Will Lawson be worth wait?

July 8, 2010 

— The Carolina Hurricanes drafted Kyle Lawson so long ago, Oleg Tverdovsky was their highest-paid defenseman and Chad LaRose had yet to play in an NHL game.

"Five years or so ago?" Lawson said. "It's definitely been a long time."

Five years after the Hurricanes took Lawson in the seventh round of the 2005 draft, the defenseman is taking part in their prospect conditioning camp, a 23-year-old surrounded by 18-year-olds. Compared to them, the Notre Dame product is a veteran, both in hockey and life.

While other college players the Hurricanes have drafted have dodged NCAA regulations by paying their own way to attend the team's summer camp, something always came up to keep Lawson in South Bend, Ind., and out of the RecZone.

Now, with a year of junior hockey, four years of studying - psychology and computer applications - and a 10-game stint in the AHL behind him, Lawson is finally here on the ice with Ron Francis and the rest of Carolina's player-development team.

"It's definitely been a long road," Lawson said Wednesday, "but they've been great to me, keeping in touch and staying in contact and letting me know what they wanted from me."

Five years after they drafted the Michigan native, the Hurricanes are only now going to find out what they have in him.

He'll fight for a roster spot with Charlotte (AHL), but even though he played for the United States at the 2007 World Junior Championships and was named his conference's top defensive defenseman in 2009, anything the Hurricanes get out of a late-round pick like Lawson is a bonus.

"You know, he's a seventh-round pick," Hurricanes assistant general manager Jason Karmanos said. "We had a history with him, because he played for Compuware at one point. He's a good kid, and he had a solid college career. We'll see where it goes from here."

The fact that the Hurricanes have deemed him worth signing to a contract is significant in itself. Many players who finish their college careers move on to other things. Lawson, at least, is moving on to pro hockey.

The Hurricanes drafted six defensemen in 2005. One, Jack Johnson, is already making $1.65 million a year, albeit with the Los Angeles Kings. Then again, Johnson was drafted third overall. Lawson went 198th.

The others didn't fare so well. Second-round pick Nate Hagemo saw his career derailed by injuries and drug abuse. Fourth-round pick Jakub Vojta played two years of junior hockey before going back to the Czech Republic. Fifth-round pick Timothy Kunes wasn't signed when he finished up at Boston College last summer. Another fifth-round pick, Risto Korhonen, never left Finland.

By those standards, Lawson already may be the shining star of that draft class, no matter what happens next.

Lawson has been a Hurricanes prospect so long, even his peers' professional careers have come and gone during that time.

During his first season in the Hurricanes' front office, in 2007-08, Francis was watching Lawson play when he spotted his Notre Dame teammate Noah Babin, another defenseman. On Francis' recommendation, the Hurricanes would sign Babin, who played 102 games in the AHL before retiring in 2009.

Karmanos said Lawson has work to do on his conditioning, and this week is just the start. It'll take months, maybe years, before the Hurricanes find out whether he's physically capable of playing at this level.

They have waited patiently for a long time already. What's a few more years going to hurt?

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or 919-829-8947

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