Carolina Hurricanes assistant general manager Darren Yorke talked to the media via Zoom on Saturday following the conclusion of the 2021 NHL Draft.
Yorke went pick-by-pick for all 13 of Carolina’s selections and broke down what the team saw in each player and why they selected them. He then answered a handful of questions from the media.
Scott Morrow (2nd round, 40th overall), defenseman from Shattuck St. Mary’s School and the USHL’s Fargo Force
Yorke: Probably one of the most skilled players in this draft, and that’s not just including defenseman. Real high offensive upside, the ability for him to transition the game from the defensive zone to the offensive zone. It was great to see him go from Minnesota high school hockey to the USHL in the playoffs going against Chicago. To see his game transfer as quick as it did was really impressive and solidified what we thought of him. We’re thrilled to add one of those hardest-coveted positions in a big offensive right-handed defenseman.
Aleksi Heimosalmi (2nd round, 44th overall), defenseman from Ässät U20 in Finland
Yorke: He came on right from the beginning in Finland. Another similar offensive defenseman, but in saying that, for a 5’11” defenseman, the ability for him to gap up and play strong defense against the rush. Even along the boards, it’s his smartness and how he uses his body to win battles. Again, we’re thrilled to add another offensive defenseman who doesn’t sacrifice any defensive play.
Ville Koivunen (2nd round, 51st overall), forward from Kärpät U20 in Finland
Yorke: This was another exciting player. I know we went back-to-back with Finns this year. To get somebody who as high of a compete as anybody in the draft with the same kind of offensive skills. Probably one of the smarter offensive wingers in this draft. We know the Karpat system, someone that Harri Aho just raved about his character. To see his growth from one year over to the next was great for us and really exciting.
Patrik Hamrla (3rd round, 83rd overall), goalie from Energie Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic
Yorke: Big, athletic goalie. A player who played in Czech and is going to the QMJHL next season. He’s very athletic and his ability to show the power to go side-to-side is really something you can’t teach, especially at his size. He’s someone that both (Paul Schonfelder and Jason Muzzatti) were really excited about and led to the trend for the other goalie selections.
Aidan Hreschuk (3rd round, 94th overall), defenseman from the United States National Team Development Program
Yorke: One of the smarter players for the US team in how he defends. Really, for our system and how we like to play, you have to be able to skate and play fast. The ability for him to end plays in the neutral zone and quickly transition the puck is something that gravitated to us with him.
Jackson Blake (4th round, 109th overall), forward from the Chicago Steel of the USHL
Yorke: Very similar in that we keep talking about common themes with our players - it’s hockey sense. Jackson is incredibly smart, probably didn’t get the opportunity that he might have expected in Chicago, it’s one of the best teams in the USHL. His 5-on-5 play was what really impressed us. The ability to use his size to protect the puck and make plays in transition from the neutral zone to the offensive zone. He has the problem-solving ability to buy time and hit the weak side. To do all this when he isn’t fully developed in a hard league is what really gravitated to us. Probably nothing that shocks anyone here is that we’re going for smart players and that kid fits that build.
Robert Orr (5th round, 136th overall), forward from the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL
Yorke: Not the Bobby Orr that everyone is used to. Similar to Blake, he is incredibly young, a September birthday. A rookie in the QMJHL this season, so for him to deal with everything that was going on and still produce. Uses his speed. Incredibly fast skater that can drive the game from the defensive zone all the way to the offensive zone and still be able to make those one-on-one plays. He can pull up, he can go on the penalty kill. A really well-suited game.
Justin Robidas (5th round, 147th overall), forward from the Val-d’Or Foreurs of the QMJHL
Yorke: Similar to Blake in how they play the game and how they see the game. Incredibly competitive. He has the background with his dad to understand what it takes to be a pro. This kid uses his speed, uses his compete, can be a lot harder to play against and can play bigger than his size without sacrificing offense. He has one of the hardest shots in the QMJHL.
Bryce Montgomery (6th round, 170th overall), defenseman from the London Knights of the OHL
Yorke: This was the first player that we selected this year that really didn’t play. We talked about this situation going back to last year and how we’d utilize this and it was something that didn’t really scare us. The way our list fell, this was the first one that got to us. Big right-handed defenseman that can skate. You look at how hard it is to find these types of defensemen, especially guys that are as big as him and can skate as well. It’s going to be great for us to see him next year in the OHL and get another full year. We were impressed with how he had to go a full year off and getting to the Erie Showcase tournament, just seeing the raw talent he has.
Nikita Quapp (6th round, 187th overall), goalie from Krefeld Pinguine of the DEL (Germany)
Yorke: Quapp is a goalie that really grabbed Jason Muzzatti when he watched him. For an 18-year-old to play in the men’s league. Big blocking style, a little bit different style than Hamrla and Naumov. A guy that just has the raw ability to be in the right spot and make some of the tougher saves look easy.
Yegor Naumov (7th round, 200th overall), goalie from Krylia Sovetov Moskva of the MHL (Russia)
Yorke: Naumov is probably closer to the style of Hamrla. Another guy that our goalie coaches really pushed hard on. Very athletic, very quick. Probably the more acrobatic saves and side-to-side saves. He reads the game so well and can make some of the desperate saves you need from your goalies.
Nikita Guslistov (7th round, 209th overall), forward from Severstal Cherepovets of the KHL (Russia)
Yorke: Guslistov started in the MHL and was a point-per-game player. He was a captain in that league and then he was called up to the KHL, and for a 19-year-old kid to start as a fourth-line center then get into the third-line center. He gets in on the forecheck and can go against other team’s best players and still brings an offensive game. I think he was the youngest player in the KHL to get a hat trick. Overall, a smart and dependable player.
Joel Nystrom (7th round, 219th overall), defenseman from Färjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League
Yorke: Nystrom is another late developer. He went through the draft already once. Probably one of the faster-developing players this year. Started off in the Swedish junior league and then got up to the SHL and played significant minutes. Another guy that is smart and dependable and has a little bit of offense to his game without sacrificing anything on the defensive side.
On an assessment of the draft class and trading down in the first round: I think we covered everything. When you get into any draft, you’re just trying to maximize the picks that you have. So in trading back in the first round, we looked at our list and we looked at the different options here. We decided that we had lots of players that we liked, and if we traded down we can get more of them. So it’s really just the opportunity to keep getting players that we’re excited about.
On the Canes trading two players they scouted and developed in Alex Nedeljkovic and Jake Bean: I don’t think anyone looks at it that we’re giving up or it’s not following through with the guys we picked. I think the guys work incredibly hard to select everyone, but we all have the same goal, and the goal is to win the Stanley Cup. So if there are opportunities to use picks or trade players that are homegrown and it helps us win, we’re all for that. So that is really why everyone’s here. So there’s no selfishness in terms of trying to be like ‘Oh, I really believe in this guy, why did you guys give up?’ It’s ‘Let’s do what we can to win the Stanley Cup.’
On the Hurricanes trading back for extra picks five times: Even irrespective of whether it’s a normal season or the disruptions that we had this year, the advantage of having more picks gives you more ammunition in how you want to go about things. If you want to trade up and you have more picks, it allows you to do that. If you’re comfortable with trading down and being able to select multiple players, it just allows you to do it. You have a lot more flexibility in the draft, and it allows you to do so much more with more picks. If you don’t come into a draft with any picks, it’s hard to move up to get a guy that you like.
On scouting Jackson Blake across two levels in high school and the USHL: Hockey sense is something that we value highly quite a bit, and when you have players who are very smart, such as Jackson, you can see the little things that they take from Minnesota high school hockey and it shows up in the USHL. The ability to buy time and problem-solve is so imperative for a young player when they graduate to the next level. In Jackson’s case, he can use his body and gives himself a little half-second. He gets time taken away in the USHL level but he’s still able to do it, so when he goes from the USHL to the college level the game is almost slowing down because of how fast he reads it.
On how many players Yorke has gotten to watch live since the last draft: Honestly not many live. Every organization was dealing with this the same way. We talked about this since last March, and if you go into this with ‘I have to watch or I have to scout a different way, it’s not going to work out well.’ We went in with the mentality that we’re excited that we get an opportunity to look at problems differently. I think when you have disruptions in the market, and this goes to any type of business, you have companies that find ways to do things better.
I don’t think too many people, when they first were deciding whether or not they’d want to buy a book online, look at where that company is today. So we had to in this with the mindset that when life goes back to normal, if we keep doing this the way we used to, we would have wasted this crisis. So I’m incredibly proud of the group that we have. That includes our scouts, that includes our hockey information group, because when life goes back to normal, we’re going to be so much better because of everything that we went through today and how we learned. It really is exciting for the organization and the amateur scouting department.