Canes have options in NHL Draft
Posted June 27
One pick has been known to change a franchise’s fate in the NHL, however this year, according to scouts, that player is not in the draft. That does not mean there isn’t a solid player who will spend years being productive for your favorite team. The reports say this is a deep draft, filled with prospects who should find their way to NHL rosters sooner rather than later.
The Carolina Hurricanes overall draft record hasn’t been that pretty. While the team has hit on players like Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk, the jury remains out on several picks over the last nine years. Also the Hurricanes haven’t found a productive player at the NHL level out of the first two rounds since Nic Wallin in the fourth round of the 2000 draft.
With that said, let’s just focus on who could be there for the Hurricanes at pick No. 7 on Friday night.
(NOTE: Heights and weights listed for prospects taken from the NHL Central Scouting Service. Any problems, like why there are decimal points while measuring in inches, take it up with them.)
What players will be off the board by the time the Hurricanes get to make a selection?
The top prospects usually fall in line with the draft order, so expect Florida with the first overall pick to select defenseman Aaron Ekbladl. Ekblad is big and many feel NHL ready at 6’4” and 216 pounds. Plus scouts rave about his attitude and his all-around game on the blue line.
If the Canes don't make a deal to move up, the centering Sams, Reinhart and Bennett, both should go to teams starved for players in the middle of the ice. Leon Draisaitl, a big center whom the Hurricanes would love to add should also be gone by the time pick No. 7 rolls on the clock.
Canes likely to look left with first pick
So who might be there for Ron Francis and company to select?
The good news is, there is a lot of size in this draft. The Hurricanes are likely to be looking first at these players – all left wingers.
Nick Ritchie, a 6’.25” 226-pound goal scorer, possesses power and size, two things Carolina needs desperately up front. And he is only 18 which means he is still growing. Many think he might be the top winger in the draft. Ritchie isn’t afraid to take a major either; he tallied 136 PIMs in the OHL this year. He also recorded five goals and five assists in 11 playoff games.
Ritchie might be a year away from playing at the NHL level, but at that size, he could learn on the job.
Michael Dal Colle is another 6’1.5” wing who would slot well alongside any of the Hurricanes centers; he might be gone at No. 7, but is unlikely to make it past that pick.
The Hurricanes scouting staff likes him a lot. Head scout Tony MacDonald wrote on hurricanes.nhl.com, “He can score, but he’s also a very creative player.”
MacDonald added, “He’s a money player. When he has to step up in a big game, he usually can come up with that big goal.”
Dal Colle weighs in at 182 pounds, so he can get bigger. He also plays on both special teams units.
Jake Virtanen might only clock in at 6’.75” but at 208 that makes him a sturdy player. He plays with toughness and has a nose for the net, potting 45 goals for the Calgary Hitmen. He has NHL-ready hands, yet isn’t shy about getting to the net. He is of Finnish descent, and Caniacs seem to love their Finns. Francis and company would love to see his name available with this pick. Many staffs think that Virtanen is the top power forward in this draft or at least in the long run will eventually be that player.
Brendan Perlini might also be an option. Though he is consistently ranked behind the other left wingers, he does have NHL size at 6’2.75” and 205 pounds. He comes from a hockey family. Perlini’s dad was a prolific scorer overseas, and his brother was selected by Anaheim in 2010. His overall game had a few scouts concerned, but this past year he showed the growth at both ends of the rink that could erase any doubts on his ability.
At right wing, the Hurricanes could tap the past for help in the future. Kasperi Kapanen, yes the son of Sami, is a smooth player. Playing in Finland, he gained attention for being a well-rounded playmaker. A great puck handler, he could be that play-making winger who sets up a goal-scoring center (that sounds familiar). The downside is that Kapanen is not a physical player, and at 6’ 180 pounds, it doesn’t look like he will develop into one. But the fact he has game-breaking ability to score or set up teammates to do so in critical points of the game makes his name one to ponder.
The right wingers have the NHL skill, but the top-end players seem to be lacking the size that GMs are looking for. With that said, no one doubts the talent and play-making ability of William Nylander or Nikolaj Ehlers.
In Nylander’s case, the 5’11” Swedish standout has the offensive talent that should translate into points in the NHL. He's the son of long-time NHL player Michael Nylander. He may not be the right choice for a team looking for toughness, but a play-making Swede drafted high usually works out well for NHL teams.
Ehlers plays bigger than his size (5’11” 162) and has speed that puts defensemen on their heels. Born in Denmark, he played soccer for Denmark’s under-14 national team then moved to North America and played in the QMJHL. He's a gifted athlete, but he might take a few years to get the size needed to handle the grind of the NHL. Had a ridiculous 104 points in 63 games this past year; 49 goals to 55 assists is a great ratio in any league. The Hurricanes would like a player that who could make the team this year, but then again no one thought Jeff Skinner would be the player he was in 2010.
After the winger class, the Hurricanes will take a hard look at these players who should be on the clock when the seventh pick is due.
At 6’2.5” and 203 pounds, defenseman Haydn Fleury would add size to the back end in Carolina. In what is looking like a weak class on the blue line, Fleury is the second-highest rated prospect at the position. He is everything the organization talks about liking at the position – he's an outstanding skater and puck mover who doesn’t take bad penalties. The drawback is his offensive game does not seem to be one that will contribute much in the NHL. Still, you can’t have enough big players who can move the puck and help keep the puck out of the net.
The top centers will be gone when the Hurricanes pick, but here are some who might interest the organization.
Jared McCann might not be dynamic, but he is one of those players who quietly produces points and is responsible in his own end. He's a decent size at center (6’.25”), but not quite as physically mature as other players in this class. He might not be the kind of player who drops jaws, but he can play a 200-foot game and does the little things you don’t notice.
Dylan Larkin is a center from the US National development program. He has lots of experience against top-end international players. He has good size for a center at 6’.75” and 190 pounds and pushes the tempo of the game up the ice. The scouts love that he takes the puck hard to the net. In today’s NHL, most goals are scored by getting in front. Larkin might not be the pick, but depending on how the board falls, his is a name to know.
Alex Tuch gets in the conversation based on his size (6’3.5” and 213 pounds). He can play center or wing and has sandpaper to his game. He gets to the net and doesn’t mind staying there. He has committed to Boston College, so that might take some shine off of picking him in the top 10.
While there might not be a Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky, there appears to be enough talent at the top of this NHL Draft to help any team improve. The 2014 pick might not be a franchise-changer, but it is a pick the organization can’t afford to waste.