For some of these Best Ofs, there’s been (or going to be, spoiler alert) some grading on a curve. Not with the OHL picks.
How good? We’re rolling four deep here, everybody. In fact, check out this Top Six:
Eric Staal (Peterborough Petes)/Jeff O'Neill (Guelph Storm)/Cory Stillman (Windsor Spitfires/Peterborough Petes)
Ron Francis (Sault St. Marie Greyhounds)/Jeff Skinner (Kitchener Rangers)/Justin Williams (Plymouth Whalers)
Yeah, that's a pretty great pair of top lines there. You can mix and match them as you please. Obviously, Staal and Stillman had great chemistry together and Francis had more than a little to do with O'Neill's 30 and 40 goal seasons. I suppose in an ideal world Peak Eric Staal is an Number #1 Center/Centre and Ron Francis is a #2 (especially since we're considering the Hurricanes portion of both of their careers for this hypothetical list).
With the possible exception of having Staal and Skinner on the same line (which I'm not sure ever worked here, but coaching may have contributed to that as well), I don't think there's a bad way to combine these guys. If you want to be really pick a lot of nits, this isn't the most physical pair of top lines ever. You think we can fix that? I do:
Jordan Staal (Peterborough Petes)/Gary Roberts (Ottawa 67's)/Josef Vasicek (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds)
Um, yeah. I daresay this is probably the most skilled AND physical two-way line you can make in Carolina Hurricanes history that wouldn't have Rod Brind'Amour on it. If Jordan can make Joakim Nordstrom and Andrej Nestrasil wings on a top-tier line (I dimly recall that line went roughly a month season before last with giving up a goal and STILL scored a lot), imagine what he could do with these two on either side of him. If you wanted to shuffle any of these guys up a line or two for a different look, you could TOTALLY do that.
I'm not saying these are the best three lines in Carolina Hurricanes history, but you'd have al least four or five of these guys on such a list easy.
Chad LaRose (Plymouth Whalers)/Jiri Tlusty (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds)/Jeff Daniels (Oshawa Generals)
If you're primarily using your fourth line as someplace to stash your penalty killing forwards, then you could worse than these guys. Obviously Tlusty can slot higher up in the lineup if need be, as can LaRose to a lesser extent.
1st Pair: Tim Gleason (Windsor Spitfires)/Paul Coffey (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds)
Gleason is a slam dunk here, at his peak he was a great stay-at-home defender and his physicality would come in handy. Coffey is a less obvious choice--he wasn't exactly Peak Paul Coffey in his time here--but in my research it became hard not to prefer 115 games of later-period Paul Coffey over, say, 151 games of Ryan Murphy or 127 games of Adam Burt.
2nd Pair: Andrej Sekara (Owen Sound Attack)/Bryan Allen (Oshawa Generals)
Yeah, more of a sample-size conundrum here. These two only played here a combined 232 games (Sekara at 131, Allen 101), but I'm applying the same argument here as I did for Coffey above. I wouldn't be offended if you let recency bias shift Sekara up to the top pairing for Coffey (Sekara's peak here was probably better than Coffey's, after all). I just feel like the top four balances out a little better this way.
That's especially important considering the impending quality drop-off in our final pairing. Speaking of which:
3rd pair: Jay Harrison (Brampton Battalion)/Brett Bellimore (Plymouth Whalers)
This is a perfectly adequate third pair. I feel like asking anything more of this pairing isn't a great idea.
GOALIES: Kevin Weekes (Owen Sound Platers)/Justin Peters (Plymouth Whalers)
Two goalies with decent floors, if not necessarily high ceilings. The fact that their careers coincided with the top two goalies in Hurricanes history probably adversely affected their time here, though that (again) wasn't completely their fault. I'm sure these two and Eddie Lack could have some interesting chats about the matter.
Forward: Scott Walker (Owen Sound Platers)
I wanted to put him up there, and I wouldn't blame you for wanting to sub him out for someone else on the 4th line (though any higher than that I personally would think is a stretch), but the idea of LaRose and Walker on the same line didn't do a lot for me. Also, I feel like Walker's too good for a fourth line but he's not any better than the current nine forwards on the list.
Adam Burt (North Bay Continentals)
So, I never went to a game in Greensboro (By dumb luck I'm pretty sure my first Hurricanes game was the first time they hosted the Flyers after the Brind'Amour/Keith Primeau trade). That's probably a blind spot for a lot of Hurricanes fans (full kudos to the diehards who did go to games in Greensboro) besides me if you're trying to make a list like this , and I wish there was some way around that. Without a time machine, there isn't.
It's hard to contextualize guys like Burt or Ray Sheppard in the broader scheme of things. But I'm going to go ahead and assume that he was better than Ryan Murphy. For all I know, he was better than Paul Coffey was here. I figure this is splitting the distance as best as is reasonable to do.
Goalies: Manny Legace (Niagara Falls Thunder)/Mike Murphy (Belleville Bulls)
Manny wasn't terrible when we picked him up off the scrap heap and it was kinda cool to see him spend some time with the franchise that drafted him (even if they moved.) As Murphy never was able to do much in Raleigh, but let's not turn down a chance to link to one of the strangest NHL career stat lines ever.
Player(s) Most Likely To Make The Quarter Century Team:
Winger: Brock McGinn (Guelph Storm)
Goalie: Alex Nedeljkovic (Plymouth Whalers/Flint Firebirds/Niagara IceDogs)
I'm not saying either player's chances are GREAT for breaking the list, but it could happen. Their scenarios are fairly similar in fact, since they're both fraught with Darkest Timeline overtones.
For McGinn, he could easily be on that fourth line (third line if you're ABSOLUTELY Best Case Scenario, but wow that's optimistic) a few years from now. However, there's a lot of competition with guys like Phil Di Giuseppe before we can project too much farther.
Similarly, while it'd be great to see Alex become a top-tier goalie here? That probably means things with Scott Darling went sideways (at best) in the next five years. Maybe that's unfair since he just got here and even Alex has played more the Hurricanes than Darling so far, but the career arc of goalies are often high risk/high reward.
I'll be going back to a smaller list for the WHL version of this list (it'll fall somewhere between this one and the QMJHL list), but I figure blowing this one out was worth it, given what the high of the allowed talent pool was.