With the 2018 NHL Draft less than a month away, the Hurricanes are in a position they have not been since 2003. The second overall pick was an early Christmas gift for the franchise, having finished 11th worst in the league and looking at drafting a prospect two to three years away had they stayed at 11.
Whether they use the pick - on Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, Brady Tkachuk, or someone else - or trade the pick for an elite talent, the Hurricanes are playing with house money and have many options ahead of them. This draft is different than previous years. With the promotion of Don Waddell to general manager and a revamped hockey operations department, this will be Waddell’s first chance to make his mark on a franchise muddled in mediocrity.
Waddell’s decision at number two, as well as in the later rounds of the draft, will come under intense scrutiny, given that fans and some members of the media were leaning towards an outside hire instead of a promotion from within. It will be up to Waddell to not make the same mistakes as his predecessors Ron Francis and Jim Rutherford. Each former general manager made mistakes on the draft floor but also had many success stories in the lower rounds.
An area of multiple mistakes which Waddell will have to avoid now that he has taken over the reigns are the draft years from 2011 to 2014 and the mindset which his predecessors had during that time frame. The franchise, and its former GMs Rutherford and Francis, made many mistakes in that time frame that has set the franchise back a few years in its rebuilding plan. While there was value in the later rounds during those four years, such as Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin, the franchise made critical mistakes in the first round.
Let’s take a look back:
Ahhh, the infamous Ryan Murphy draft. The puck-moving blueliner was selected 12th overall and was seen as a high-risk, high-reward selection. His size was questionable and he needed additional weight in order to be a reliable defender at the professional level. He did not put on the weight needed and his game failed to translate. The Hurricanes defender spent five nondescript seasons with the franchise before being shipped out with goaltender Eddie Lack to Calgary last summer. Murphy was released by the Flames a day later and eventually signed with the Minnesota Wild, with whom he played just 21 games.
Murphy failed to even come close to a full season of play for the Hurricanes and his numbers failed to live up to the initial hype. His career high, in both games and points, was a 48-game, 13-point season in 2013-14. His four goals that year were also a career high. Despite being heralded as a great puck mover, Murphy’s career Corsi numbers remain below 50% as well as his Fenwick numbers. Murphy was sheltered in his time in Carolina and given ample opportunity to grow offensively, given his zone starts were mostly in the offensive zone, yet he never did. Murphy remains one of Carolina’s biggest busts.
It’s not the transaction the Hurricanes made that hurt the franchise; it was the timing and mindset. Jordan Staal continues to be a reliable second line center for the Hurricanes. He drives play, plays great defensive hockey and has found a home between Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen that allows him to facilitate plays to his gifted wingers.
However, the trade for Staal came at the wrong time in the franchise’s history. General manager Jim Rutherford assumed his team was just mere pieces away from a playoff run and decided to make a gamble for Staal. While his numbers have remained consistently good through his past few seasons, the team has yet to be rewarded with a playoff spot since his arrival.
Rutherford failed to add additional pieces around Staal to help the team get over the hump and decided to gamble too early in the Hurricanes’ rebuild. Had the Hurricanes remained patient and kept the first round pick, Jacob Trouba was available at the eighth overall selection. Adding a franchise defenseman wouldn’t have hurt the Hurricanes in the long run.
After conceptualizing my idea for this article, I ran it by fellow Canes Country writers Brett Finger and Kyle Morton. They believed it had its fair share of strengths but we had one major disagreement: the 2013 draft. Brett said not to read the comment section after writing it. Frankly, I’m not afraid to say it but here it goes: Elias Lindholm was the wrong choice for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Is he an competent player? Yes. Does he fit well into his role with this team? Yes. Are his capabilities as a player good enough to warrant a fifth overall selection? No. Was there a better player available on the draft board at number five? Absolutely.
The Hurricanes made a grave mistake in not drafting Sean Monahan with the fifth overall selection. He fit into the mold of the player they were looking for at the time and is a true positional center that would have solidified how the Hurricanes matched up down the middle. I’m a firm believer in the phrase “numbers never lie.” With both players playing five seasons and staying relatively healthy, it’s easy to see their career trajectories:
Lindholm vs Monahan Career
|20+ Goal Seasons||0||5|
|50 Point Seasons||0||4|
|Career High Goals||17||31|
|Career High Points||45||64|
|Career Shooting %||8.90%||14.90%|
|Points per 82/GP||41||59|
Statistically, this selection still does not make sense. The offensive value of Monahan may be inflated with Johnny Gaudreau on his wing, but the Calgary center remains a superior offensive player to Lindholm.
With the selection of Haydn Fleury at 8th overall, the mindset was that the organization was filling a need: defense. At that point in time, neither Jaccob Slavin nor Brett Pesce had not played an NHL game. The mindset of new general manager Ron Francis was to restock the prospect cupboard and to fill a positional need that had eluded the franchise in previous years.
However, by selecting Fleury, Francis left the “best player available” on the board — and in this case, the best players available. Just one selection later, the Toronto Maple Leafs chose William Nylander. The Swedish forward has now had back-to-back 61 point seasons in his first two full seasons in the NHL. The Canes also missed out on gifted forward Nikolaj Ehlers who was chosen by the Winnipeg Jets two selections later. Ehlers, like Nylander, has had back-to-back seasons of at least 60 points.
Fleury played his first NHL season in 2017-18 and played well in a complementary third-pairing role. He did not find the back of the net once but registered eight assists. His possession numbers were average, with a Corsi of 51.5%. However, unless Fleury’s career trajectory skyrockets, it’s hard to jus a selection like Fleury with two gamebreakers having been selected immediately after him.