That’s right, I’m opening up this wound today. The 2016 Draft was surrounded with a lot of hype for Hurricanes fans. They had drafted Noah Hanifin and Sebastian Aho the year prior and both players were looking like stars. Haydn Fleury was progressing nicely, Alex Nedeljkovic was about to turn pro and there was a hint of optimism in the fan base for the first time in a long time.
No draft is ever going to be perfect and plenty of teams strike out every once in a while. You’re not going to draft a franchise-defining player in every draft, although the Hurricanes have managed to do so in three drafts since 2015. Sometimes, a draft can be a dud and you have to move on from it. Such is the case with the Hurricanes’ 2016 draft. We’ll break down each of the nine selections made by the Hurricanes in this draft and how they were acquired. Let’s start with 13th overall.
Picking 13th is usually a bad spot because you knew that your team wasn’t bad enough for a lottery spot but not good enough to make the playoffs. It’s hockey purgatory and the Canes had been stuck in that position since the 2009-10 season. Even though the roster looked different than it did then, the team was more or less in the same boat and failed to qualify for the playoffs for the seventh straight season. Ron Francis had solidified the left side of his defense, picking Haydn Fleury and Noah Hanifin seventh and fifth overall in the past two drafts. Naturally, he picks another left-handed defenseman in 2016.
The Jake Bean pick was met with almost instant disgust from the fan base. How could the team draft another left-handed defensemen when there were so many other glaring areas of need? In hindsight, the reaction to the pick was unfair to Bean. He was met with a lot of disdain from the fan base because he was a pure offensive defenseman and the third left-handed defenseman selected by the team in the first round of the past three drafts. The fans wanted something different and never gave Bean a chance. I could also talk about the permanent scars that Ryan Murphy left on this fan base for some godforsaken reason, but I think I’m getting my point across.
Looking back on the selection now, it’s a tough one for the organization. Bean had some great performances in the AHL, won a Calder Cup and was named the AHL’s best defenseman. Once he got to the NHL, however, it was clear that he wasn’t going to be a fit for the organization. His defensive game was miles behind what it would take for Rod Brind’Amour to “trust” a player, so Bean was traded prior to the 2021 NHL Draft in exchange for the 44th overall pick (Aleksi Heimosalmi). Bean was traded after just 44 NHL games. A small sample size, but when the team is trying to win a Stanley Cup, they can’t afford to have any weak spots on the roster. Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s unfair to look at picks made after Bean and go “well this player has played in this many games.” Most picks look bad in hindsight and the team picked the player that they believed would be the best player available. It happened to not work out for the Hurricanes, but there’s always a good chance that players picked outside of the top three or so won’t pan out.
The Hurricanes acquired this pick along with Roland “Prince Pretty” McKeown in a trade that sent Andrej Sekera to the Los Angeles Kings.
The 21st overall pick rolled around and the fans were practically screaming for the Hurricanes to take Gauthier. After all, he was a big body that could score goals at a prolific rate in the QMJHL. As we’ve come to find out, a player’s size does not correlate to his skill level and can lead to some struggles at the professional level. After years of running players over in the QMJHL, Gauthier was faced with something he had never faced before. Opposing teams weren’t going to be impressed by his size or strength. In fact, they were able to match it. This led to Gauthier struggling for his first two professional seasons, mostly seeing time in the bottom six at the AHL level.
Gauthier’s third season started off promising with a strong preseason and an NHL call-up early on in the season. Gauthier played in five games for the Hurricanes and was traded to the New York Rangers for prospect Joey Keane prior to the 2020 trade deadline. Gauthier had a ton of promise when he was drafted but quickly fizzled out once he reached the pros. It was clear that his skating and defensive play were far from what they needed to be in order to keep up at the AHL level. He would need to develop as a passer, and while marginal improvements were made in all three aspects of his game, they never got to where they needed to be in order for the Hurricanes to fully trust him. A new system was in place under Rod Brind’Amour and the players brought in to fit Bill Peters’ system weren’t a fit. Gauthier has seen time on the Rangers’ fourth line since the trade but has failed to carve out a larger role for himself, only appearing in 42 NHL games in that time.
The Kuokkanen pick was one that was received with a lot of optimism initially. After all, he was another player from Karpat picked in the second round. Kuokkanen thrived when he got to the AHL and had a few brief stints with the Hurricanes over the course of his time here. He was held pointless in 11 games with the Hurricanes, and once again, the Hurricanes didn’t want to wait on a prospect to develop if it meant they could improve the team by trading him. Kuokkanen was traded for Sami Vatanen at the 2020 trade deadline. In hindsight, it was an awful trade for the organization as Vatanen only appeared during the playoffs and had a poor showing overall. Kuokkanen has been a fine third line option for the Devils since the trade. He had 25 points in 50 games last season and looked more like the player the Hurricanes envisioned when he was selected.
The Hurricanes have a grand total of 55 NHL games combined out of three top 50 picks. That’s not nearly good enough. Part of it does have to do with the fact that there was a tangible shift in the organization’s direction once Tom Dundon became owner. Ron Francis was replaced with Don Waddell and Rod Brind’Amour took over as head coach. The team’s style of play changed and it meant that certain players drafted under Francis weren’t going to be a fit for the team anymore. These things happen, but it’s a disappointment for the organization nonetheless.
Three Third Round Picks
The Hurricanes selected Matt Filipe with the third round pick acquired in the Jiri Tlusty trade and selected Jack LaFontaine as a part of the John-Michael Liles trade to Boston in 2016.
Filipe did not sign after his senior year at Northeastern and signed with the Boston Bruins. He hasn’t been able to make a splash at the AHL level yet. Hudson Elynuik has spent his career as a depth forward with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and is reportedly signing with Tucson for next season. The jury is still out on Jack LaFontaine, recently named college hockey’s best goaltender. He hasn’t signed with the team yet and is returning to the University of Minnesota next season. There’s still a chance that LaFontaine sees NHL games, but he’ll be 24 by the time he turns pro and will have to jump over quite a few names on the depth chart in order to reach the NHL. Still, not signing two of your three third-round picks is never a good look, especially when all three were in the top 75.
The Rest of the Draft
Max Zimmer and Noah Carroll went unsigned after the draft and Jeremy Helvig was an ECHL goalie throughout his entry-level deal, not to mention his arrest during the 2019-20 season. These are three more picks that ended up not panning out for the organization.
All in all, this was a terrible draft for the Hurricanes. It was supposed to be a draft that would help change the franchise for the better and it ended up failing to do so. The Hurricanes have 55 NHL games to show for their haul at the 2016 draft and only Jack LaFontaine has the potential to increase that number. There’s always the chance that your picks don’t pan out, as is the case with any draft. The 2016 draft, however, ends up being a missed opportunity for the Hurricanes in hindsight.