“One of the weakest drafts in years”. “There’s no elite talent in this draft”. “You’re going to see a lot of picks traded given the quality of this draft”.
Nearly every pundit, armchair or otherwise, poo-poo’d this year’s NHL Entry Draft. Given the bad press, I’m not sure Ron Francis should even show up. It’s probably such a waste. Or is it...?
The infamous Nail Yakupov-led draft of 2012 offered a similar crop of prospects. The 2nd round of that draft produced Phil Di Giuseppe and Brock McGinn, while the 4th round yielded Jaccob Slavin. In fact, the 3rd round of that draft included the likes of Jimmy Vesey, Shayne Gostisbehere, Colton Parayko, Matt Murray, and the re-drafting of Frederik Andersen.
One might argue this draft is “bottom heavy” in a similar fashion. It’s incumbent on Ron Francis to find similar mid-round gems, as the Hurricanes are not deep enough in scoring forwards or defensively, and have no “sure thing” goalie prospect. Therefore, picks in the 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th rounds need to be winners.
Here’s a take on five later-round prospects who might surprise.
The Second Round is Your Friend
There’s no doubt the Canes’ scouts and GM need to continue their search for skilled forwards with size and sandpaper, but this year instead of seeing big, muscular players like Julien Gauthier and Nicolas Roy, the draft class may necessitate targeting smaller players.
This draft is chock full of smallish guys with tons of skill. The second round will likely see some of them, like Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Joni Ikonen, or Ivan Lodnia, selected. However, if it’s skill you want, no matter the package, then one player stands out.
Aleksi Heponiemi - LW - 5’10”, 147 lbs.
Yes, you read that correctly: less than 150 lbs., dripping wet, but he sure is fun to watch. Possibly one of the slickest playmakers in the draft, Heponiemi sees the play and makes the pass quicker than most competitors would even have time to initiate their thought process. He’s a superior skater and has hockey sense that would remind Canes fans of another, smallish Finn.
Heponiemi has scored at all levels of Finnish hockey, potting 28 goals on his way to 86 points in his inaugural WHL season. His passing skills are top notch, and he’s blessed with a sniper-esque quality shot as well.
Heponiemi’s combination of skills probably would require the Canes to use their first pick of the second round to select him. If he can put on a few pounds, watch out.
Scott Reedy - C/RW - 6’1”, 202 lbs.
Later into the second round, more prototypical guys surface. These players, usually in the area of six feet, 200 pounds, often come with questions about specific skills. This draft is no different featuring players like MacKenzie Entwistle, Jack Studnicka, Isaac Ratcliffe and Reedy.
Reedy confuses scouts, who question his skating while complimenting his edge-work. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Whether it’s timely feeds or quick releases, if the puck’s on Reedy’s stick, scoring seems to follow.
The University of Minnesota commit’s highlight reel includes a wealth of goals close to the net, something the Hurricanes sorely need. HIs 22 goals for the U.S. developmental U18 squad reinforce his ability to find the back of the net. He has good size and plays a heavy game.
If Reedy’s name is called on the draft’s second day, he’ll bring size and skill and some of the grit that the Hurricanes sorely need. If the Canes’ second round included both Heponiemi and Reedy, the team could do much worse.
Three for the 3rd and Beyond
While it is highly doubtful that the Canes use all 11 of their picks, don’t be surprised if the 3rd and 4th rounds yield some interesting selections. One of those could be a right-shot defender, something of an organizational need.
Cale Fleury - RHD - 6’1”, 201 lbs.
Would Carolina dip into the family-ties waters yet again? It can’t be ruled out, especially given Fleury’s 11-goal, 38-point season. Haydn’s younger brother is a smooth skater, a good puck mover, and plays with a bit of an edge.
Cale Fleury’s shot likely will get stronger, but it has already proven dangerous as a number of his early season goals came from point blasts. Even with his easy-going demeanor, his game includes a pretty significant physical aspect. One would like to see that develop even more in the years following his draft.
Jonah Gadjovich - LW - 6’2”, 208 lbs.
While the prevailing belief is that the Hurricanes won’t select 11 players at the draft, it’s a fair bet that they will be picking five or six players in the top 105. If the Canes still have a pick late in the third round or early in the fourth, they will likely take a fast riser from the later rounds like Jesper Boqvist, Robert Thomas, Jonas Rondbjerg or Gadjovich.
Despite perceived skating issues, Gadjovich has been creeping up many draft boards. He’s got size and loves to set up in the opposing netminder’s kitchen. His skating has slowly improved throughout the season. While he also may have benefited from playing with the high scoring Nick Suzuki, his soft hands are a boon whether shooting, deflecting, or passing.
Over the course of his last 42 games, he caught fire, putting up 36 goals during that period. While not really an agitator, he’s a scrappy big man who is tough to move off of the puck, cycles very well, and makes a good living battling in front of the net. If he’s still around at the end of the third round, the Canes should look his way.
Dayton Rasmussen - G - 6'2", 201 lbs.
The other important line of defense stands between the pipes. If this year's draft has a strength, it might be the goaltenders, with the likes of Jake Oettinger, Cayden Primeau and Maxim Zhukov likely to come off the board early.
An early selection of a goaltender doesn't guarantee success - ask Jack Campbell - and Rasmussen might be a beneficiary as a later-round pick who pans out. He has the size and athleticism that are hallmarks of today's successful goaltenders. He's known to be particularly quick and sharp with his glove, and his side-to-side movement in the crease is outstanding, music to the ears of Canes fans.
Calm and steady in net, Rasmussen is headed to the national-champion Denver Pioneers program in the fall. Many experts feel if he works on being even more aggressive while maintaining his superior mechanics, his ceiling could be quite high.
None of this article’s highlighted names are part of the group of headlining prospects. They are, however, the type of players the Hurricanes hopefully can find and develop. In the cap era and on a smaller market team, the draft is the Canes’ oil field. They can ill afford to drill many dry holes.