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Grading the Hurricanes’ Draft Classes: Part 1

The Hurricanes have built their team largely through the draft, but not every draft pick pans out. How do the Canes’ draft classes look through the advantage of hindsight?

2009 NHL Entry Draft, First Round Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In recent years, the Carolina Hurricanes have been reaping the benefits of a well-oiled draft machine, one that’s contributed to the team’s ascension from decade-long cellar dweller to playoff regular. Not every draft pick has lived up to expectations, but that’s standard in a league that drafts over 200 players every year yet only has 700-some players on active rosters at any given time.

But not all draft classes are created equal. For the next couple of weeks, we’ll be taking a look at each Hurricanes class since the start of the seven-round draft format in 2005. We’ve gone through each draft pick and assigned a grade to each one, then we took the GPA for the year and ranked them from best to worst.

A few notes on the grading:

  • We are grading based on how well the player performed in relation to his draft slot. It’s not an absolute scale where a player gets an A for making the NHL no matter where his career ended up. It’s a sliding scale, so a first-rounder who becomes a role player might receive a C, where a sixth-rounder who serves the same role might receive an A.
  • In general, later round picks are graded on a higher curve. It’s rare that a team will hit on a seventh-rounder, but if they do, the grades reward that. For that reason, the majority of late-round picks will receive no worse than a C- or so.
  • We are considering a player’s entire professional career, not just his career with the Hurricanes. Even through Frederik Andersen never played a second with the Hurricanes, for example, the team gets credit for digging him up in the seventh round. This is intended to grade scouting, not front-office decisions.
  • Later-round picks who became minor-league mainstays count for something, although they don’t get quite as much of a boost than players who made the NHL. After all, the draft is also a place to shore up your organizational depth, not just to find game-breaking NHL players.
  • To make things more streamlined, we are not considering for whom a player might have been traded. This is solely looking at each individual player’s contribution to a professional roster over the course of his career. Along the same lines, we aren’t considering who was still on the board when the player was drafted.

Today, we’ll start with the bottom three classes, which will dredge up some names you had forgotten and some others you may not have ever known existed.

2009: 1.556 GPA

If you ever wonder why the Hurricanes didn’t make the playoffs for a decade after reaching the Eastern Conference final in 2009, just look at the draft class from a month later. This is the only draft class we graded that had multiple F’s, and it’s worthy of its spot at the bottom of the list.

Round 1 #28: Philippe Paradis - Grade: F

It’s somehow appropriate that this list starts with one of the Hurricanes’ all-time busts. Paradis was seen as a surprise pick when his name was announced, and it somehow got even worse with time. Paradis at least became an AHL regular, which is more than you can say for the other candidate in the worst-bust competition (Igor Knyazev), but when your name is synonymous with draft futility, yeah, the scouting staff fully earned that F.

Round 2 #51: Brian Dumoulin - Grade: A-

It wasn’t with the Hurricanes, but Dumoulin ended up as a top-four defenseman on a couple of Cup-winning teams, so he grades highly. The only unqualified success from this draft class, and no one is particularly close.

Round 3 #88: Mattias Lindstrom - Grade: F

While not every third-rounder should be expected to make a roster at some point, it seems like a basic expectation that players taken in the top 100 or so should at least sign an NHL contract. Lindstrom never did, and played just four professional seasons. This was a whiff.

Round 5 #131: Matt Kennedy - Grade: D

Another player who never signed an NHL contract, but in the fifth round it’s a bit more understandable.

Round 6 #178: Rasmus Rissanen - Grade: B-

Not only did he earn an NHL contract, but Rissanen actually had a cup of NHL coffee in the Hurricanes’ eminently forgettable 2014-15 season (Jack Hillen! Danny Biega! 49 games of Brett Bellemore!). While it didn’t amount to much of anything, Rissanen was a Checkers regular for years, and has continued his career in Europe, playing the past two seasons in Sweden.

Round 7 #208: Tommi Kivisto - Grade: C

Never signed an NHL contract, but that’s almost expected from a seventh rounder.

2005: 1.667 GPA

This was....not a good draft. Of nine players drafted, just one recorded double-digit NHL games, and that player never played for the Hurricanes. Of course, that’s not relevant to grading how well the scouting team did, but even setting that aside, when you draft five players who never signed entry-level contracts, it’s hard to call it an overall success.

Round 1 #3: Jack Johnson - Grade: B+

When you take a defenseman with a top-three pick, you’re expecting him to be a nearly generational talent. Johnson isn’t that, but he’s carved out a solid career, and it’s only been in the past 4-5 years that he’s really become radioactive. He was the obvious pick, and it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t a home run either.

Round 2 #58: Nate Hagemo - Grade: Incomplete

We’re going to be generous here and not grade Hagemo, who never signed an NHL deal thanks to a shoulder injury that ended his career before it began. Incompletes don’t count in the GPA calculation.

Round 3 #64: Joe Barnes - Grade: D

Signed an ELC but that was about it. Which, amazingly, puts him in the top half of this class.

Round 4 #94: Jakub Vojta - Grade: D-
Round 4 #123: Ondrej Otcenas - Grade: D-
Round 5 #145: Timothy Kunes - Grade: D+
Round 5 #159: Risto Korhonen - Grade: D+

None of these players signed an ELC. There are way more misses than hits from round 4 on, in general, but having four straight picks never play a shift in your organization is a bad look regardless of when they were drafted.

Round 6 #192: Nicolas Blanchard - Grade: B-

Hey, it’s the only other player from this nine-person class to play in the NHL! Blanchard was in the AHL for what seemed like forever, and got a nine-game NHL run in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, alongside Hurricanes legends such as Adam Hall, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Jeremy Welsh.

Round 7 #198: Kyle Lawson - Grade: C+

Lawson never made it to the NHL, topping out at 28 AHL games, but at least he signed an ELC.

2016: 1.762 GPA

This draft class was the only real clunker of Ron Francis’ four-year tenure as GM, and featured four players - nearly half the class - who the Hurricanes did not sign to ELCs. It reflects the tenets of its general manager: cautious, largely safe, with a bunch of bunt-single type picks instead of swings for the fences that didn’t pan out. And there are a couple of players who still don’t have their final grades yet, even four years later.

Round 1 #12: Jake Bean - Grade: B-

Grading Bean was one of the most difficult calls of this whole exercise. On the one hand, he’s yet to nail down a regular NHL role four years after he was drafted, which isn’t great. But on the other, that’s due in large part to the logjam in front of him, which isn’t entirely his fault, and he’s accomplished pretty much everything he can in the AHL. In a majority of other clubs’ systems, Bean would be an established NHLer by now. Of all the grades on the board, this is the one that could fluctuate the most over the next two or three seasons.

Round 1 #21: Julien Gauthier - Grade: C-

He’s probably never going to be the game-changing power forward that he was drafted to be. Unlike with Bean, we pretty much know what Gauthier’s ceiling is: a third-liner, at best, and a regular visitor to the press box as a healthy scratch on an even somewhat good team. You’d expect more from a first-rounder, in general, and perhaps even a C- is being generous.

Round 2 #43: Janne Kuokkanen - Grade: B-

He has a chance to be an NHL regular now that he’s in New Jersey, but chances are that Kuokkanen will be an AHL/NHL tweener, never consistent enough to nail down a permanent roster spot but always in the mix to play bottom-six minutes. In a way he’s the opposite of Gauthier in that we don’t really know what his long-term trajectory is, so this could be another grade that shifts in the years to come. In general you’d like to see second-rounders be more than simply a fringe contributor, but in a new organization he may pan out to be more than that.

Round 3 #67: Matt Filipe - Grade: Incomplete

After spending four seasons at Northeastern, the Hurricanes did not sign Filipe after he graduated, making him an unrestricted free agent this past summer. He then signed an ELC with his hometown Bruins - in the midst of their first-round series against the Hurricanes, no less - so he has a chance to still make something out of his professional career.

Round 3 #74: Hudson Elynuik - Grade: D

Elynuik really took a tumble: a third-round pick that was not signed to an ELC, he re-entered the 2018 draft and was not selected at all. He’s bounced around the Maple Leafs’ system for the past couple of years, but his chances of being an NHL contributor seem remote.

Round 3 #75: Jack LaFontaine - Grade: Incomplete

LaFontaine lives at the intersection of “goalies are weird” and “college players have a long time to make the jump.” Incredibly, LaFontaine still has college eligibility left, five seasons after he was drafted, thanks to a gap year he took in the BCHL after leaving Michigan. It seems unlikely he will sign an ELC, but since he hasn’t hit that deadline yet we can’t really evaluate the pick.

Round 4 #104: Max Zimmer - Grade: D

This goes beyond your typical non-ELC player evaluation, because Zimmer actually signed an amateur tryout with the Checkers just before the season shut down (total games played: 1) and after he finished his senior season at Wisconsin. Yet even after seeing him up close and in person, the Hurricanes still opted against offering Zimmer a contract. There’s nothing published on him signing anywhere to play next season, either in North America or Europe, so this is a pretty big whiff until proven otherwise.

Round 5 #134: Jeremy Helvig - Grade: C-

At one time, Helvig was considered a potential AHL starter - or perhaps more. But he only made it out of the ECHL for a total of two AHL games, and was arrested for battery earlier this year at around the time the coronavirus pandemic shut sports down. He has one year remaining on his ELC, but it seems likely that the Hurricanes will let it expire without a qualifying offer, at best, and he may not even remain with the organization long enough to do that.

Round 6 #164: Noah Carroll - Grade: C-

Carroll was not signed to an ELC after spending five seasons in the OHL, and is entering his third season of Canadian university hockey. It seems unlikely that he will make a long-term professional impact.