Futility, Confusion, and Some Rare Luck – A Brief History of Carolina Hurricanes at the Draft

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To quote the Talking Heads, “How did I get here?”.

Seeing this youthful Carolina Hurricanes team play an exciting and successful brand of hockey stands in stark contrast to where the team stood just a few short years ago. At that time, the highlights of our prospect pool were Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe, Jamie McBain, and Drayson Bowman. Mike Murphy was the hot goalie of the future. The big trade was Danny Richmond for Anton Babchuk. At least Babchuk saw significant time with the Canes. As we see incredibly talented youngsters manning the Hurricanes roster, it makes one wonder. Why did this take so long? Why haven’t I seen talent like this before?

It doesn’t take much digging to understand the futility that was a Hurricanes draft. Take for instance, the 2005 draft, the first year it went from 9 rounds down to 7. The Canes had 9 picks that year with extra picks in the 4th and 5th rounds. With their first pick in that draft, the Canes made the ill-fated Jack Johnson selection. As we all know, Johnson never played a game for the team. In fact, of those 9 selections, only Nicolas Blanchard donned the sightless eye…for all of 9 games.

Clearly more research was required. Surely, this was the exception, not the rule. Alas, sports fans, it is indeed much more the rule. Over the last 15 drafts, the Carolina Hurricanes have made a total of 105 selections. Of those 105 prospects, 25 have played more than 10 games for the team at the NHL level. That’s less than 2 players per draft. While there’s a very good chance that this number will improve given the last 3 drafts, some of those 25 players didn’t exactly set the world on fire. We’ve already mentioned Zach and Zac. It also includes such memorable names as Brody Sutter, Casey Borer, and Brett Carson.

There were a number of lean draft years where the draftees didn’t just miss out on the Canes roster, they missed out on any roster. The year Cam Ward was drafted, 15 drafts ago, the Hurricanes only had 4 picks in a 9 round draft. Ward is the only selection to see time on an NHL squad. From the 2006 draft, only Jamie McBain has seen any time in the NHL. The memorable 2009 brain cramp draft where, as legend has it, our scouting staff apparently panicked when the guy we were targeting was selected a few picks before us. We, of course, ended up with the only 1st rounder who never saw a day in the NHL, Philippe Paradis. Of our 6 picks in that draft, only Rasmus Rissanen saw the ice in Raleigh and that was for all of 6 games. Our best pick that year was likely the highly touted second rounder, Brian Dumoulin. At least he turned into about 1/3 of Jordan Staal.

Despite all the guff Jim Rutherford gets for trading away draft picks, the Hurricanes have had a 1st round pick in 17 of the 20 drafts since they’ve been in Carolina. However, last Summer was the first time they have had multiple picks in the first round. Unfortunately, the Canes have had more than their fair share of whiffs in the first round. In 3 of their first 5 drafts after coming to North Carolina, the picks were obvious busts. Who remembers Nick Tselios, Jeff Hereema, or Igor Knyazev? Together that group played a grand total of 34 NHL games, 12 with Carolina. If you take away Eric Staal, Cam Ward, and Jeff Skinner, you’ve got 20 years of uninspired picks, underwhelming performances, or unrealized potential when describing the Hurricanes’ first round.

Another interesting anomaly is that Carolina has had 7 drafts with multiple 4th round picks. In three of those seven drafts they’ve had 3 fourth round picks. It’s like it is their favorite thing. Frankly, that might not be a bad thing as the team has found more than a few gems. Shane Willis was a 4th rounder. So was the late Josef Vasicek. The secret weapon, Nic Wallin, is another guy taken in the fourth round. More recently Jaccob Slavin, Trevor Carrick, Lucas Wallmark, and Nicolas Roy all came from that lucky round. There are a number of other nondescript players taken in the 4th, that saw time in the NHL. In fact, players selected by the Hurricanes in the 4th round have played in nearly 1,600 NHL games over the last 20 years.

Which round has been the best overall for the Carolina Hurricanes? Without a doubt, it has to be the 2nd round. In eighteen out of twenty years their second round pick has seen at least 1 game in the NHL. One of those years is 2016 where Janne Kuokkanen is still developing in the CHL. Current NHLers include Brian Dumoulin, Justin Faulk, Victor Rask, Brock McGinn, and current wunderkind, Sebastian Aho. Other 2nd round picks of note include Phil Di Giuseppe, Jamie McBain, and Justin Peters. Alex Nedeljkovic, the purported net minder of the future is also from the second round.

Other rounds have provided very inconsistent results. The best 3rd round pick is probably Erik Cole. We’ll have to see where Brett Pesce ends up. Only two 7th round picks have seen NHL time, Brody Sutter and who could forget Shay Stephenson. During the Hurricanes’ Cup run in 2001-02, an 8th round pick (back when there was such a thing), Jaroslav Svoboda, actually played more post-season games than regular season games.

There are also quite a few players who were drafted by the Hurricanes who saw little or no time in the NHL, but who have carved out nice careers overseas. Ryan Bayda, who played on the 2008-09 squad that made it to the Eastern conference finals, played for 6 years in the top German league. He finally hung up his skates after last season. Some may remember Brett Carson who bounced around the NHL and AHL after being waived by the Canes. He’s currently playing in the top Finnish league. At one point in time the organization had high hopes that Harrison Reed would turn into a scoring right-wing at the NHL level. Following a journeyman’s life in the ECHL and AHL, Reed seems to have found his niche in Europe as that scoring wing, first in the 2nd level German league and now in the Danish league where he’s scoring in excess of a point per game. Drayson Bowman and Justin Shugg have both taken their scoring prowess to the top German league.

While the Hurricanes organization has historically been inconsistent in finding NHL level talent through the draft, recent efforts appear to be much improved. This roughly correlates with an increase in size and upgrade in quality of the scouting staff. One could argue things turned around at the 2010 draft where Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk, and even though he didn’t sign with the Canes, Frederik Andersen were selected. However, it wasn’t until the 2012 draft that things really got rolling. Five of those selected have already seen some NHL time and it is likely that 4 will have some sort of NHL career. Of the 4 selections in the 2013 draft, Lindholm and Pesce are already bone fide NHL players. 2014 could have 4 out of 7 picks making the show. The 2015 draft is already showcasing the top two Carolina picks, Noah Hanifin and Sebastian Aho. That draft could see 4 or 5 more draftees playing at the highest level. Bean, Gauthier, Kuokkanen, Elynuik, and Helvig from this past Summer’s draft are all tracking quite well. Over the course of the last 4 drafts, the Hurricanes could see more of their drafted players making it to the NHL┬áthan the previous 11. Wouldn’t that be a turn around.

Once one digs deeply into the drafting history of this organization, it becomes readily apparent why the team has developed the way it has. Quite frankly, too many of the draft day gambles just didn’t pay off. That might be okay for a year here or a year there. However, consistently missing with high draft picks and not developing depth from lower round picks has led to a more dramatic rebuild scenario, one that required more “tear down” than if more picks had panned out. It also is the clear and major contributor to the team’s inconsistent results. Erratic results have prevented a winning culture from developing. This is no more evident than in the meager two post season appearances of the last 11 seasons. Hopefully, Ron Francis has remedied this situation and put the organization on a path where tee times won’t be needed in April, May, and June.

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