RALEIGH — What Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford was able to do away from the draft floor this weekend may be more important than anything he and the team did on it.
While the Hurricanes were selecting such young prospects as defenseman Ryan Murphy and forward Victor Rask in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Rutherford also found time to meet with the agents of defenseman Joni Pitkanen and forward Jussi Jokinen. Murphy and Rask may be enticing prospects, but the prospects of the Canes next season will be enhanced if Rutherford can re-sign those two veteran players.
In recent weeks, Rutherford said it appeared unlikely either Pitkanen or Jokinen would agree to terms and that both would become unrestricted free agents on July 1. He also talked of potential trades to fill the void.
But that all changed the past few days in St. Paul, Minn, where the draft was hosted by the Minnesota Wild and held at the Xcel Energy Center.
"I wasn't very hopeful and I really didn't think there was a lot of hope, based on what I was hearing," Rutherford said Saturday. "But to have face-to-face meetings here with their agents has worked out well, and I'm at the point now that I do have hope that we're going to be able to sign both players."
Rutherford said he may complete some of the deals by Monday. He said he has been hopeful all along the team would re-sign veteran forwards Erik Cole and Chad LaRose, who also are due to be unrestricted free agents July 1.
"I thought we had a better chance of signing those guys than the first two," Rutherford said. "I don't have a final position on them yet but that's supposed to come on Monday also."
As for the draft, the Hurricanes made Murphy their first-round draft choice Friday night, picking up a speedy but small defenseman from the Kitchener Rangers who may be the best offensive blueliner in the draft. On Saturday, with their second-round pick, the Canes took Rask, a 6-foot-1, 189-pound Swede who was rated the 12th-best European skater by NHL Central Scouting.
The Hurricanes' third-round choice was interesting: defenseman Keegan Lowe. He's the son of Edmonton Oilers executive Kevin Lowe and played for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Western Hockey League, but urged his father that the Oilers not draft him.
"He wanted to go his own way," Kevin Lowe said.
With its last three draft picks - the Canes did not have a fifth-round choice this year - Carolina took Swiss forward Gregory Hofmann in the fourth round, goaltender Matt Mahalak of the Plymouth Whalers in the sixth round and closed it out by taking forward Brody Sutter in the seventh.
Yes, another Sutter. That's now three for the Canes - Brandon, Brett and Brody. Brett played for the Charlotte Checkers last season and Brody was with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL.
In summing up the Hurricanes' draft picks, Rutherford said, "They fell very nicely for us this year, especially in the first three rounds."
Rutherford said the Canes had Murphy slotted among the top six entering the draft and were pleasantly surprised the Kitchener Rangers standout was still on the board when Carolina's No. 12 pick came up. The Canes had targeted a forward they would have been taken ahead of Murphy, Rutherford said, but the forward had been drafted.
"That was unexpected, and then Rask in the second round," Rutherford said. "At one point in time his projection was in the first half of the first round, and then there were a couple of little issues that got him knocked down into the second round."
Some draft analysts believed Rask displayed some attitude issues last season. Rutherford said it was more about Rask being uncomfortable playing for Leksand in the Swedish League while noting Rask had a strong showing in the 2011 Under-18 World Junior Championships.
Rask had 11 points in 37 games for Leksand, but had 12 points in 13 games after he asked to be demoted to Leksand's junior team.
Rask said Saturday he expected to play in Sweden again next season, but Rutherford said Rask may play junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League. Another option, he said, would be Rask going to the Checkers, Carolina's American Hockey League affiliate.
Rutherford expects to have a busy week ahead leading up to July 1.
And the Canes, he said, may look at free agency to sign a backup goalie and fourth-line center.
While a team budget has not been set for next season, Rutherford said, the NHL salary floor will be $48.3 million. Rutherford said the Canes could spend a "couple of million dollars" more than that total.
"We're getting that payroll to a point it makes it harder to make our business work the way it should," Rutherford said.
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