Fun Day Draft Day: An Amateur’s Shot At The Hurricanes 2017 Draft

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The day is nigh…all the research is complete….last minute transactions are in the bag. General Manager Ron Francis has handed over the drafting baton to the hero of Mayberry, hoping for some draft day magic. Barney Fife readily takes up this challenge and jumps right in, game-plan in hand.

As of this morning the Carolina Hurricanes have 8 draft picks:

#12 – Round 1
#42 – Round 2
#52 – Round 2
#67 – Round 3
#73 – Round 3
#104 – Round 4
#166 – Round 6
#197 – Round 7

While Ron Francis might be conservative, Barney Fife is the furtherest thing from it. Expect lots of fireworks over the 2017 Entry Draft weekend.

As far as organizational need is concerned, the last couple of drafts have attempted to address most of the holes. While Nicolas Roy shows promise as the big-bodied centerman, it would be a stretch to assume that he’s going to end up as a top line guy. Peters and Francis may hope that Sebastian Aho resurrects his international success in the middle, but he’s not really built for the role…at least, not yet. Other long-shots such as Hudson Elynuik and David Cotton are progressing nicely through the system, but neither projects to be a #1C. The other Finns often mentioned, Aleksi Saarela and Janne Kuokkanen, still have much to prove. So for the Canes, that elusive #1 pivot is still at, or near, the top of the shopping list.

The other glaring deficiency in the prospect pool is at the right wing position. The only guys in the system that fit that bill are Julien Gauthier and Spencer Smallman. While both are attractive and interesting options, the organization still needs more depth. Similarly, again on the right side, Carolina needs a bit more back-end talent. Yes, the defensive pool is quite deep, but primarily on the left side. Despite the acquisition of Trevor Van Riemsdyk, Roland McKeown remains the only true potential NHL RHD in the system…and he’s no sure thing. While Josh Wesley and Tyler Ganly may someday advance to being fringe NHL guys, that is both unlikely and something the team shouldn’t depend on.

Other needs include continuing to build out the pool of netminders and finding more pure shooters. Goalies are a strange bunch and their development tends to resemble pure voodoo more than anything. Even with the erratic development of Alex Nedeljkovic and the solid but unspectacular showing of Daniel Altshuller, the team should be buoyed by Callum Booth’s advancing development. Jeremy Helvig and Jack LaFontaine round out a group of promising young goalie prospects. With this in mind, as well as the signing of Scott Darling, goaltending is not as immediate of a need. Yet, if there’s somebody available that you like, don’t hesitate to pick him. There are a few “snipers” in the system, the aforementioned Gauthier, Saarela, and Kuokkanen all have the skill to be pure scorers. To a lesser extent Valentin Zykov and Sergei Tolchinsky might fit the bill as well. However, it feels like a struggle to identify these guys….which means there’s less there than necessary.

Knowing these needs will help organize the draft day thinking. “Best player available” remains a major factor, but as the depth in the system grows, the Hurricanes will be focusing on “best player available, in the area of greatest need”. Could they use a true power forward who plays either wing? Certainly. All of these things will weigh into the selection process.

Without further ado, let the games begin:

Round 1

As Commissioner Gary Bettman saunters up to the podium, of course the crowd boos raucously. Even before the 1st pick of the first round is made, something is amiss:

“We have a trade to announce. The Carolina Hurricanes have traded the #12 pick and pick #42 to the St. Louis Blues for picks #20, #27, and pick #51.”

Gasps, murmurs, and audible cursing ensues. The move takes many by surprise, but for draft aficionados, it seems pretty logical. Pundits and scouts alike have labeled this draft class as “weaker at the top”, “difficult to rank”, but “fairly deep after the top 10”. The Hurricanes hope to take advantage of these characteristics. Many in St. Louis are hoping for a solid defender, specifically Juuso Valimaki, who will likely be there at #12. This trade works for both teams.

When pick #20 comes around, the prospects that project to be true #1 centers are likely gone. It would probably be too much to hope that Elias Petersson is there at this point in the 1st round. Perhaps Lias Andersson is still there, but is he really a #1. Maybe Kristian Vesalainen’s attraction as a skilled power forward didn’t sway as many scouts as some thought. Will the projectable Ryan Poehling still be on the board? Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, it is unlikely that any these names haven’t already been called. The dynamic but diminutive Kailer Yamamoto is probably still on the board. Some might call it a reach, but the high-potential, hulking Isaac Ratcliffe should still be an option. A few outstanding defenders, Conor Timmons, Urho Vaakanainen, or even Cal Foote, could still be options.

However, Ron Francis has whispered a name into Barney’s receptive ear. Late in the Spring, a minor rumor surfaced that there was an under-appreciated centerman on the London Knights squad and he had caught Ronnie’s imagination. No, he wasn’t the Matchbox 20 singer/songwriter, this was a younger Robert Thomas who continually impressed scouts throughout the season. He also impressed his coach, playing in nearly all situations. With Dale Hunter that’s no easy task. The scouting staff probably saw quite a bit of Thomas as they were monitoring Kuokkanen’s progress, especially considering Thomas was centering Kuokkanen by season’s end. Thomas is a very smart, highly skilled pivot who has more passing acumen than most. While he may not currently project to be a top line center, he continuously impressed and improved over the course of the season. Who’s to say if that progression won’t continue. At the very least he’s got 2nd line center upside.

With the 20th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, the Carolina Hurricanes select center, Robert Thomas from the London Knights.

The Canes will be up again shortly after this selection, but, following pick #26….

“Here’s Gary Bettman striding up to the podium once again”.

“We’ve got another trade to announce, again involving Carolina. The Hurricanes have traded the 27th pick and the 104th pick in the 2017 Draft along with Aleksi Saarela to the Edmonton Oilers for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the 84th pick in this years draft. Edmonton, you’re on the clock.”

This move elicits a much greater hubbub. The first overall selection of the 2011 draft gets traded for a late first round pick, a middle rounder, and a prospect. Many Oiler fans are in an uproar; this was not the return they expected for their former golden child. Heck, most thought that he wouldn’t be moved, once Eberle had been traded. But the Edmonton brass realized that the pending Draisaitl and McDavid negotiations were going to be difficult to manage. Clearly they were receptive to an offer. Let’s face it, RNH hadn’t really lived up to his first overall billing. With only one 20 goal season under his belt, he was now two years removed from his last 50 point campaign. The 1st round pick would yield a solid player and Aleksi Saarela is a cost-controlled player who projects to be a skilled scorer in the NHL…maybe even as soon as next season. Again, this appears to be fair to both teams.

For the Canes’ part, they get a top 6 pivot, probably one that projects to center Jeff Skinner on the Hurricanes’ first line. Add in Nugent-Hopkins’ defensive prowess and Carolina has the makings of a very good top trio. Getting a 3rd rounder back is a bonus, but one that realistically balances the RNH hype with actual production. All in all the Hurricanes walk away from the first round with two excellent assets. One a potential future top 6-er and the other, the likely #1 centerman. Best of all, they still have 5 remaining picks in the top 100 (#51, #52, #67, #73, and #84).

Round 2

Clearly the crowd at the United Center is all abuzz about the normally staid Carolina Hurricanes and their dramatic moves in the first round of this year’s draft. It seems so out of character, but then again, it’s Barney Fife that’s in charge. As Saturday dawns, the collective brain trusts are gathered around their draft tables having had the evening to digest the previous night’s activity.

The Colorado Avalanche lead off the festivities selecting….

As pick number 51 comes around many of the bigger bodies that might have been available are long gone. Holding on to the next two picks, the Hurricanes still have a number of skilled players as options. Many had their eye on the American Scott Reedy. Some liked Ostap Safin and his blend of size and skill. Had the Canes not traded #42, they might have had a shot at the speedy Filip Chytil. Yet, as in the 1st round, these prospects are all likely to have been selected. There is, however, a highly skilled northern European that the team has its eye on. His name is Joni Ikonen. Speaking of speed, this exciting right-shot center from Finland is silky smooth. Despite his relative slightness, Ikonen isn’t afraid to initiate contact. His edge work is excellent with an ability to change both direction and speed, usually fooling all comers. Equally good at both shooting and passing, Joni’s unpredictability with the puck adds to his value. There’s a good chance that the Canes view him as a RW long term.

From Finland by way of Frolunda of the Swedish league, the Carolina Hurricanes select center, Joni Ikonen, with the 51st pick of the draft.

With pick number 52, the Hurricanes are either fortunate to see Jonah Gadjovich still on the board or they are making something of a reach. It all depends on the scouts that you talk to. The hard-working, big bodied, left wing is a straight-up goal scorer, even with his end of season tail-spin. Early in this season, many scouts questioned his skating. However, by the end of the year, those questions mostly disappeared. Through hard work and determination, Gadjovich opened many eyes. He’s a great net-front guy with a fantastic shot. His size makes him great on the puck and he’s a pretty dogged defender too. Perhaps his finest trait is his ability to understand what needs to get done or what he needs to do. Jonah will work at it until it gets done. His improved skating is but one example of that. Oh, and he potted 46 goals this season.

At #52, the Hurricanes draft left wing from the Owen Sound Attack, Jonah Gadjovich.

The Hurricanes come out of Round 2 with a highly skilled speedster that may be able to address the organizational dearth at right wing and a bigger body who might work into a true power forward. So far, the offense has had a good weekend.

Round 3

Having picked up some skill, some size, and a high end NHL player, the defense is likely next in line for the Hurricanes’ brain trust. This, of course, depends on who might be on the board. Guys like Heiskanen, Makar, Liljegren, Foote, and Valimaki are all long gone. Now is the time when Carolina’s historic skill, uncovering the hidden gem (see Pesce, Brett), needs to surface. Despite a league-wide perception, there’s work to do on the back end.

As the 3rd round comes into play, those big name defenders are gone. Moreover, the added value placed on right shot defensemen may have depleted options even further. While he very well might not be on the board, given the team needs of the other franchises, Carolina dips into the nepotism bucket yet again with Haydn Fleury’s younger brother, Cale Fleury. Ranked anywhere from early in the 2nd round to the middle of the 4th round, it is likely the younger Fleury will be there at #67. With strong offensive instincts, Cale moves the puck well through both the pass and on the rush. He’s got soft hands and a heavy, accurate shot. Playing for a bad Kootenay team he demonstrated excellent leadership skills and wore the “C” this season. Given how bad the team was, it is easy to understand his -61 plus/minus. Scouts who actually watched him play praised his overall defensive play where he was both fast and played with a physical edge. And, of course, he brings that good right shot to the table…a table the Hurricanes need to feed from.

At selection #67, the Carolina Hurricanes take Cale Fleury, defenseman from the Kootenay Ice.

Somewhat surprised to see the depth of talent remaining on the board, the Canes return again to the offensive side of the puck with pick #73. Relatively unknown until this Spring’s World Juniors, the Dane, Jonas Rondbjerg surfaced as something of a force. He essentially carried the surprising Denmark squad. His puck protection and work down low on the cycle was impressive. He demonstrated very good stick work and when he had the puck, good things tended to happen. Playing most of the year in the lower Swedish leagues, he has begun to fill out. He thinks the game well and at a high speed. Hopefully, he’ll come over to North America next Fall. If he doesn’t, he’ll still be well served as he’s slated to move up to a higher level league in Sweden.

With the 73rd pick of the 2017 draft, from Denmark, the Hurricanes select right wing, Jonas Rondbjerg.

The Rondbjerg selection gave the Canes 5 solid forwards in the 2017 draft. It is once again time to head back to the blueline. A number of good defensemen are still on the board. While many liked Cam Crotty’s game last season, this season it seemed to tail off. Reilly Walsh’s size and associated defensive play raise questions. But the solid, steady, smooth-skating Tommy Miller jumps out, even if it might be a bit of a reach at #84. Miller is off to Michigan State in the Fall. Probably more in the mold of defensive defensemen, Miller’s skating will help him move the puck out of the zone quickly and effectively. He’s great with his positioning and has outstanding stick work. With his size, playing the body is another effective part of his game. Even though he’s a right shot defenseman, he’s more destined for a bottom pairing role unless he shows great offensive progression in college. For now, however, he provides solid overall potential the Canes like.

The Carolina Hurricanes select Tommy Miller, defenseman, with the 84th pick of the 2017 draft.

Round 6

After sitting quietly for a couple of rounds, the 6th round brings the next pick for Hurricanes’ ace draft guru, Barney Fife. So far, Ron Francis has been pleased with what he’s seen, but these last couple of selections could put the icing on top of the weekend’s efforts.

Even though the draft has proven to be fairly deep in the mid-rounds, these last few selections are equal exercises of deep research and pure “feel”. The next selection is no different. Still looking at defenders, the 2nd year eligible Nick Perbix jumps off the page. At 6’4″ and nearly 200 pounds, Perbix has all the size you’d want. Last year he went undrafted, mostly because of significant skating concerns. According to the scouts that viewed him, Perbix has made “tremendous strides” in both his footwork and overall mobility. Coupled with exceptional positioning and a great mind for the game, Nick anticipates well and accurately. In fact there were some contests where Perbix effectively held Casey Mittlestadt in check. He’ not one dimensional either. The Minnesota high-schooler’s improved footwork has opened up many more scoring chances as evidenced by his jump from 3 to 10 goals and 13 to 40 points. That accurate, hard shot has proven quite effective.

The Carolina Hurricanes select, from Elk River High School, defenseman, Nick Perbix at #166.

Round 7

When it comes to the last round in any draft, it really is the proverbial crap shoot. Still those “diamonds in the rough” are there to be found. Patric Hornqvist, this year’s Stanley Cup hero, was a 7th round selection. The Hurricanes’ own, constantly improving, Steve Lorentz was a 7th rounder as well. He’s destined for Charlotte this Fall. So lightning can strike and miracles can happen….or hard work can uncover those surprises we all hope for.

With the last pick, the Hurricanes look to forward once again. There was some thought that a netminder might be in order, but after about the 5th round or so, there wasn’t really anything impressive left on the board (originally, this author had selected Dayton Rasmussen in the 5th round). However, an interesting name with an interesting background did pop up. The rarely mentioned Canadian school, St. Andrews College (essentially a high school), has produced another popular Hurricanes’ prospect, Warren Foegele. Another high scoring forward from there is Corey Andonovski. This right wing was 3rd in the CAHS in scoring last season potting 32 goals and 72 points. Destined for the Chilliwack Chiefs of the BCHL, Andonovski will then have plenty of time to hone his game when he attends Princeton the following season. The Hurricanes are certainly hoping that St. Andrews’ lightning can strike yet again.

With their selection at number 197, Carolina selects Corey Andonovski, right wing out of St. Andrews College.

Roundup

With the draft now behind us, let’s recap where the Canes ended up. In the first round, following a flurry of transactions, the Hurricanes selected centerman Robert Thomas from Kingston and traded for centerman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from the Oilers. The next round yielded the skilled and speedy right shot Finnish pivot, Joni Ikonen. Big, smart, and with a great shot, pick #52 gave us Jonah Gadjovich. The selections of the 3rd round sandwiched the surprising forward, Jonas Rondbjerg, between two right shot defensemen, Cale Fleury and Tommy Miller. Big and smart, Nick Perbix, another right shot defender, was selected as an overager heading off to the NCAA. Finally, coming from the same background as Warren Foegele, Corey Andonovski could be another late round steal for the Hurricanes.

Ending up with 5 forward prospects, 3 defensemen, and one top 6 NHL forward, the Hurricanes should be very happy with the results of their stand-in GM for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

 

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