Grading and reviewing a draft days after it occurs is always going to be somewhat of an exercise in futility. Organizational need today is completely different than it may be a week from now, once free agency begins - let alone years down the road. With that in mind, it’s a bit of a fool’s errand to praise or criticize the Carolina Hurricanes for their work at the 2016 NHL Draft over the weekend.
Armed with three third-round draft picks, most figured that the Canes would use that currency to move up or pick up a player over the weekend. Somewhat surprisingly, the Canes did neither, although they had already spent a second-rounder as part of the Teuvo Teravainen/Bryan Bickell trade earlier in the week.
According to general manager Ron Francis, though, the lack of movement wasn’t for lack of trying, and while it’s always easy for armchair GMs to criticize the lack of movement, sometimes the asking prices are so high that it becomes counterproductive. Ask the Blue Jackets, who were trying desperately to trade down with either Edmonton or Vancouver, found no takers, and have spent the last three days being summarily roasted for taking the player they wanted, Pierre-Luc Dubois, higher than it was thought he should have gone.
It should also be pointed out that, while trades in the back half of the top 10 aren’t rare (although there were none on Friday), it’s exceptionally rare for teams to trade up into the top 5 picks on draft day from outside the top 10. In fact, it’s only happened once since 2000, when the Flyers in 2002 traded up to take old friend Joni Pitkanen. Trades are great fun for fans and the salary-cap resource cottage industry, but in the real world of actual NHL general managers they are much more rare than Twitter would have you believe.
This year, for the first time in his tenure, Francis seemed to really swing for the fences. He skipped over Jakob Chychrun, who earlier in the year had been mentioned in the rarefied air of Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, in favor of Jake Bean, who rocketed up from an undrafted WHL prospect to one of the fastest rising stocks in the draft pool. Bean is undoubtedly a project - at 173 pounds, he’s going to need to fill out his frame before he has any prayer of making an NHL roster - and it was the kind of pick that could look really good or really bad in a few years.
The Canes’ second first-rounder, Julien Gauthier, is more of a "safe" prospect (to the extent that anyone selected in the draft is safe; Phillippe Paradis says hello), and the Canes’ second-round pick, Janne Kuokkanen, also falls into that category. Playing in the same Finnish program that produced wunderkind Sebastian Aho, the Canes obviously have spent plenty of time scouting Finnish players, and their track record has been fairly good so far. With Teravainen already being penciled into a top-nine role and Aho likely to have a good shot at making the team out of training camp, Kuokkanen should slide in nicely alongside Aleksi Saarela and Rasmus Tirronen over the next couple of years to give the Charlotte Checkers a Finnish flavor.
The three third round picks are dart throws, especially Hudson Elynuik, who is already quite tall at 6’4" and developed under the radar with Spokane of the WHL, a club Bill Peters once coached. One scouting report called Elynuik a "man-child," and he could be a great bargain, but he is as much an unknown quantity as any player the Canes selected - including Noah Carroll, who did time on an abysmal Guelph Storm team that conceded almost 300 goals in just 68 games but just the year before advanced to the second round of the OHL playoffs.
In his third draft, it has become obvious that Francis prioritizes players who have an NHL pedigree in their family. In his third draft, he selected three players who had relatives play in the league: Gauthier and Jack LaFontaine’s uncles were both NHL players, as was Elynuik’s father. They join Josh Wesley and Luke Stevens as players picked by Francis who have NHL bloodlines, and the total throughout the system is now at ten , with Brock McGinn, Keegan Lowe, Jake Chelios, Brody Sutter and Brendan Woods also having family members who either played or currently play in the NHL.
Also prioritized: size. Francis has yet to pick a player under 5’11", and all nine of his selections this year are at least six feet tall. Twelve of the 25 players the Hurricanes have drafted in Francis’ tenure are 6’2" or taller, including four (Gauthier, Elynuik, LaFontaine and Jeremy Helvig) this year. The days of Ryan Murphy, Zach Boychuk and Chris Terry-height players being selected regularly seem to be fading slowly into the background.
Some rumblings from Edmonton indicated that Nail Yakupov was available at a discount, and it was somewhat of a surprise that he didn’t move anywhere over the weekend. Should Francis have taken a flyer on the former first overall pick? Perhaps, but the fact that he didn’t indicates that either Edmonton was asking for too much or, more likely, that the position he likely would have taken on the roster is penciled in with the name of Aho, Saarela, Valentin Zykov or someone else (a free agent?). If one would want to criticize Francis for being too non-aggressive, this is probably where it would happen, but with a bunch of prospects knocking at the door of the NHL roster the inaction is at least defensible.
With less than a week to go before free agency, Francis has continued to prove that his slow-but-steady rebuild of the Hurricanes will not be derailed by big shiny objects. At some point, the Canes will need to spend money - they have just under $6 million to spend to hit the cap floor, a good chunk of which will go toward new contracts for Victor Rask and, likely, Murphy - but in the meantime, it’s fair to say that Francis has the NHL team trending upward while simultaneously stocking the system with quality prospects. That’s a tough balancing act to pull off, but the Canes are well-poised to do it.