Carolina Hurricanes Jim Rutherford was very pleased following the 2011 Entry Draft. Not only did Carolina draft six players they are happy with, but Rutherford said pending unrestricted free agents Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen could both be back in a Hurricanes sweater next season.
On the draft, Rutherford was especially content with Carolina's first three picks. He said Carolina had Kitchener defenseman Ryan Murphy, whom they selected 12th overall, ranked sixth on their draft board, while second-round pick Victor Rask was, at one-time, considered top-10 pick whose struggles with consistency led to him falling to the Canes in the second round. Rutherford also said that third-rounder Keegan Lowe was a vastly improved player the second half of the 2010-11 season.
"They fell very nice for us this year, especially in the first three rounds," Rutherford said.But while the weekend was about the future, the news that both Jokinen and Pitkanen — and perhaps still Erik Cole and Chad LaRose — could possibly be re-signed may have been the biggest news. Just days ago, the departure of the two Finns seemed imminent. But Rutherford said discussions this weekend with their representation opened the door for their return. He said he had scheduled calls with most of Carolina's free agents on Monday and that decisions on all of Carolina's free agents should be resolved by Monday or Tuesday. Jokinen's potential signing, he said, would likely close the door on a return by Cory Stillman — who has still not made a definitive choice to play in 2011-12 — but would not keep Carolina from being active on July 1.
Rutherford said it is still a priority for Carolina to add a backup goaltender and depth center when free agency officially opens Friday. With the cap floor set at $48.3 million, Carolina will have money to spend, and Rutherford said he expects to the team's budget to be "a couple million" above the floor.
Other notes from draft weekend:
• Rutherford has already spoken to Rask's agent and it's possible the Swedish forward could come to North America next season. Rutherford said Rask would be here for prospect conditioning camp, then perhaps play in the Traverse City prospect tournament and join the Hurricanes for their NHL camp. Rutherford said Rask would be given the opportunity to make the team, but if he didn't he could, as a European player, be assigned to Charlotte. Rask could also be chosen in the CHL Import Draft (likely to an OHL team, Rutherford said) and would therefore be eligible to report to a junior team, if necessary.
• Speaking of prospect conditioning camp, Rutherford said it would be held July 9-14. Given the RecZone's financial issues, it's unclear where the on-ice portions of the camp will take place.
• Rutherford said he was unsure if Plymouth goalie Matt Mahalak would be the Whalers' No. 1 goalie next season, and that the decision would be up to the coaches. That being said, he did admit he supposes they have a little pull given that Canes CEO Peter Karmanos Jr. owns the team.
• Rutherford said he understood the perception that Carolina is interested in player bloodlines when drafting, but said that, first and foremost, the players are evaluated based on talent. Brody Sutter, for example, was on their board as being anywhere from a fourth- to seventh-round pick.