The Carolina Hurricanes didn’t get lucky like the Edmonton Oilers, didn’t win the NHL draft lottery and won’t have the No. 1 pick.
The Canes will pick fifth in the 2015 NHL Draft, which may or may not be such a good thing this year.
Connor McDavid, a forward being called a once-in-a-generation player, will be the Oilers’ selection. That’s a given. They’re already celebrating in Edmonton.
Another forward, Jack Eichel, is sure to go second to the Buffalo Sabres when the draft is held next month in Sunrise, Fla. Defenseman Noah Hanifin and forward Dylan Strome round out what many draft observers consider the top four prospects – or “Fantastic Four” according to a splashy headline on nhl.com, the league’s official website.
As for the Canes, up fifth …
“We believe some very good players will be available at 5,” Carolina general manager Ron Francis said this week. “The key is to sort through them and find the right one for us.
“We’re looking to improve in a lot of areas and certainly skill never hurts. You always want to add speed, especially the way the game is played today. Size would help us, but it’s not always a matter of getting bigger but being able to win battles, get in front of the net and play big. You don’t have to be 6-4 to play big.”
Mitchell Marner has the skill but not the size. A center with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, he was the second-leading scorer in the OHL this season. He’s also 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds.
“He is light, but he’s a dynamic player,” Francis said. “He has to be a potential pick if he’s sitting there at No. 5.”
If the Canes want a bigger player, Lawson Crouse could be their guy. A 6-4, 215-pound power forward for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL, he has been compared to former Philadelphia Flyers forward Eric Lindros.
But Tony MacDonald, the Canes’ director of amateur scouting, noted there could be a surprise in the first round.
McDavid and Eichel should go 1-2. The Arizona Coyotes have the No. 3 pick and the Toronto Maple Leafs the fourth selection.
Hanifin, who starred at Boston College, has long been considered a top-three pick. But what if the first four teams all decide to draft forwards – say McDavid, Eichel, Strome and Marner?
The Hurricanes took a defenseman, Haydn Fleury of the Red Deer Rebels, with the No. 7 pick a year ago. While a promising prospect, Fleury spent another season with Red Deer in junior hockey, not in the NHL.
Would the Canes pass on Hanifin? Could they?
“It’s entirely possible Hanifin could slide to No. 5,” MacDonald said. “He won’t slide like Cam Fowler did, but it’s not out of the question he could be there at No. 5.”
Fowler was tagged a potential top-three selection heading into the 2010 NHL draft. Still available after the first 11 picks, the defenseman was taken by the Anaheim Ducks at No. 12 and quickly became a fixture on the Ducks’ blue line.
“That won’t happen with Hanifin,” MacDonald said.
The Hurricanes had the No. 5 pick two years ago and decided on Elias Lindholm of Sweden, taking a forward who was competing in the Swedish Elite League. Lindholm has made the adjustment to the smaller North American rinks and became a productive player in his second year in the NHL – a solid two-way forward but not yet a franchise-changer.
The Calgary Flames, choosing after Carolina in 2013, drafted a Canadian forward, Sean Monahan of the Ottawa 67’s. He’s fast becoming one of the league’s best young centers, scoring 31 goals this season in leading the Flames into the playoffs.
Such is the guessing game that is the draft. It also could factor into the Canes’ draft strategy when it comes to another potential first-round pick this year, forward Mikko Rantanen of Finland.
Like Lindholm, Rantanen has been playing against men in Finland’s top professional league, SM-liiga. He’s the highest-rated European skater in the final rankings by NHL Central Scouting, he’s 6-4 and 211 pounds and he may have been Finland’s best player in the 2015 World Junior Championship.
“He’s a big winger with good hands who has made a lot of progress and come into his own offensively,” MacDonald said.
Best player available
But would Marner or Crouse be a safer pick? Crouse, for example, helped Canada win the gold medal in the 2015 World Junior.
“Crouse plays a power game but he’s also one of the best skaters in the draft,” MacDonald said. “He’s a leader, a captain. He has a good shot and scored 29 goals. He’s a physical specimen and will get even bigger and stronger, which is a little scary.”
If that seems like a vote for Crouse, it shouldn’t be. MacDonald, like Francis, has a lot of good things to say about Marner, who had 44 goals and 82 assists in 63 games for the Knights this season.
Marner has drawn comparisons to winger Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, a former star with the London Knights who was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 NHL draft.
“I don’t like to make that analogy but (Marner) does have similar size, skill and production as Kane did as a junior,” MacDonald said. “He’s slippery and elusive and he’s smart. He’s also a good two-way player who plays a 200-foot game, the new buzz-phrase these days.”
“Best player available” has long been a buzz-phrase for any draft in any league. For a team that has missed the Stanley Cup playoffs the past six years, that again might be the approach for the Hurricanes at the June 26-27 draft hosted by the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.
Francis, who has personally scouted a number of prospects, said the Hurricanes might consider moving down in the first round, should the right deal be proposed, while saying it’s unlikely the Canes would look to move up. Carolina has 10 draft picks in all.
“We talk a lot about building a foundation,” Francis said. “This is where it starts, at the draft.”
Eye on the draft
A look at some of the prospects the Carolina Hurricanes could consider for the No. 5 pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Mitchell Marner, forward
London Knights, Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
Ht: 5-11. Wgt: 160
Small but skilled, Marner finished second in scoring in the OHL with 126 points in 63 games.
Lawson Crouse, forward
Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Ht: 6-4. Wgt: 215.
A physical winger who skates well, he led the Frontenacs with 29 goals and 51 points in 56 games.
Mikko Rantanen, forward
TPS, Liiga, Finland
Ht: 6-4. Wgt: 211.
The highest rated European skater by NHL Central Scouting, he starred for Finland in 2015 World Junior.
Noah Hanifin, defenseman
Ht: 6-2. Wgt: 203.
An offensive defenseman, Hanifin may be underrated defensively. Played well for U.S. in World Junior.
Dylan Strome, forward
Erie Otters, OHL
Ht: 6-3. Wgt: 185.
Connor McDavid’s teammate led the OHL with 129 points and likely will be off board when Canes pick.