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Grading the Hurricanes’ Draft Classes: Part 4

We’ve reached the top of the mountain: here are the four best draft classes that the Hurricanes have produced in the NHL’s post-lockout era.

Carolina Hurricanes v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Robert Binder/NHLI via Getty Images

We’ve reached the end: the top four draft classes that the Carolina Hurricanes have selected since the end of the 2004-05 lockout. And yet, even with hitting the top of the mountain, we still hand out an F today. Drafting in the NHL really is a crapshoot, as this exercise has proven.

If you missed any of the previous parts, click here for Part 1 and the methodology; here is Part 2; and here’s Part 3. We’ll also have a wrap-up early next week going over some of the things we learned and some observations about the process.

2017: 2.556 GPA

If you needed proof that grading draft classes requires a lot of time to pass, this should prove it. Even three years later, there are three incompletes in this eight-person class, although to be fair one of them is health-related. Still, there’s a lot to like in this class, led by a first-round pick whose stock has only risen since draft day.

Round 1 #12: Martin Necas - Grade: A-

A year after his selection, there were some who said that Necas could have been a top-three pick in a redraft at that time. But the Hurricanes played the long game with the Czech forward, keeping him in Charlotte and resisting the temptation to bring him up too early. Necas rewarded them with a solid rookie season, and he’ll be counted on more and more to generate offense in the years to come.

Round 2 #42: Eetu Luostarinen - Grade: B+

Few had Luostarinen on the short list for a callup before the 2019-20 season, just months after he signed his ELC, but after an excellent training camp he earned a pair of promotions and ended up playing eight NHL games. He arrived somewhat ahead of schedule, and while he was sent to Florida in the trade for Vincent Trocheck his NHL future looks bright.

Round 2 #52: Luke Martin - Grade: F

No way to sugarcoat this one: if you’re a second-round pick and don’t sign an ELC, it’s not good. Martin graduated from Michigan and hasn’t caught on with any NHL team yet. This was a big miss for the Hurricanes.

Round 3 #67: Morgan Geekie - Grade: A-

The NHL’s leader in career points per game, Geekie had an outstanding season in Charlotte and was rewarded with his NHL debut just before the season shut down. He’s likely to be, at worst, the first callup next season, with an outside chance of making the roster out of training camp. We almost certainly haven’t heard the last from Geekie.

Round 3 #73: Stelio Mattheos - Grade: Incomplete

Another player with a high ceiling, it’s not really fair to grade Mattheos since he spent most of the past year battling testicular cancer. He made an emotional return to the Checkers late in the season, and here’s hoping his recovery continues on its current positive trajectory.

Round 4 #104: Eetu Makiniemi - Grade: Incomplete

Players drafted from Finland have four years instead of the standard two to sign their ELC, so Makiniemi’s deadline to sign is June 1 of next year. It doesn’t seem likely that he will sign, but we’ll keep the grade off the board until the Hurricanes reach the point that they need to make a decision.

Round 6 #166: Brendan De Jong - Grade: C-

Whatever hope De Jong had to play professionally seems to have evaporated. He did not sign an ELC but signed in the ECHL following his junior eligibility, spending a year in the Oilers system. Now in Canadian university hockey, a return to the professional ranks is possible, but unlikely.

Round 7 #197: Ville Rasanen - Grade: Incomplete

Another Finn with extra time to make a decision, Rasanen actually came to North America last season to play in the USHL. He returned to Finland for this season and, like Makiniemi, seems unlikely to return to North America.

2007: 2.667 GPA

This draft is a case study in why it’s so hard to grade full classes as a unit. None of these players became NHL stars, but four of the five players played at least 100 games in the league. But then again, three of the four probably wouldn’t have played that many had the Hurricanes not stunk at the time. We’ll go into more detail on this dilemma next week, but for now, enjoy a solid class of grades.

Round 1 #11: Brandon Sutter - Grade: B+

Sutter isn’t an offensive dynamo, but then again he was never drafted to be one. What he is: a good to better-than-average defensive forward who’s good for around 15 goals a season. You’d probably want a bit more from a player taken just outside the top ten, but there’s nothing really lacking about Sutter’s game either.

Round 3 #72: Drayson Bowman - Grade: B+

Somehow Bowman nearly got to 200 games in the NHL - all but three of which came with Carolina - while being almost entirely anonymous. That’s a reflection of the state of affairs with the Hurricanes in the early 2010s more than anything, but the scouting staff at least identified an NHL player with a mid third-round pick, so from a scouting perspective Bowman counts as a win.

Round 4 #102: Justin McCrae - Grade: D-

Here’s the Hurricanes’ one miss of this draft: McCrae never signed an ELC and spent four years in Canadian university hockey after finishing his junior eligibility, never playing professionally.

Round 5 #132: Chris Terry - Grade: B

Terry’s settled into the Keegan Lowe/Trevor Carrick range of AHL lifers at this point, but unlike those two he has plenty of NHL experience under his belt. A prolific AHL scorer, Terry has twice scored more than a point per game in the second tier (and had a third season where he missed doing so by a single point), but that scoring touch never translated to the NHL, where he was miscast on lower lines and his size worked against him.

Round 6 #162: Brett Bellemore - Grade: B

You’d win a bar bet or two by knowing that, somehow, Brett Bellemore played more than a hundred NHL games. On a good, or even middling, team, there’s no way he comes close to that, but the facts are what they are.

2014: 2.714 GPA

The top three classes are far and away the best graded of any of them, but 2014 has something that neither of the other top two possess: quantity as well as quality. It’s not the highest graded - we’ll get to that one in just a bit - but from top to bottom this may be the most consistently good draft the Hurricanes have ever had.

Round 1 #7: Haydn Fleury - Grade: B

You never doubted, right? Fleury was going nowhere fast until this season, when he took off and essentially forced Rod Brind’Amour’s hand to put him in the lineup every night. Now armed with a new two-year deal, both the Hurricanes and Fleury hope that his breakout season was the start of a new trend rather than an aberration. On most other teams his play late in the season and in the bubble would put him in top-four conversations, so while it took a while, the first-round pick the Canes spent on Fleury may yet pay off after all.

Round 2 #37: Alex Nedeljkovic - Grade: B-

This is a real shaky grade that could still go either way in the next year or two. The pandemic cheated Nedeljkovic out of a chance to prove himself in the NHL, a chance that he hadn’t yet gotten in any meaningful sense. Now what? He’s done everything he can in the AHL, and the clock is ticking ever louder. Six years after he was drafted with the highest pick the Hurricanes spent on a goalie since Cam Ward, we’re no closer to knowing whether Nedeljkovic will be an NHL goaltender. It’s on a knife edge, and could fall either way. Stay tuned.

Round 3 #67: Warren Foegele - Grade: A-

A checking-line mainstay with an underrated scoring touch, Foegele is a real bear to play against. It’s looking like the Hurricanes will avoid an arbitration hearing with him, and as long as Jordan Staal’s defensive game doesn’t take a dive, Foegele will be content as his wingman, frustrating the hell out of the opposition while playing up when necessary. He’s the Hurricanes’ Swiss-army knife, and a solid third-round selection.

Round 4 #96 - Josh Wesley - Grade: D

The name provided a lot of hope, but there’s only going to be one Wesley jersey hanging in the PNC Arena rafters. Wesley’s career will likely peak as an AHL/ECHL tweener, a disappointing footnote to the great story that could have been written when he became the first North Carolina-trained player to be selected in the NHL draft.

Round 4 #97: Lucas Wallmark - Grade: B+

This pick got, um, somewhat less fanfare on draft day - I remember being in Philadelphia and working on a story about Wesley while essentially footnoting Wallmark. Little did I know. The gregarious Swede, sent to Florida in the Trocheck deal and now a member of the Blackhawks, carved out a role for himself and made him nearly indispensable in the Hurricanes’ run to the 2019 playoffs. He is missed in the Hurricanes’ locker room, but he has a lot of NHL hockey left in him.

Round 5 #127: Clark Bishop - Grade: B+

Bishop may never end up as more than a bottom of the lineup option, but here’s the thing: he has a role and plays it really well. He’s an ace penalty killer in the AHL and holds his own at the next level as well, so there will always be a team ready to tack him onto the squad. That’s pretty good for a late-blooming fifth-rounder.

Round 7 #187: Kyle Jenkins - Grade: C

You know it was a good draft when the seventh-rounder is the only player of the seven who never turned professional.

2013: 3.000 GPA

And here it is: the indisputable* best draft in Hurricanes history. Yes, it’s top heavy, but it’s really top heavy. Two NHL regulars comprise half of the class, and considering they were the only two picks the Hurricanes made in the first 100-plus picks of the draft, the margin for error was small - yet they nailed it.

Round 1 #5: Elias Lindholm - Grade: A-

Yes, he was brought on entirely too early, debuting just months after his selection and playing a grand total of six AHL games. There was plenty of worry that Lindholm had plateaued, and the Hurricanes had blown it by not taking Sean Monahan or Valeri Nichushkin. And, yes, based solely off his performance with the Hurricanes, this wasn’t a great pick. But the scouting staff got a big win in retrospect when Lindholm suddenly went bananas after his trade to Calgary. Only three players from his draft class have scored more points: Nathan MacKinnon, Monahan, and Sasha Barkov. That’s good company.

Round 3 #66: Brett Pesce - Grade: A+

It’s kind of funny that the Hurricanes took Pesce in 2013 and then immediately started spending first-round picks on defensemen like clockwork, yet Pesce (and Jaccob Slavin, who was already in the pipeline) was better than any of them. Pesce spent three years at New Hampshire before turning pro, then made his NHL debut less than a month into the 2015 season. He’s never looked back since.

Round 5 #126: Brent Pedersen - Grade: C-

Pedersen is one of the rare players who never signed an ELC and went into the Canadian university ranks, but eventually made it to the professional level anyway. He’s played 65 games in the AHL in the Winnipeg Jets system, and could yet make an NHL cameo. Not bad for a player who was 23 before he made his professional debut.

Round 6 #156: Tyler Ganly - Grade: C+

Ganly split time between the Checkers and Florida Everblades in his first professional season, but has been almost entirely an ECHL player ever since with a few cameo AHL appearances. Interestingly, all four of the draft picks from this class played professionally, making 2013 one of only two classes we reviewed - 2006 is the other - that holds that distinction.