The 2015 NHL Entry Draft is right around the corner, and since the team holds the 5th selection in the first round, Hurricanes fans are highly excited for this event. But it's important for a franchise desperate to restock its prospect cupboard to keep a close eye on how their recent draft picks are performing, so today I'll be taking a look at the eight prospects from 2014's draft that Carolina can call their own.
Heading in with seven picks in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, including a top ten selection at seventh overall, team General Manager Ron Francis looked to begin to make his mark upon the franchise's future outlook with a strong performance in his first draft.
As a team that in recent history has failed miserably when it comes to finding talent outside of the first round, it should come as a pleasant surprise to the fans when I say that there is actual good news to report from many of the Hurricanes' later picks in this draft.So without further ado, here's a quick rundown of what we have seen out of each of the players selected in the 2014 draft.
1. First round, 7th Overall: Haydn Fleury, LD (Red Deer - WHL)
Haydn Fleury was considered by many scouts and experts to be somewhat of a "safe" pick in the draft, if there even is such a thing. With a 6'2" frame and weighing in at 202 pounds, the left-handed defenseman certainly has the size and the build to make it as an NHL player in some capacity.
But size wasn't even close to the thing to like the most about Fleury's game as a draft-eligible prospect. In my estimation, it was his well above average skating ability for his age and position. His offensive production as a 17-year-old defenseman in the notably stingy WHL was excellent, as he put up 46 points in 70 games played.
Fleury obviously didn't make the Hurricanes' roster this year. He was sent back to Red Deer, and he was charged with gaining strength and improving on the pure defensive side of his game. As a result, his offensive production this season took a sharp dip. This time around, he put up just 28 points in 63 games played.
While the decrease in offensive output from Fleury may be somewhat discouraging, it's almost expected when a player is assigned to improve in the areas that Fleury was told to get better in. His stock hasn't risen since Carolina made him the 7th overall pick, but I would argue that it hasn't really dropped either.
If Fleury comes into training camp and shows management and the coaching staff that he has gotten stronger and that his defensive acumen has improved, it's certainly within the realm of possibility that Fleury could find himself on the opening night roster in October of 2015.
It is, however, of the utmost importance that the Hurricanes do not bring Fleury on as a full time NHL roster player until he is ready to be a consistent NHL defenseman. As a budget team, the Hurricanes will need to get maximum value from rookies and young players on entry level contracts to compete. They will have three years of Haydn Fleury's career at his entry level cap hit of just $832,500. Ideally, by the third year of that contract, Fleury will have established himself as a top four defenseman and the Hurricanes will be a team competing for a playoff spot. Paying a top four defenseman less than a million dollars would certainly be helpful in that respect.
2. Second Round, 37th Overall: Alex Nedeljkovic, G (Plymouth - OHL)
At 37th overall, the Hurricanes used their second round selection to make the American-born Nedeljkovic just the third goalie taken in the draft. Nedeljkovic is an intriguing prospect, as his 6'0" 190 lbs. frame makes him a fair amount smaller than what teams typically look for in a goalie in today's NHL.
But what Nedeljkovic lacks in size, he makes up for in raw athleticism. In his draft year, Nedeljkovic was nothing short of outstanding for the Plymouth Whalers. His .925 save percentage over 61 games made him second in the OHL in save percentage, behind only Anthony Stolarz, who played just 35 games.
This performance was good enough to earn him OHL Goaltender of the Year honors for the 2013-2014 season.
This season, Nedeljkovic took a small step back statistically as he posted a .916 save percentage for the Whalers. This was still good enough to place him 5th in the OHL in save percentage. This is largely easily explained by the fact that the Whalers were horrendous as a team in comparison to the two years prior. Their record this season was an abysmal 23-38-5-2. Despite this, Nedeljkovic still placed himself among the league's elite in goaltending's most telling statistic.
Nedeljkovic also made Team USA's U20 roster at this year's World Junior Championship, but he did not participate in any games. Nedeljkovic is a few years away from being NHL ready, but his status as a prospect who has reasonably high upside as an NHL starting goalie remains unchanged.
3. Second round, 50th Overall: Roland McKeown, RD (Kingston - OHL)
Acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in the deal that sent Andrej Sekera to the defending Stanley Cup champions, McKeown was not originally selected by the Hurricanes.
You would be hard pressed to find a single Hurricanes fan who minds, though. McKeown is a player that I personally am very high on. Pretty much everything that there is to like about Haydn Fleury's game is also present in McKeown's, and I say that as a compliment to McKeown and not a slight on Fleury.
The Kings had to be stunned to see that McKeown was available at the 50th overall position. McKeown is 6'1" and weighs in at 194 lbs. Clearly, size isn't an issue. In 62 games, he had 43 points in his draft year for the Kingston Frontenacs, so the offensive production is obviously there as well. He was a +38 for the year, a statistic I hold to have minimal significance, but many feel as though it is a solid indicator of all-around play, so why exactly did McKeown fall so far?
It's not an easy question to answer. Last Word on Sports had him ranked as the 18th best prospect in the draft. Bob McKenzie had him ranked 25th. All available scouting reports praised his skating as being near an elite level and his hockey sense as being one of his biggest strengths.
Regardless, he's now a prospect of the Carolina Hurricanes. In my estimation, the team now has a top-10 level talent and a top-25 level talent to call their own from the 2014 draft. That's in given-draft-year ranking, not where they'll rank as NHL defensemen in the future, by the way. That would be a little much. Couple that with a potential starting goaltender in Nedeljkovic, and that sounds like a very solid foundation for a team built from the net out in the future. Oh, and there's that Justin Faulk guy that the Hurricanes already had, as well. He's pretty good.
Anyway, McKeown went on to produce a solid 32 points in 65 games this year while serving as captain of the Frontenacs. It's highly likely that as Carolina did with Fleury, Los Angeles sent McKeown back to Kingston with instructions to work on his strength and defensive ability. It's not as though both players lost some of their offensive ability as they went from being 17 years old to 18 years old.
I like McKeown's odds to occupy the right side of Carolina's second defense pairing in the future. I think he'll be above average in every facet of the game, while probably not being elite in any of them. One could find parallels between Faulk as a 2010 second rounder and McKeown as a 2014 second rounder, if they tried. A Justin Faulk scouting report from 2010 reads very similarly to a Roland McKeown scouting report from 2014.
Don't hold me to this comparison. I'm just pointing out that there are similarities in how they were regarded as draft eligible prospects. If McKeown turns out anywhere near as well as Faulk has, I'll be ecstatic, and I'm by no means expecting it.
4. Third round, 67th Overall: Warren Foegele, LW (NCAA - New Hampshire)
With their third round pick, Carolina moved from a defenseman to a goalie to a forward. Foegele stands 6'1" tall and weighs in at 185 lbs. While his draft year numbers were gaudy offensively, they should be taken with a grain of salt, as Foegele was one of the few prospects to be selected out of a high school league.
Foegele moved on to the University of New Hampshire this season where he is a teammate of Carolina's 2013 3rd round selection, Brett Pesce. Foegele put up a respectable 16 points in 34 games in his freshman campaign.
Scouting services describe Foegele as a smart all-around player with decent instincts, above average strength, and according to Red Line Report, "excellent puck skills."
If Foegele makes it to the NHL, he projects to do so as the type of bottom six winger that is solid all over the ice and can occasionally contribute offensively. The investment of a third round pick in this kid is one that I don't think that the Hurricanes' front office would do over if they could, which is good news just a year removed from the draft.
5. Fourth round, 96th Overall: Josh Wesley, RD (OHL - Plymouth)
The ultimate bloodlines pick, Wesley certainly made his father proud when he was selected by the Hurricanes in the fourth round.
While there doesn't appear to be a large amount of upside to this selection, to say that Wesley does not have a chance to make the NHL would be inaccurate. His offensive ability is sorely lacking, as he produced just 9 points in his draft year and 10 points during this past season, but any son of Glen Wesley's is sure to have hockey smarts and defensive capabilities as strengths.
If Wesley is to be a future Carolina Hurricane, he projects to do so as a bottom pairing defensive defenseman. His development will be a slower one and could follow a path similar to that of current Hurricane Brett Bellemore's.
6. 4th round, 97th Overall: Lucas Wallmark, RW/C (SHL - Lulea)
Playing against men in the top league in Sweden, Wallmark went undrafted in 2013 despite his eligibility. Wallmark's misfortune turned into Carolina's good fortune, as the Swedish forward appears to be one of the most likely late-round forwards to turn into a draft steal a year later.
Playing in what is probably the third best league in the world, Wallmark put up 10 points in 41 games as an 18 year old and 18 points in 50 games as a 19 year old. He also represented Sweden very well in the U20 World Junior Championships in both years, compiling 14 points in 14 games combined.
Wallmark's future is uncertain, as last season was the last one on his contract with Lulea. He could re-up with them or he could choose to sign with the Hurricanes and join the Checkers next season.
In my estimation, Wallmark's upside is that of a third line winger who could fill in as a second liner in less than ideal circumstances. He's far from a lock to ever be an NHL contributor, but I would not be surprised at all if he ends up being one.
7. 5th round, 127th Overall: Clark Bishop, C (QMJHL - Cape Breton)
In my mind one of the most interesting Hurricanes prospects to discuss, Clark Bishop carries a strong work ethic and a huge amount of hockey sense to his name. Playing with Cape Breton of the QMJHL, Bishop put up 33 points in 56 games in his draft year.
At the time of the pick, the selection of Bishop was met with a small amount of praise from those in the know with regards to the late rounds of the NHL draft. He was seen as a guy who could very well end up as the prototypical 4th line center. He was smart defensively, strong in the face-off circle, not undersized, and was not a black hole offensively.
Then this season, Bishop's development took a turn for the better that probably even the Hurricanes didn't see coming. All of a sudden, Bishop could score goals. He was limited to just 38 games this season, but in those games he topped his previous year's production with 19 goals and 35 points. That's a pretty large leap in production rate for a player to have in just one year. Marginal prospects put up big numbers in Canadian junior leagues all the time, but usually they do so as an overager when they're 20, not in their post draft season at 18.
Bishop's new found knack for goal scoring raises questions about what his top end potential at the NHL level could be. If he takes another large step forward next year (he'll have to be solidly above point per game as a 19 year old in the Q), maybe it would be feasible to see him topping out as a 3rd line center instead of a 4th line pivot.
It's not overly likely that Bishop is ever a full-time NHL player, but with late round picks it's a very nice change of pace to see the Hurricanes going with players who play roles that are clearly projectable to NHL futures if their talent potential pans out.
8. Seventh round, 187th Overall: Kyle Jenkins, LD (OHL - Sault St. Marie)
A mid-season trade to the Peterborough Petes may have been a hiccup, but Kyle Jenkins is another late pick that does conceivably have a future at the NHL level, which is a win in and of itself. Prior to the draft, the Soo Greyhounds official Twitter page tweeted out that Jenkins led the team in Corsi-relative for his draft season, an impressive feat given the fact that he was selected in the seventh round.
Jenkins produced solid offense on a great team in his draft year with 25 points in 63 games from the back end. Like all of Carolina's other 2014 selections, Jenkins is a complete player who could feasibly develop into an NHL asset. His weaknesses lie in the fact that he does not excel at any particular facet of his game, but he's another guy who could contribute on Carolina's bottom pairing down the line.
So there you have it, there's a long-winded recap of all eight of the players who were selected in the 2014 NHL draft who are now property (hockey-playing-wise, at least) of the Carolina Hurricanes. I wouldn't be surprised if this draft yielded five or maybe even six NHL players, but I also wouldn't be surprised if it maxed out at like, two. Such is the nature of the NHL draft. Anyway, everything is random and nothing matters. Thanks for reading.