Nine times out of ten, you get your first round pick in the NHL Entry Draft right. For most NHL scouting departments, that's money in the bank. A first round pick, especially early in the round, should be expected to at the very least net a solid, consistent NHL contributor.
However, it’s not so easy to say the same in the second round. In fact, if you get your second round pick right, you might have won the draft. And in recent years, the Carolina Hurricanes have far outpaced the league in finding talent after the bright lights of the first round have faded.
The trend started in 2010; Justin Faulk might be the most looked-over talent from that draft class. Since then, the second round has been kind to the Hurricanes as players like Victor Rask and Sebastian Aho have joined the main roster with permanent spots.
Highly regarded goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, a second-rounder in 2014, has been gaining notice and has gotten reps in the OHL, ECHL, and tag-teaming with Michael Leighton in Charlotte with the Checkers. Nedeljkovic could very well become the next franchise goalie.
Drafting is only part of the equation. The Canes have done a good job of bringing their young talent along in a way that gets the most value for the team in addition to not overburdening the players. Unseasoned chicken looks good, but it doesn’t taste great. The Hurricanes have managed put the right amount of seasoning on these young players, and consistently too.
Out of the 2010 draft class, Faulk has a huge lead on games played coming in at 354 with the Kings’ Tyler Toffoli with 261. From the 2011 second round, Victor Rask has outperformed everyone save Brandon Saad and Nikita Kucherov with 106 points in 191 games in the NHL - a tally that also is higher than any player taken in the final two-thirds of the first round.
Other teams have certainly found diamonds deeper in the rough than the Canes have; Jamie Benn, for example. However, to draft five players in the second round in 6 years who have found significant ice time on an NHL roster is almost unheard of. Anaheim, Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Dallas have all had two or three picks make significant contributions, but none have had anywhere near the consistency that the Canes have demonstrate.
To that end, the modern day dynasty Chicago Blackhawks have had twelve second-round picks since 2010 and Stephen Johns, Brandon Saad, and Adam Clendening are the only three to have found even marginal consistency in an NHL lineup.
Detroit is a franchise known for how well they draft and their ability to develop talent. Since 2010, the Red Wings have picked eight times in the second round and Calle Jarnkrok, Tomas Jurco, and Xavier Ouellet are the only ones to have picked up significant NHL ice time.
Compare that to the Hurricanes, who have drafted eight players in the second round and three - Faulk, Rask and Aho - have gone on to become NHL regulars, and Phil di Giuseppe and Brock McGinn are right on the edge. Only Mark Alt, Nedeljkovic, and Janne Kuokkanen haven’t touched regular season NHL ice, and given that one is a goalie and one was just drafted last summer, Alt is the only second-rounder in the Canes’ last six drafts who really flamed out.
Ron Francis has also kept those pieces as well. Without forfeiting those players up to add more talent, the main focus has the development of players going forward. Whether 2012 picks McGinn or Di Giuseppe are in Raleigh or Charlotte, they have shown progress in the right direction. McGinn has become a significant part of the penalty kill and Di Giuseppe always uses his blue collar work ethic to add energy to the lineup.
Francis also even managed to add Kings 2014 second round pick Roland McKeown, currently with the Checkers, proving that his eye for talent in picks 31-60 doesn't end at the edge of the Canes’ own draft table.
Not only is the depth at defense for the Hurricanes incredible, the ability to draft into the second round and find players who fit the system on a consistent basis is not something any other franchise can say they have. And even if they had anything within the vicinity of what the Hurricanes have, it’s doubtful most of the players would get anything other than fourth-line minutes or top-D parings.
To be able to say you’re ahead of one of the greatest teams in the modern day in drafting, that is tapping into something pretty special. It’s not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, simply playing a hand well.