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2014 NHL Draft: Francis establishes a precedent by drafting Fleury

Another day, another example of the new Canes under Ron Francis.

Bruce Bennett

PHILADELPHIA - Yet again, Carolina Hurricanes GM Ron Francis went his own way on Friday night during the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft.

For the first time since taking Jack Johnson in the 2005 draft, the Canes spent their first-round pick on a defenseman who doesn't automatically have "puck-moving" in front of his name, drafting Red Deer defenseman Haydn Fleury with the seventh pick of the draft.  While it may have been a surprise to longtime Hurricanes fans to see their team draft a defenseman with a high draft pick, it didn't come as a complete shock to Fleury.

"I met with them during the year, at the combine, and again with them yesterday, so I kind of had a good idea," said Fleury. "But I didn't really know if they were going to take me or not."

Fleury, the second defenseman off the board after Aaron Ekblad was selected first overall by the Florida Panthers, compared his game to another former Panthers' first-round pick.

"I would [compare myself with] Jay Bouwmeester," he said. "A solid two-way defenseman that plays in all situations of the game, plays big minutes with St. Louis. Lots of offense, but very strong defensively as well."

Francis agreed with his new defenseman's self-assessment. "He's a big, mobile defenseman. He's got a lot of upside to his game."  However, it may be a while until Fleury realizes that upside, and Francis doesn't mind waiting. "You always want to be careful with young defenseman because they do take a little longer to develop. Sometimes you don't know what you have until they're 22 or 23."

Although Francis fielded a few phone calls about possibly moving the pick, they never went anywhere, and he said that was fine with the Canes' braintrust. "Coming into the draft, we had a game plan. We were comfortable with anyone who fell to us in our range."  Fleury fits the mold of the new Hurricanes that Francis is building, a bigger, more physical team that still has plenty of skill. "We talked about trying to get bigger. He's 6'3", 200 pounds, but he skates extremely well. It's not like he's a big, slow guy."

For Fleury, who was here with his parents and younger brother, being drafted this high is the thrill of a lifetime - but if you were trying to get a hold of him, good luck. "My mom took my phone from me. She said I didn't need to be on it." That said, Fleury knew right away who his first phone call would be to.

"My great-grandma. She's 99, back home [in Saskatchewan] watching."