Canes still looking for help after NHL draft

calexander@newsobserver.comJuly 1, 2013 

The Carolina Hurricanes went to the NHL Entry Draft on Sunday looking for help.

They’ll continue to look.

The Hurricanes believe their first-round draft pick, Swedish forward Elias Lindholm, is NHL-ready and could fit into their lineup next season. Lindholm is a natural center but could be used on the right wing, offering flexibility and versatility.

After the first round was completed Sunday, general manager Jim Rutherford said the Canes had a defenseman in mind for the second round and was hoping he would be available. What he didn’t say at the time was that the defenseman already was in the NHL – Andrej Sekera of the Buffalo Sabres.

Rutherford worked out a deal with Buffalo, sending the Canes’ second-round pick and defenseman Jamie McBain to the Sabres for Sekera.

"I think we’ve got a more reliable, top-four defenseman," Rutherford said.

In looking at next year’s blue line, the Canes can envision Sekera being paired with Tim Gleason, and Justin Faulk with Joni Pitkanen – provided Pitkanen is fully healed from a broken heel bone. Ryan Murphy, Carolina’s first-round pick in 2011, may now be polished enough to be a full-time NHL player, Jay Harrison is a veteran and Brett Bellemore was given a one-year contract last week and should compete for a roster spot.

"This answers our need for right now but we’ll keep looking around," Rutherford said.

Free agency begins Friday, pushed back to July 5 this year, and there should be some interesting names on the market. With the NHL salary cap being bumped back to $64.3 million next season, some teams have used compliance buyouts on players or informed others they will not be re-signed and can become unrestricted free agents.

Defenseman Andrew Ference, for one, will not be re-signed by the Boston Bruins. There should be others like Ference for the Canes – and other teams – to consider.

"If there’s defensemen for the right price in free agency ... I don’t expect it’s going to happen on July 5, but we’ll keep looking around," Rutherford said. "We said we’re going to change our defense around and we started to do that with Sekera, Murphy and Bellemore as three strong possibilities. If somebody else comes along that we think we can upgrade our position, we will."

Sekera has a $2.75 million cap hit under his contract with the Sabres, which still has two years remaining. The contract was front-loaded, however, and the Canes will pay $1.75 million in salary.

In addition to Lindholm, the Canes made three other selections Sunday and two were defensemen – Brett Pesce, who plays collegiately at New Hampshire, and Tyler Ganly of Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League. Carolina also picked up forward Brent Pedersen of the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL.

Lindholm impressed the Canes both with his play with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League this past season and in his interviews with team personnel at the NHL combine and in New York before the draft, which was held at the Prudential Center in Newark.

"One of his biggest assets is his tremendous compete level," said Tony MacDonald, the Canes’ director of amateur scouting. "He pushes the pace. He plays a high-tempo game and does everything at speed. He can make plays, he can shoot the puck, he can forecheck and cause turnovers with his speed.

"The fact he competed against men in Brynas and had a rather successful year, on a team that wasn’t one of the top teams in the Swedish league, he was one of their better players. He has a passion for the game."

MacDonald called Pesce a big, strong shutdown D-man who plays well positionally, and Ganly a "real good skater" who’s developing quickly. MacDonald described Pedersen as a "hard-working player."

Pesce, Ganly and Pedersen may help one day. The Canes are counting on Sekera and Lindholm for help now.

Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip

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