CHICAGO — As a player, Robert Kron was solid, but no different than any number of Czech journeymen forwards who scrabbled out a living across the hockey world. Joni Pitkanen, on the other hand was a Finnish defenseman who didn’t quite live up to the high expectations of a fourth-overall selection but was nonetheless a significant contributor to three teams before an injury ended his career.
One a forward, one a defenseman. One a first-rounder, the other a fifth-rounder. They didn’t have much in common until this weekend, but now Kron and Pitkanen are joined together in a significant way. The 2017 NHL Draft, by and large, was theirs.
Three Finns joined Czech first-rounder Martin Necas during Saturday’s second day of the draft at United Center. It was the first time the Hurricanes have ever taken four players from European leagues at the draft, although general manager Ron Francis said that wasn’t necessarily by design.
“If anything, we tried to get more North Americans,” he told the media. “But it’s the way the draft fell. When we were sitting there looking at the players, we said ‘this is a guy with skill, we have a chance, he’s a good prospect. Let’s take him.’”
And yes, the Hurricanes selecting nine players over the two days of the draft means that no trades were made. It wasn’t by choice, Francis said, as he was working the phones all weekend. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks. We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.
“If anything, I think we’re still in the same boat” as far as free agency, which opens next Saturday, is concerned, according to Francis. “We’re open to [adding players] whether it’s in free agency, or from teams that go into free agency that need to move guys to sign contracts. We’re in a strong position to be able to do that.”
The second day of the draft is typically the busier of the two when it comes to transactions, but Travis Hamonic was the only player traded off of any NHL roster on Saturday. It was a strange draft from that perspective, as the trade paralysis that preceded the expansion draft last week seems to have persisted into this week.
Oddly, six of the nine picks came from either the Western Hockey League or from Finland, but that was coincidental. “I know our western scouts are real happy they got rewarded this year,” Francis quipped. The WHL is the most physical of the three Canadian junior leagues, and the players they drafted from there fit that profile.
“Morgan Geekie is a big centerman [who scored] 90 points,” Francis explained. “He went through the draft this year, but we thought he was worth taking a shot on. [Brendan] de Jong is big - 6’5”-plus - but he can skate and do a lot of good things. The last half of this year was really strong for him so guys were really excited about that. [Stelio] Mattheos, same thing, kind of a big body and a guy we think is a good prospect.”
Also noteworthy: Two overage players were selected, the first time the Canes have gone down that road in many years and perhaps ever. Geekie and de Jong were both draft eligible last year, but neither was selected, leaving them available for selection in their 19-year-old season from their junior teams. “There’s a lot of factors that go into why the guy went through [the draft previously], why you want to put him on yoru list now, where he slots in versus a kid that’s a year younger than him,” said Francis. “All those things are factored in and those meetings take place prior to today, so when the draft falls the way it does, you’re comfortable making those choices.”
But overall, Francis is comfortable with how the draft shook out, even if he leaves Chicago a little disappointed with the fact that the draft class was as large as it was. And it will largely be a long-term view for developing the players that were selected over the past few days, with the Canes not expecting any of them to step in nearly immediately in the pattern of a Sebastian Aho or a Noah Hanifin.
“I think any time you draft kids, you want to give them the time to develop and put them in situations where they can be successful, so when they step in, they’re ready to contribute right away,” Francis said. “It’d be a pleasant surprise if anybody stepped in from today’s draft, but we’re not sitting here banking on that.”
The Canes still have millions in cap space and a decent distance to go to the cap floor, so when free agency opens next Saturday the team will be ready. But for now, the Canes got a haul that was largely influenced by a pair of former Hurricanes players who left their mark on the organization this weekend in a different way.
Ron Francis live in Chicago after the 2017 NHL DraftPosted by Canes Country on Saturday, June 24, 2017
Tony MacDonald livePosted by Canes Country on Saturday, June 24, 2017