After taking him in the top 10 of the 2014 draft, the Hurricanes took the slow and steady approach with Haydn Fleury. He played two more seasons in Red Deer before making his pro debut with the Charlotte Checkers in 2016-17.
After a full season in the AHL, he was up and down between the Hurricanes and Checkers the next two years, playing sparingly at the NHL level and a key role in the Checkers’ Calder Cup Championship run in 2018-19.
At the start of the 2019-20 season, Fleury was arguably ready for a bigger role, but often found himself a healthy scratch on the Hurricanes’ crowded blueline. I wrote more about Fleury’s journey here.
When Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce were both injured late in the regular season, it was Fleury’s time to shine. He finally cracked the lineup on a regular basis, and played some of the best hockey of his career for the Hurricanes down the stretch.
From January through the end of the regular season, Fleury played 24 games, averaged 16:26 per game, chipped in two goals and nine points and was a +2.
“There were some tough days,” Fleury said. “At the end of the day, everyone wants to play. Everyone has confidence in themselves and thinks they should play every night. For me, that wasn’t the case at the start of the year. Roddy kept saying, ‘There’s going to be an injury, there’s going to be something happening where we’re going to need you every night. Unfortunately, Dougie got hurt but that was kind of the start for me. I kind of tried to roll with that opportunity and take advantage of it.”
Then, in the playoff bubble, Fleury really stepped up. He earned his spot in the return to play camp on a crowded blueline, and was arguably the Hurricanes’ best player against the Boston Bruins.
Fleury was a physical presence, scored two goals and showed the strong skating and defensive acumen that led the Hurricanes to pick him seventh overall.
Haydn Fleury throws a big hit, and Boston ends up taking an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the aftermath. pic.twitter.com/tZ9yoC7Xcp— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) August 14, 2020
“He was a high pick,” said head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “We have a lot of high hopes for him. I think you’re just starting now to see what we expected when we picked him up. I think it’s been tough for him because we haven’t been able to use him as much over the last year and a half. He’s been a healthy scratch, just because of the numbers.
“We’ve had some pretty good D playing ahead of him. But he’s handled it really well. When he finally did get his opportunity, he’s taken it now and he’s starting to really show that he belongs. I think he’s just going to keep getting better.”
Entering the 2021 season, fresh off signing a two-year deal with a $1.3 million AAV, Fleury will finally head into the season with a guaranteed spot on the blue line following his playoff performance and with Joel Edmundson, Trevor van Rimesdyk and Sami Vatanen all moving on.
Fleury’s arguably showed he’s ready for top-four minutes but could start on the third pair behind Jaccob Slavin and Brady Skjei on the left side, likely alongside Jake Gardiner. If Skjei falters, however, Fleury could easily move up a spot.
Moving forward, Fleury’s finally established himself as a consistent NHL defenseman, and his physical play, two-way ability and strong skating show the potential the Hurricanes saw in him.
At the absolute least, he projects as a good third-pairing defenseman going forward, but it’s entirely possible we haven’t seen the best of Fleury yet. He could earn a consistent top-four role in the years to come. The Hurricanes have a glut of talented defensemen in the organization, but, following his breakout in last year’s short playoff run, Haydn Fleury has earned his place in that picture.