It's easy to read about this year's draft and feel disappointed that the Canes' draft position seems to fall a few picks below the prospects that most experts consider elite or near-elite. Barring a trade, the Canes have no shot at Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog, Larsson or Huberdeau or the apparent next tier of Couturier, Murphy, Hamilton and Strome or some similar grouping.
But what looks great about this draft to me is the availability of players that match the Canes' needs. I think there's a consensus on this site that the Canes need size at forward, a second-line center, and good shutdown defensemen with size. Comments below are based on looking at ratings and mock drafts in Red Line Report, Puck Prospectus, NHL.com and other places. They represent possibilities for which players might be available. I can't judge which player the Canes should take - just don't have enough knowledge - so please speak up if you have opinions.
The Canes will probably have their pick at 12th overall of Marc McNeil, Mark Scheifele, JT Miller, Joel Armia, Brandon Saad, Nicklas Jensen and Tyler Biggs. It's possible that Zibanejad will be there. There seems to be no doubt that the Canes will be able to get a pretty talented forward with size if that's their preference, and the freedom to go for a more skilled scoring type, an accomplished two-way forward, or a big bruiser to win puck battles and protect guys like Skinner and Boychuk. It's intriguing that Red Line Report (draft guide is well worth the money) compared JT Miller's style to Erik Cole and ranked him in the top 10. They don't say one word against him and he sounds like exactly what the Canes are missing up front. On the other hand, they don't call him a top-line forward and he's not in the top 30 at Puck Prospectus.
Second Line Center
The Canes will probably get to choose from two of the following three centers: McNeil, Scheifele and Zibanejad (not counting the two highly rated Russians that I doubt they'll consider). There is a remote chance that Couturier could fall if, say, there's a run on defensemen, with Larsson, Murphy, Hamilton, Klefbom, Oleksiak, Beaulieu, Jonas Brodin, Siemens, Morrow and Musil representing 10 at least plausible picks ahead of the Canes at 12th. There's also the possibility of other developments that push one of the better centers down, such as all the write-ups of Grimaldi as the second coming of Martin St. Louis or Matt Puempel as this year's Jeff Skinner, or if some team has a very high opinion of Joel Armia or JT Miller or Alexander Khokhlachev. McNeil, Zibanejad and Miller have all been showing up in mock drafts in the top 10 in various places. So have Oleksiak and Sven Bartschi. Hence a remote chance that Couturier could fall.
Assuming Larsson and Hamilton are gone, the Canes will still have a shot at a couple of the shutdown defensemen among the defensemen just listed: Klefbom, Oleksiak, Siemens, Musil.
There are at least three players that various experts consider very talented who could drop and, if the Canes are among those who rate them very highly, could end up in Carolina. This is where the Canes decide sheer talent outweighs apparent team needs, a Jeff-Skinner-style pick. The three: Murphy, Bartschi, Grimaldi. Smaller players seem to drop on draft day. Writeups of Grimaldi as a 1st-line scoring forward (Red Line Report) and a top-ten talent and other comments that he would be the best player in this draft if he stood two inches taller indicate there's a possibility that Grimaldi isn't just an extra little guy that the Canes shouldn't even consider. Grimaldi is a center to this point in his career so perhaps he could even help there, unlikely as it seems. Every team has to think twice about a defenseman as small as Murphy, but there are people who think Murphy is the best player in this draft. If that's what the Canes think, they won't pass him up. They'll meet other needs with something other than their 12th overall pick. The same applies if the Canes think a puck-moving defenseman like Brodin or Beaulieu is too good to pass up. If the Canes go for one of these guys who doesn't seem to match a pressing need, it may mean they think they're getting an extraordinary talent so we should probably hold our criticism and hope they're right.
The Second Round
It looks as though there will be big forwards of interest in the second round when the Canes pick, such as perhaps Kale Kessy, Mario Lucia or Adam Lowry. There will also be some intriguing defensemen, perhaps including 6'5" 230 lb Mike McKee, a recent convert from forward, or Scott Mayfield or Connor Murphy.
Six Scenarios Representative of the Canes' Choices in the 2011-12 Draft
Size and toughness at center and a future shutdown defenseman
Round 1: Mark McNeil; Round 2: Connor Murphy
Size, skill and scoring at forward and a chance on big raw talent on D
Round 1: Joel Armia; Round 2: Mike McKee
Great size and emerging talent on D and size and scoring at forward
Round 1: Jamieson Oleksiak; Round 2: Mario Lucia
Size and skill on D and size and toughness at forward
Round 1: Oskar Klefbom; Round 2: Kale Kessy
Bigger and tougher at forward
Round 1: Mark McNeil; Round 2: Kale Kessy
Bigger at forward with an infusion of scoring talent
Round 1: Joel Armia; Round 2: Mario Lucia
There are multiple scenarios on which the Canes could come away from this draft with players that seem to address long-standing team needs. It seems unlikely they'll get a player who will help next year. McNeil might be the best hope along those lines to step in at 2nd-line center if everything breaks perfectly. Klefbom might be the second best choice to help next year. Some attractive choices appear to need years to refine skills or put on weight and muscle. Grimaldi, Murphy, Bartschi and Brodin may be wild cards whose talent blows all scenarios away.
This post shares information but my main purpose is to get a better sense of this draft from comments of the many people on this site who know a lot more than I do. I'd be grateful for opinions on how the Canes will likely fare in this draft, what you think they should do, etc. There's already been informed discussion in previous threads, but new information seems to emerge every day as the draft approaches.