Canes have plenty to think about in upcoming NHL draft

calexander@newsobserver.comJune 16, 2012 

The Carolina Hurricanes may have set some sort of speed record – seat to podium – at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Unexpectedly finding Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers available 11 picks into the draft, the Canes didn’t hesitate in making the highly skilled defenseman their first-round choice at No. 12.

“It was just a matter of how quickly we could get up to the stage to say his name,” general manager Jim Rutherford said. “There was no discussion.”

But things could be more thought-provoking for the Hurricanes – and other NHL teams – as the draft is held this week at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. There is no clear-cut pecking order among the top 10 picks, and Rutherford said there was much to consider in analyzing prospects.

There’s the “Russian factor.” There’s the injury factor. The Kitchener factor.

This year, there’s also the trade factor.

Rutherford said again this past week the Hurricanes are seeking a top-tier forward to play with captain Eric Staal. He hinted there could be a trade in the works and didn’t rule out using the first-round pick as part of a trade package.

“We’ve done a lot of work in trying to get another real good forward to play with Eric,” Rutherford said. “I’d prefer not to (trade the first-round pick). If the right player is available and the right deal, we would do it.”

Speculation has centered on Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins as trade possibilities. The Columbus Post-Dispatch reported Friday the Canes were believed to be one of the teams interested in Nash, an All-Star forward and Blue Jackets captain.

Asked about the likelihood of the Canes making a trade this week, Rutherford said, “It’s a tough call. My read on it is there will be (NHL) trades Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Whether we’re going to be one of the teams and get in on those early trades or not, I mean, we’re trying to. But it’s hard to say when we’re going to able to move and acquire the type of player we’re trying to get.”

In 2010, the Canes acquired the player they wanted with the seventh pick of the draft – Kitchener forward Jeff Skinner, who played in the NHL at 18 and won the 2011 Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. Rutherford and Tony MacDonald, the Canes’ director of amateur scouting, both call that pick a “home run.”

Can the Canes hit another at No. 8 this year?

“It’s possible,” MacDonald said. “Eight’s a pretty good spot to be. The first 10 guys are very solid guys who could be major impact players at an early age.”

If the Canes want to continue the run on Kitchener Rangers, they could take forward Radek Faksa. The Czech center has good size (6-3, 203 pounds) and skating ability, and played for veteran Rangers coach Steve Spott, who helped develop Skinner, Murphy and forward Gabriel Landeskog, who starred as a rookie last year with the Colorado Avalanche.

“It’s a good track record,” MacDonald said.

Or the Canes could decide to take Finnish forward Teuvo Teravainen. He has a smaller frame (5-11, 165) but has eye-opening speed and impressive scoring skill, leading MacDonald to compare him to Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.

“He’s probably as skilled a player as there is in the draft,” MacDonald said.

Two other forwards of interest could be Mikhail Grigorenko and Alex Galchenyuk, if available. Grigorenko is a native Russian who played last season with Quebec of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Galchenyuk was born in Milwaukee and has competed for Team USA internationally, but he is the son of a former Belarusian hockey player and lived in Russia until 2009.

Nail Yakupov, the winger likely to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Edmonton Oilers, also is Russian. He and Galchenyuk played the past two seasons with Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League.

Given the NHL’s continuing issues with the Kontinental Hockey League and players bolting to play in Russia, nationality must be considered, Rutherford said.

“You have to deal with the Russian factor as to having a comfort level, that if you take those players who were born there that they’ll stay and play here and not go back to the KHL,” he said.

Compounding Galchenyuk’s situation is that he suffered a severe knee injury early last season, limiting him to a handful of games. He did perform well at the recent NHL rookie combine in Toronto.

Another potential Canes pick coming off a knee injury is defenseman Morgan Rielly from Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League. Rielly was able to play more games than Galchenyuk.

“It makes it tricky for those guys at the upper end of the draft,” Rutherford said.

The Hurricanes intend to interview nine or 10 players in Pittsburgh before Friday. But Rutherford said the “great debate” on the first-round pick already has been held. The Canes know who they want.

If that player is available at No. 8, they’ll move quickly. Again.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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