As the boys played out the string, the future seeped into view. The page turned and now is the time for true hockey junkies to turn our attention to this summer's draft. As we know, the Carolina Hurricanes' General Manager, Ron Francis, has probably been reviewing and reclassifying draft pick options for the better part of 4 or 5 months. This is his team to shape and mold and the current and future prospects are a good portion of his clay. What follows are some of my ideas about what I'd do were I wearing the general manager's shoes.
The upcoming draft has the potential to dramatically reshape this team for years to come...and not just because of the prospect potential of the picks. Expect to see more gun-slinging, wheeling and dealing from the Carolina table in Buffalo....at least, that's what I'd do.
However, let's not get ahead of ourselves. The organization has a boatload of draft picks in this draft as well as in next year's draft. It's safe to assume that all of those picks won't be used to draft 17 and 18 year old prospects. Another assumption that shouldn't be taken for granted is that we won't package some picks to move up in the draft. The forward prospects thin out after about the 1st two rounds and anything beyond round three likely yields a "mystery" defender. There are also a number of Northern European "unknowns" that could yield another Sebastian Aho or Lucas Wallmark. That's the landscape in which the Hurricanes' braintrust is working.
For the purposes of this article, we'll focus a little more heavily on the Hurricanes' first 8 picks in the 2016 draft and provide a few ideas for later in the draft. The draft order on April 5 places the team's picks as follows:
#13, #23, #43, #52, #66, #73, #74, #103, #133, and #163
1st Pick - #13
The Canes have plenty of needs that can be filled with this pick. Everybody knows that skill up front is needed. Size and speed would be nice too. At pick #13 there will be plenty options to fill the skill component, others that could focus more on speed and size, and one or two guys who fit the bill on all three characteristics. Face it, Matthews, the big Finns, fast rising Dubois, Tkachuk, and Nylander will certainly all be gone when the Canes step up to the podium. So who is left?
There's the outstanding centerman, Mike McLeod who's 6'2" frame continues to fill out. He's big, strong, fast, very skilled, and likely to be gone by this pick. Then there's Julien Gauthier, the big right wing who scored 41 goals in 54 games. An immensely skilled sniper, he is the whole package as well. However, he's inexplicably been falling in some rating services estimation (is he a team guy?). He may be there when the Canes make this pick and it would be hard to believe that the Canes would pass him up. It is equally hard to believe that all 12 teams picking before us would pass him by.
What does a GM do if one of the top defenders is still on the board? Jakob Chychrun has been the top rated defender for most of the year. He has size, excellent 2-way capabilities, and munches up huge minutes. Mikhail Sergachyov, the big, fast rising Russian, is characterized by some as the most NHL ready defender in this year's class. The Finn, Olli Juolevi, burst on the scene at this year's WJCs as part of that high scoring squad. He continues to impress as part of the talented London team. It's hard to argue against the best player available philosophy. Strategically, the team can pick a blueliner with the understanding that they have a wealth of high end guys, one of which could be moved for forward help. The team, however, would probably be better served by just moving the pick if this was the scenario. It probably will be a moot point given that Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Arizona all pick before the Canes and each have a glaring organizational need for defenders.
At pick #13 the Hurricanes options are probably going to come down to one of these five players: Clayton Keller, Tyson Jost, Logan Brown, Max Jones, or Kieffer Bellows (Gauthier is likely gone). The GM can emphasize skill above all else and the choice would be between Keller and Jost. If he wants a blend of skill and size, one of Brown, Bellows, or Jones fit the bill. With all of that in mind, Tyson Jost seems like the best choice here. He's incredibly skilled, thinks ahead of the play, has an excellent shot, and isn't afraid of board battles. While this is a high risk/high reward type of pick (BCHL pedigree), Jost is off to University of North Dakota for seasoning in an excellent NCAA program. Any of Jones, Bellows, or Brown would have been a slight reach at #13 and skilled size can be had later in the draft. However on another day and if I had more time to mull this over, the fast rising Logan Brown might end up being my selection here. However....
Carolina Hurricanes select Tyson Jost with pick #13
With their first pick the Hurricanes went for a prospect with big upside focusing on high end skill. But Tyson Jost is at least 2 or 3 years away from sniffing the NHL. The second round has a nice blend of forwards who, even with their warts and question marks, project to be NHLers. There are also a number of very interesting defensemen that will be available in both the 2nd and 3rd round. But none of the guys will be anywhere near ready for the show and the Canes need an impact player or two going into next season's campaign. That is why I would make my "big trade" when this pick rolls around.
The type of trade that my brain trust chooses to pursue has been discussed broadly and there's no consensus. There are a number of names reflecting a number of strategies. Rumor has it that Matt Duchene and Patrick Roy might be at odds. There's always the plethora of forwards that could be available from the Oilers. A couple of youngsters like Ty Rattie and Kerby Rychel have expressed interest in "a fresh start". And the RFA market is ripe with guys who need to be re-signed by teams that don't have a lot of dough. It's that RFA market that I would choose to pursue to get a critical piece for next year.
Two teams are in a bit of RFA purgatory come this summer. We all know about the New York Rangers and Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Dylan McIlrath, all of whom are RFAs needing new contracts. Overall they've got 9 players to sign and under $19 million to use. The other team is theTampa Bay Lightning and they are in even more dire circumstances. They have 7 players, including 6 RFAs, to sign, some will clearly command large raises. The guy who might get moved is Alex Killorn. For my money J.T. Miller would be the first choice (but it's doubtful we'll get him) with Chris Kreider being a solid back-up plan. Again, given the cap challenges of the Rangers and their lack of early round picks this year, I believe you could entice them with #23 and one of Brock McGinn or Ryan Murphy. We might even get a late round pick back from the Blueshirts. If that's not enough for the Rangers, then you default to Killorn for a little less (#43 + McGinn?).
Canes trade pick #23 and Brock McGinn for Chris Kreider and NYR's 5th round pick in 2017
So now you've got some future skill and you've got a true impact player that, on this Canes team, is surely a Top 6 guy. Ideally, this pick will yield a future skilled power forward. I gave up my shot at a guy like Riley Tufte or Tage Thompson when I traded our second 1st rounder away. However, there's a quartet of guys, 3 of whom project to be prototypical power forwards. That group includes a fast riser from the offensive power Erie Otters - Taylor Raddysh. It also includes the "jack of all trades" Brett Howden, another guy who's moving up the rankings. The 3rd big body of that quartet is Cameron Morrison, the 2nd leading scorer in the USHL who will be off to Notre Dame in the Fall. Finally, not a big body, but more like a beer keg is Adam Mascherin who at 5'10" and 205 lbs. plays with tough to handle intensity only compounded by a big, accurate shot.
Any one of those guys would be a solid pick up at this spot. However, it is doubtful that Howden and Raddysh are on the board when this pick rolls around. Mascherin might be a bit of a reach here. So I'll take big-bodied Cameron Morrison and let an NCAA coach continue his development.
The Hurricanes select Cameron Morrison at pick #43
We've now added skill and size for the future plus a speedy, sizable, Top 9 scorer for the upcoming season. As the GM I'm reviewing my "best player available" list as well as "greatest need" list. At this point in the draft it remains fairly easy to at least group players in tranches of "best players" and tranches of "needs". We still need scoring forwards, but we'd be strategically remiss if we didn't at least begin to consider the blueline prospects.
A guy who may or may not be available is the defender, Lucas Johansen. If he's available at #52 and the previously mentioned forwards are not, he would, in my opinion, probably be the best player on the board. Johansen is Ryan's younger brother, is an excellent skater with a smooth stride and is very creative with an outstanding 1st pass. His offense continues to improve. Unfortunately he very well may be gone when we pick. I liken him to a bigger, faster version of Faulk with a slightly lower quality shot.
To ensure that the Hurricanes end up with their guy (or in this case my guy) we will likely have to move up 6 or 8 slots. I believe that Tampa would be willing to trade down to pick up additional assets. In this case I trade this pick (#52), #66, and a 2017 5th round pick for Tampa's pick #43 which they acquired from the Bruins. With this pick, I'm able to grab Johansen.
The Hurricanes trade pick #52, pick #66, and a 2017 5th round pick to Tampa Bay for pick #44 and select Lucas Johansen
Picks #73 & #74 (with #66 traded)
For my money the 3rd round is where many teams get those non-flashy but core players. This is where those solid middle 6 guys or #4/#5 defensemen can show up. Radko Gudas, Vincent Trocheck, Adam Lowry, and Alex Killorn were all 3rd rounders. Our own Joakim Nordstrom and Brett Pesce were those type of guys. Yet you can also find the Shayne Gostibeheres and Anthony Duclairs out there too. This year's draft has the same potential, perhaps with a few more diamonds buried a little deeper in the proverbial rough.
At this point my draft book is probably all confused and crazed given that folks have likely gone off the board with some of their picks. We get closer and closer to "gut feels" about guys. I would have loved to have picked up the young Finn, Janne Kuokkanen, but I can't believe he'd be on the board at this point. Do you look at Brayden Burke, the high scoring 19 year old who led Lethbridge with 109 points or is his size too much of an issue? I'm also looking hard at the Minnesota native Joey Anderson who put up great numbers for both the USNTDP and the U.S. National U18 team. The fact that he's heading to the Minnesota-Duluth program is icing on the cake. Brandon Gignac was nearly a point a game producer for the Cataractes in the Q. Maybe even Mitchell Mattson is still around. The MN prodigy is another guy who's heading to UND for a dose of high end development. These attractive options if around would also be interesting ones for the next pick. However, organizational need takes the day here and I add a RW with lots of potential.
Carolina chooses Joey Anderson with pick #73
Much like the last pick, nobody should be thinking conservatively in the 3rd round. You draft smart but you also take a risk or two in these middle rounds. In addition to the guys above there's a group of very good Finns, at least one of which is likely to be on the board still: Otto Somppi, Otto Makinen, and Eetu Tuulola. Tuulola is another guy that's up and down everybody's draft board. Good size, great hands, and loads of hockey sense, there is some question about his skating. Then there's Wade Allison, a sizey right wing prospect who put up 47 points in 52 tilts in the USHL. He's Western Michigan University bound in the Fall. The Calgary Hitman sharpshooter, Jakob Stukel, would be an option here as well. He potted 34 goals in 57 games. Dmitri Sokolov, the center/winger prospect, who potted 30 goals recently added size, growing a couple of inches and adding 20 lbs. Or maybe you take a flyer on the very big, but very young Brett Murray, who played in the CCHL and is heading to Penn State in the Fall. I especially like Tuulola, Sokolov, and Murray, but feel that Murray has the most upside.
With pick #74 the Hurricanes choose Brett Murray
Ah, the fourth round...the Jaccob Slavin round as it will forever be know in Hurricanes lore. And we've got some serious choices to make. There are still a number of "under the radar" netminders remaining. There are a number of high risk/high reward forwards left, but many will be on the board for the next pick too. So we are again going to concentrate on the blueline. If he's still there it is almost impossible not to select Riley "Son of Cory" Stillman at this spot. Interestingly enough he's performed better in his first full year in the OHL, than the legacy, Josh Wesley, did in any of his years in the OHL. Another guy who is tough to figure out, is rated all over the place, but has size and seems to have skill is J.D. Greenway. He could go anywhere from the late 2nd round to the 6th round depending on who you listened to. Matthew Cairns, a youngster who played in the OJHL and opted to not play major juniors, is off to Cornell. He's a big bodied defenseman who can skate well. He'll be in the mix.
However, if he's still on the board, and I believe he will be, then Jordan Sambrook would be the guy I snag here. As a rookie playing for the Erie Otters, he jumped in whenever asked in whatever situation. His 9 goals were all at even strength. A good skater, he's got a stride that easily allows him to pick up more speed. He also has a highly underrated shot. Jordan Sambrook is still growing into his 6'2" body and could likely be one of the nice surprises at this point in the draft.
Carolina selects Jordan Sambrook with pick #103
It's a crap shoot from here on out folks. I'd like to get a goalie and I'd like to get one of the remaining super skilled guys. If he's still available here in the 5th round, I'd love to get Tyler Parsons, London's goalie who has been instrumental in their success this year. With GAA of 2.33 and 2.30 in the regular season and playoffs (so far) respectively, he also sports gaudy SV% numbers of .921 for the regular season and .926 for the playoffs. But with him recently ranking as the #3 North American netminder by Central Scouting, he's probably gone by now and the Canes will need to dig deeper to find their next Freddie Andersen. Personally I think there will be a couple of guys to take a flyer on with the last pick.
So it looks like we go with a forward with this pick. With this pick we're also looking for pure skill, size be damned (okay, if there's skill and size left that would be good too). I'd look to a guy like Maxime Fortier who uses his speed and quickness to get him into good scoring position. Another option is Kyle Maksimovich, the smallish Erie Otter scoring threat with great speed and even better vision. Some compare him to Cam Atkinson with maybe even a little more edge. Another small and speedy guy is Max Gerlach who potted 30 goals for Medicine Hat in his inaugural WHL year. Maybe Ty Ronning's still around at this pick. He's another smallish guy who is super quick and has a great nose for the net. Mostly unknown except to scouts is Rem Pitlick, the USHL product who led the league in scoring and is off to Univ. of Minn. in the Fall. In the end it comes down to who is the most skilled and I'm taking the league scoring leader, Pitlick. After all if I thought the 2nd place scorer was worth the pick, why not the leader.
Hurricanes draft Rem Pitlick at #133
We decided to put off selecting a goalie until our last pick. Maybe we're hoping for some repeat mojo, but regardless there are a few guys with non-traditional backgrounds that we'll look at. Colton Point, the hulking CCHL product, committed to Colgate, put up some incredible numbers albeit against inferior competition. Another bigger guy who has come up through the USNTDP Juniors and the USDP is Joseph Woll. He's also a big guy and has put up some nice numbers as well. He's heading to Boston College in the Fall so his development will continue in a great program. Kamloops goalie Connor Ingram is coming off of back-to-back solid seasons and his playoff run just ended where he only gave up 15 goals in 7 games. Finally, playing in the lesser known North American Hockey League is Jack LaFontaine where he put up impressive numbers for Janesville. He's must not a total unknown as he's committed to University of Michigan for the 2017-18 season.
While I'd be happy with any of those guys, my guess is that, in real life, I'd end up with Connor Ingram.
The Carolina Hurricanes end their draft by selecting Connor Ingram with pick #163
In the end I selected a blend of skill and size, took some calculated risks on the back end, and found a goalie prospect that I really like. My strategy didn't always focus on the best player available, but rather on what I perceived to be the best players, over time, that filled the appropriate team need. If I were GM I'd continue to make sure I drafted at least one defenseman, and likely two, at each and every draft where we had our full compliment of picks. I'd probably select something like 4 goalies every 6 years as they are the wildest of wildcards in my opinion. For my forwards I would focus equal amounts on skill and size with a special emphasis on speed.
We started with 11 picks and ended up with 8 prospects and 1 NHLer. I could easily see Ron Francis trading for one more NHL ready guy or, as I did, he could use some mix of his middle and/or late round picks to push up in a round. Regardless, this year's draft has the potential to dramatically make this team into the one that Ron Francis feels can begin to compete in the playoffs and beyond.
Recap and Vital Statistics
Tyson Jost - C/LW
6', 195 lbs.
Trade #23 and Brock McGinn
Chris Kreider - LW
6'3", 225 lbs.
Cameron Morrison - C/LW
6'2", 205 lbs.
Trade #52, #66, and 2017 5th round pick for #44
Lucas Johansen - LD
6'1", 175 lbs.
Joey Anderson - RW
5'11", 190 lbs.
Brett Murray - LW
6'4" - 200 lbs.
Jordan Sambrook - RD
6'2", 185 lbs.
Rem Pitlick - C
5'9", 195 lbs.
Connor Ingram - G
6'1", 195 lbs.