CHICAGO — The first round of the NHL Draft went 25 picks before a trade was consummated, and when it was, it opened the gates to two more before the end of the night. Unsurprisingly, Ron Francis wasn’t involved, as the Carolina Hurricanes’ general manager has proven over the years that he values his picks and won’t give them up easily.
But that wasn’t to say that he didn’t at least try. Francis told the media that while he had some conversations with other general managers on the draft floor in Chicago, he wasn’t anywhere near pulling a deal off, ultimately selecting Czech center Martin Necas (pronounced “NEH-chahss”) with the 12th pick and staying right where they were to start the evening.
“We’ve been in trade talks with all of our picks, but at the end of the day you’ve gotta look at the value of what you’re getting versus what you might be able to take (in the draft) and for where we are and what we’re building, there wasn’t anything that we felt comfortable giving up pick #12 for,” Francis said.
However, Francis was noticeably less committal than usual to keeping all of his picks. The Canes have addressed their goaltending and their bottom defensive pairing, but still have work to do. “Certainly if we can add a piece up front, we’re open to doing that,” he said.
With the first round going a little differently than most expected - Gabriel Vilardi, widely expected to be a top-ten selection (if not top-five), instead went one pick before Carolina was on the clock - Francis and his scouting staff had multiple names still on the board when their pick was up. They went with Necas, who had seemed to be a good fit from the start.
“He’s a good skater, he can make plays, he plays with a bit of an edge, which I think for us we’re really excited to get. He was high on our list and as he develops I think he’ll be a real good piece going forward,” Francis said.
It was another pick that was strongly encouraged by European scout Robert Kron, who has a good track record, having been a major influence in the Canes’ selection of Sebastian Aho two years ago and Janne Kuokkanen last year. If the Canes seem like they are moving in more of a balanced direction after years of taking North Americans in high rounds, it’s largely due to Kron’s increasingly influential voice at the draft table.
Francis did acknowledge that Necas would be a bit of a project. The chances of him coming over immediately to play in North America are slim, as Necas himself said when he met with the media after his selection. But that may be a benefit to the Canes in the long-term, as he’ll be able to grow out a bit in the Czech league instead of needing to do so in junior hockey or the AHL.
“Everything depends on how it goes. When we drafted Sebastian Aho, I don’t think people thought he was very big and it was going to take a while for him to play, he turned out to be a pretty smart player and very effective for us in a hurry,” Francis said, “this guy (Necas) has put on some weight and probably needs to put on some more, but I think with his skill and his smarts you don’t bet against a guy like that.”
But after all that, Francis said that he was open to adding additional help at forward, and while he didn’t come right out and say that he would be wheeling and dealing, he was noticeably less forceful than usual in saying he was comfortable with his position tomorrow. To that end, the Canes’ draft board was largely wiped out at the end of the night, potentially making it more likely that Francis could move a pick or two if he doesn’t have a good value on the board when their selection comes up eleven picks into the second round tomorrow.
“It’s a good thing, but it’s an unfortunate thing, it seems like our guys do a heck of a job every year. You set your list, and there aren’t many guys (left on that list) that (weren’t picked tonight),” Francis said.
“We’ll go back to the hotel and convene and see where we are on the list and what we want to do.” With just under eleven hours before the second round begins, the Canes have work to do on what could be an active day tomorrow.