One of my "go to" hockey links, sometimes open for days at a time on a browser tab, is the Carolina Hurricanes Draft History from The Internet Hockey Database, a great resource for those of you who may not yet have discovered it.
Not only is a Canes draft history handy for making sure I'm getting details correct, but let's step back and take a look at it from an historical perspective while we have it open. For we've not always had the draft competency we seem to be exhibiting now.
In fact, to review:
1997: First rounder Nick Tselios skates only 2 games total in the NHL. Shane Willis (4th round) has a third-line career that was really never the same after being leveled by an infamous Scott Stevens hit. Brad Defauw skates nine games in a lost season ('03-'04). Pretty much a lost draft year.
1998: Yet another first round bust, Jeff Hereema (Staal's cousin from Thunder Bay) plays 4 games total in the NHL. But, JR strikes gold in the later rounds, gleaning Erik Cole (3rd round), Josef Vasicek (4th round), Tommy Westlund (5th round), and Jaroslav Svoboda (8th round). Role players all, but at least we now had some under contracts we could control for a while.(more on this below).
1999: Another bleak draft year, with the only "success" being first-rounder David Tanabe, with many feeling there was shared negligence in the org's handling of this prospect, rushing him into battles that were over his head, versus flaws revealed within the prospect hmself. JR salvaged something out of this pick by bundling it with our first-round bust from 2001, Igor Knyazev, and plucking Danny Markov from Phoenix. JR then turned around, after entertaining us for a few months with instant fan favorite Danny's antics, by acquiring Plymouth legacy Justin Williams with all his contributions to the Cup-winning team, who is now embodied in the second re-incarnation of Erik Cole. Only other draft pick of notice is Damian Surma (6th round), who broke his arm during his first NHL goal celebration in one of only 2 NHL games played.
2000: Pretty much a bust year at the top, with no first round pick (ill-fated Sandis Ozolinch experiment), and Plymouth Whaler second-rounder Tomas Kurka managing only 17 NHL games. Ryan Bayda has a successful Mr. Utility career from the third round and the org trades up in the fourth round to take 25-year-old Niclas Wallin from the Swedish Elite league.
2001: Huge bust year. Swing and a miss on Russian first-rounder Igor Knyazev (15th overall). Although used along with Tanabe in the 2003 Markov trade, he logged no NHL games at all. Second-rounder Mike Zigomanis churns out an up-and-down NHL/AHL career as a good utility player...mostly AHL for us.
2002: Finally some first-round success, as Cam Ward (25th overall) is secured. But, that's all we got as no other pick made the grade (from what few we had that weren't traded away beefing up for the 2002 Cup run).
2003: Finishing dead last, losing the lottery, and picking second overall, we scored the current franchise anchor, Eric Staal. But other than Danny Richmond in the second, traded to Chicago for Anton Babchuk (21st overall in 2001), that was all the 2004 draft gleaned.
2004: Finally a decent draft year as JR trades up in front of the RBC host crowd to select Andrew Ladd fourth overall. However, Ladd was later traded at the deadline during the '07-'08 season for Tuomo Ruutu (9th overall in 2001...which note was a huge bust year for us). However, this year was the first of a few recent deep drafts for us as it also brought Justin Peters (2nd round), Casey Borer (3rd round), and Brett Carson (4th round). Home arena advantage, I guess. :-D
2005: After relative success in 2004, bleakness returned in 2005 as first rounder (3rd overall), Jack Johnson...well, you know that story well. And the draft pick moves among us today in the form of Tim Gleason, a 2001 first round (23rd overall) pick himself and $2.5M for the player of your choice in salary (Oleg Tverdovsky). But, that was it for 2005
2006: Doug Weight's services during the successful Cup run cost us our first rounder, but Jamie McBain (2nd round) appears to be the real deal. However, other than a questionable Harrison Reed (3rd round) and a game Nick Dodge (6th round), that's it for 2006.
2007: Brandon Sutter (11th overall) already evident as a for real NHL'er, so good start to this draft. No second-rounder as it went as part of the Mark Recchi 2006 deadline acquisition. Drayson Bowman (3rd round) sure looks promising, but already the crystal ball begins to grow hazy.
2008: Back-to-back Zac/Zach's, Zach Boychuk (14th overall) and Zac Dalpe (2nd round) both look like they could make it in the NHL, probably with us (see Ladd example for alternative career paths). And, JR has since acquired the second-rounder he woke up thinking he would pick, Jared Staal. Insufficient data points on Michal Jordan (4th round) and Mike Murphy (6th round) to pass judgement at this time, but they're worthy of listing and not on the scrap pile yet. Pretty good draft.
2009: Still under review, but it starts off with a real puzzler, Philippe Paradis (27th overall), who already has been changed out for Jiri Tlusty (13th overall in 2006, the year we had no first-rounder). Brian Dumoulin (2nd round) is growing even taller and heavier at Boston College, winning individual accolades and team championships left and right, and seems promising. Lindstrom (3rd round), Kennedy (5th round), and Kivisto (7th round) are all out there somewhere.
2010: Now, compare this year, fresh as it is, to those above, where JR walks away from the table after two days of hard work with three (3) first-round assets in the form of Jeff Skinner (7th overall in 2010), Riley Nash (21st overall in 2007), and Bobby Sanguinetti (21st overall in 2006). Regardless as to how things work out with Faulk (2nd), Alt (2nd), Biega (3rd), Levi (3rd), Shugg (4th), Stahl (6th), and Andersen (7th), that's a pretty good draft year, already.
So, the point of all of this is to show just how few NHL assets the org has walked away with in past draft years, compared with our apparent increasing odds of success in more recent years.
And, the result of all those poor draft years in which no, or few, NHL assets emerged, was what we saw on the ice at the beginning of last season. Not nearly enough kids in sight that were NHL-ready (an important qualifier) due to the stretch of lean draft years. Everyone that could make it had already been drug aboard, whether ready or not (the lockout giving Staal his all-important AHL year his sophomore pro season and allowing Cam Ward to dominate and grow even more confident).
Nearly the oldest team in the league and fairly expensive for talent level held, due to incremental raises over the years. When there's no new talent bubbling up though, this is what you do. You hold onto what you have a season or two too long or pick up free agents from the bargain bin.
But, thanks to successful draft years, that's about to all change. New blood and, this is important, under very affordable contracts for the next few seasons, anyway. Plenty of time to look them all over, make the hard choices that need to be made, and (here's the important part), hopefully have more talent coming up to replace those that we can no longer afford...or believe we may be holding even better in the form of a prospect.
Too many good players? Not a problem, as they are like liquid gold. They can be bundled for major pieces, if we think we're ready to go in a couple of seasons. Or, converted back into liquid currency as future draft picks, hopefully higher on the rung than where you will be picking, but welcome as additional swings at the plate, nonetheless.
So, here's to future and continued draft success. It makes the org rich in both talent and cash, the roster stays healthier with younger bodies and eager replacements, and contracts stay under our control via extensions or trades, instead of having to acquire what we can afford on the UFA market.