Andrej Sekera is a start. The defenseman is a clear improvement over Jamie McBain on the Carolina Hurricanes’ blue line, but if the Hurricanes are serious about getting better, considerable work remains.
The trade for Sekera was the Hurricanes’ big move at the NHL Draft on Sunday. They narrowly missed out on an NHL-ready defenseman with the No. 5 pick. They didn’t trade down from fifth overall for more picks or a veteran player. They took a player at No. 5, Swedish center Elias Lindholm, who has a chance to make the Carolina roster but is more likely to play in Sweden next season.
It represented incremental progress on a day when the Hurricanes might have had a chance to improve next year’s team dramatically. That isn’t always a possibility at the draft, but it sure looked like it could happen with the fifth overall pick openly on the market.
“We had teams that were considering (moving up to take) defensemen and we didn’t get to that,” Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said. “They went different directions.
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“We had a couple really good offers with NHL forwards to move down further in the draft than we wanted to move. There were negotiations over the last couple of weeks as to a couple of teams that thought they were going to offer defensemen but at the end they didn’t.”
The Hurricanes have spent years looking for an impact defenseman, and one nearly fell into their lap Sunday. Seth Jones, instead of going first overall to his hometown Colorado Avalanche, was still on the board after three picks. Not after four, though.
They chose to pass on Darnell Nurse, who doesn’t have Jones’ hype but the kind of big, physical defenseman the Hurricanes have lacked for years. The only defenseman the Hurricanes have taken in the first round in the past decade is Ryan Murphy in 2011, who at 5 feet 11 isn’t exactly a towering figure.
Lindholm, meanwhile, has drawn comparisons to Peter Forsberg for his tenacity but is still only 6 feet tall. He doesn’t add the size the Hurricanes continue to lack, just like Murphy, Jeff Skinner (2010, 5-11) and Zach Boychuk (2008, 5-10).
Skinner could hardly have worked out any better, and the jury is still out on Murphy, but the larger – or more accurately, smaller – trend of undersized first-round picks is disturbing, particularly given the physical style of play on display in the playoffs this spring.
Regardless, the No. 5 pick is no longer an asset if the Hurricanes want to continue to improve a defensive corps that now includes Sekera along with Justin Faulk, Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason and Jay Harrison. They’re also counting on two rookies, Murphy and Brett Bellemore, to contribute.
That group isn’t going to inspire fear in any of the Hurricanes’ new division opponents, so it will be interesting to see which direction the Hurricanes go this summer.
“The urgency is not there as much because we got Sekera,” Rutherford said. “We’ll continue to look around.”
Will they push to add a top-echelon defenseman, either through free agency or the trade market? Or will they be content to go into the season with this group? It will be a good barometer of their level of ambition.