas Wallin will need new contracts to remain in Carolina, so Tverdovksy might get to stick around despite being a healthy scratch through much of the playoffs.

In goal, Cam Ward appears to have secured the starting job for 2006-07 even earlier than Jim Rutherford would have hoped. Martin Gerber is a free agent but it seems doubtful that he or the ‘Canes would be overly interested in continuing their association after this year’s postseason, but someone reliable will be required to share the nets with Ward next season.

Organizational Strengths

As always, the Hurricanes have better goaltending depth in the system than most other organizations. Ward is all but officially graduated, and after Ward the pipeline continues with Kevin Nastiuk and Craig Kowalski, who both split time this season between the Lowell Lock Monsters and Florida Everblades. Kowalski is a free agent, but the ‘Canes also promoted him to their third goalie for the Stanley Cup playoffs and he practiced with the team throughout. Jim Rutherford recently added two more netminders into the pro mix when they signed Daniel Manzato for two years and Justin Peters to a three-year contract. With shared affiliations at both the AHL and ECHL levels, the nets will be overflowing for Carolina again and that has meant loaning goaltenders to other ECHL teams in the past. However, Manzato’s contract allows the Fribourg, Switzerland native to be assigned to Basel of the Swiss league in 2006-07 so he’ll most likely remain in Europe for the time being unless he shines in training camp. Peters will likely begin his climb to the NHL with one ECHL club or another.

The other primary strength for the ‘Canes is on defense. Johnson improved the overall strength of the system and there are high hopes for the defenseman who spent 2005-06 with the Michigan Wolverines. The remaining group of blueliners is strong too and includes Babchuk, Casey Borer, Brett Carson (who was recently signed by the ‘Canes for three years) and Nate Hagemo, who all have at least some NHL potential. Babchuk appears ready to start in the NHL next season and has 44 career games under his belt.

Organizational Weaknesses

The depth of the ‘Canes system is roughly the equivalent of a rain puddle. It’s lacking in high quality depth outside of goaltending and the reason for this is two-pronged.

One is that the team does not have the best draft track record. The system has risen on the Hockey’s Future organizational rankings thanks mostly to three consecutive top-four draft picks which provided the organization with a blue chipper in Johnson and a very good prospect in Andrew Ladd, as well as Staal who stepped directly into the NHL. After the first or second round there haven’t been too many high potential picks.

The other reason is that due to financial issues the club had to let a number of its bubble prospects go in the last few years both due to signing costs as well as limited minor league affiliations.

Therefore decent pro picks of any position will be an improvement, but the system’s biggest weakness is at the forward position for both quantity and quality.

Draft Tendencies

Jim Rutherford is a big believer in keeping the goaltending shelves fully stocked so it’s never a surprise to see the ‘Canes select one or two goalies in a draft. In 2005 they bucked the trend and didn’t pick up any new goalies so expect at least one to be picked in 2006, even if it’s very late.

The Hurricanes always have a Plymouth Whaler (OHL) player or two in mind for the draft if they can pick them up at an appropriate time. This season that might end up being John Armstrong, Tom Sestito or Andrew Fournier, but last year they picked only Ondrej Otcenas (CAR) in the fourth round after he had been taken by the Whalers in the CHL Import Draft and he had a disappointing rookie season in the OHL.

There is a trend in their selections dating back to 1997 when the team moved to Carolina to take North American players (86.5%) over Europeans (13.5%), and expect that to continue or increase with the new CBA. They favor the CHL over NCAA (55.5% vs. 22% of overall), with most selections coming from the OHL with 30% of all Hurricanes picks.

Currently without a first round draft pick the ‘Canes will likely select players of good size for defense or strong skating with some skill on offense and see if they can develop into pro-caliber players over the next few years.

Hockey’s Future mock draft result: No pick.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.