When the 2012/2013 season ended, with yet another missed opportunity, the Hurricanes entered the offseason with a number of issues to address at the draft and in free agency. Carolina needed to reconstruct their blueline and did so by trading for Andrej Sekera and signing Ron Hainsey. They needed to drastically improve their special teams and tried to address their PK by signing Radek Dvorak. They needed to upgrade their bottom 6 and added a low-risk option in Nathan Gerbe and drafted Elias Lindholm. They also had to find a backup solution in goal, in case Cam Ward couldn't stay healthy and return to form, and they signed Anton Khudobin. And they need to find a 3rd line center to potentially play with Jeff Skinner while improving the overall play of the 3rd line and they thought Lindholm could handle those duties. Another issue some thought should be addressed was getting some bigger/more physical players in the lineup.
So while Jim Rutherford did address some issues, it appears they weren't enough to get this team into the playoffs. The trading for Sekera and the signings of Khudobin & Gerbe appear to be fantastic moves, but was making Lindholm the 5th overall pick the right one? Would another prospect have helped the team out more this season or been a better long-term fit? While we can't truly answer this question now, we do have some information that would allow for a discussion. So I thought I would explore some options that JR had at pick #5 and let you decide if he made the correct selection or would have chosen someone else.
When the 5th overall pick rolled around, Lindholm was probably the safest pick available. He was considered a highly-intelligent two-way player that also was a very gifted playmaker. He had proved himself against grown men in Sweden, being able to protect the puck well and putting up 30 points in 48 games. The knocks against him were that he needed to get physically stronger for the NHL and his shot wasn't all that great. He seemed to fill a team need as a 3rd line center, but projected as a top 6 playmaking center.
Lindholm has decent size, but does need to add some muscle to his frame. He seemed to develop some chemistry with Skinner pretty quickly and later on in the season, seemed to have some chemistry with Eric Staal as well. While his numbers might not be exactly what the Canes were hoping for, he is in the top 35 in points for all NHL rookies. This season has been more about Lindholm's flashes rather than his consistency. He has shown those flashes of being a very good NHL player, one that should definitely develop into a top 6 player. His passing has probably been the most impressive thing in his rookie season. He was also loaned to Sweden for the World Junior Championship, finishing top 10 in points and with a Silver Medal.
The Not So Good
Lindholm had a rough start to his NHL career. He suffered a shoulder injury at the Canes development camp that limited his participation in the preseason. He also got banged up in multiple early season games. It was speculated that he might not be NHL-ready and I believe he could have benefited from a year in the AHL getting more physically mature and to get adjusted to the North American game. He is also a -13 on the season, which is at the bottom of the league for rookies. But I think some of that is a result of being often lined up beside Skinner and EStaal, who have a pretty bad +/- rating themselves. And as I mentioned above, Elias hasn't been very consistent at producing points. He only has points in 11 games and has scored 50% of his points in 3 games. Lindholm has also played a lot more RW than I would have expected, which does speak to his versatility. So the question now is, where does he play going forward?
Monahan was probably one of the more ready NHL prospects when the Canes selected at #5. He was considered a effective two-way center that didn't stand out in any particular area, but was solid at everything. His leadership qualities were probably his best attribute, but he was also difficult to knock off the puck, a hard worker and had a good wrister. The knocks on him were that he needed to get stronger and he wasn't a very fast skater. Monahan didn't have the ceiling of Lindholm, probably projecting more as a 2nd or 3rd line center, but could probably fill a position of need immediately for the Hurricanes.
Monahan got off to a quick start for the Flames, registering 9 points in his first 8 NHL games. He's had his up and downs, but has been pretty consistent for a rookie and ranks in the top 10 in the league in rookie scoring and top 3 in rookie goals. On the Flames, he is 5th in scoring and 3rd in faceoffs taken. Sean has assumed a pretty big role on the rebuilding Calgary team, one that should only grow as he gains more experience. He probably would not have been given such an important role with the Canes, but probably would have held down their 3rd line center spot for most of the season. His goal scoring ability has probably been the biggest surprise in his rookie season. His 19 goals would be 3rd on the Canes and his 17.1% shooting would rank 1st.
The Not So Good
While Monahan and Lindholm are of similar size, Monahan does appears to have a more solidly built frame. But that hasn't translated in him being that much more physical. And for someone who was projected as a two-way player, Monahan is a -13 on the year. His team is a -29 in the goal differential department, but he has the 4th worse +/- on Calgary this year and tied Lindholm for 2nd worst among rookies. These two things might be one of the reasons that he was very little PK time this year. Even though Sean has been given more significant roles than most rookies, the PK wasn't one of them. And his skating has proved to be one area that needs some improvement. With all these thing considered, he still has had a pretty successful rookie season and would have probably helped the Hurricanes more than Lindholm did this year. But his ceiling is not to Lindholm's level and will most likely end up a Jordan Staal style of player, which isn't bad, but is that what the Canes needed?
Nichushkin entered the draft as one of the most talented prospects, but he also had some question marks about his commitment to his game and the NHL. He was considered a highly skilled offensive winger that had size to go along with skating ability. He really has all the tools needed to be an exceptional player and plays a power game similar to Rick Nash. The knocks on him were that he need to add some strength to his large frame, needed to show some consistency and whether or not he would be committed to the team that drafted him. He projected as a top line winger, but would have probably started off on either side of JStaal for the Canes. His style of play is something the Canes could have definitely used.
Nichushkin's offensive projections were pretty much spot on and his ceiling appears high. He is a power forward that will drive the net and has gotten a lot of time on the Stars top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Probably the most successful thing of Nichushkin's rookie year is the balance he has displayed. He top 10 among rookies in goals, assists, points and +/- for a team that is still very much in the Western Conference playoff hunt. Going into the draft, the defensive side of Nichushkin's game was a question, but he has shown to be pretty reliable in his own end. His +19 leads Dallas and is even more impressive considering that the Stars are a -3 in goal differential. Valeri also was rewarded for his strong play with a trip back home to represent Russia at the Olympics.
The Not So Good
One area that was a concern for Nichushkin was consistency and it has been an issue. He didn't start out very good and has had a couple of stretches of down play. Recently it has seemed that he might have hit "the rookie wall," as his production has been really off the month of March. And while he does rank in the top 15 in rookie hits, it's pretty obvious that he does need to add some weight and muscle. But probably the worst thing for him is his giveaways. He is the worst rookie in this category and is one of the 20 worst in the NHL, especially bad considering the limited time he receives compared to the other 20 players around him. Only time will tell about his commitment issue, but it doesn't seem like it is going to be a problem. He a very talented player that should only get better with more experience, but he does have some things to work on. He is a type of player the Canes need, but would he have fit and succeeded in this current roster?
There was also a couple other players that could have filled some needs, but would any have actually stuck with the Canes because they didn't with the teams that selected them. Darnell Nurse would have added a top-level defensive prospect to the Canes system. Someone with huge size and could eventually play a shutdown role, but he would almost certainly not have helped this season and possibly not in the upcoming season. They could have also looked at Rasmus Ristolainen, another defensive prospect. He's a big guy that plays more of a two-way game. He got a long look with the Sabres, but spent most of his season in the AHL. He had some success there and could have probably seen some time in the NHL if the Canes selected him. There are also others that could have added depth to a weak Hurricanes prospect pool.
Trade Down & Pick Up Another Asset
Another option the Hurricanes had was to trade down and pick up another asset or two. With the organizations depth being so shallow, it could have potentially helped. While you probably wouldn't be getting the high-level prospect, the 2013 NHL Draft had some solid prospects late into the 1st Round. Could they have moved the 5th pick to Columbus for the 14th and 19th? They they could have picked up someone like Curtis Lazar and Anthony Mantha. Or could they have traded the 5th and Jamie McBain for Buffalo's 8th and Sekera? Then they could have kept their 2nd round pick and selected Zach Fucale, their goalie of the future. Definitely options that could have been considered.
So what say you, did JR make the right choice at the time? If you could use hindsight, what would you do with the 2013 5th overall pick?