Carolina Hurricanes

Canes already knew Kobasew

As the 2001 NHL draft approached, the Carolina Hurricanes had set their sights on a Boston College forward they were pretty sure would be available with the 15th pick.

The players and picks ticked by, until only one team remained ahead of the Hurricanes. The Canes had the nameplate ready and had done everything but put Chuck Kobasew's name into the computer -- until the Calgary Flames, who had traded down from 11th, took Kobasew with the 14th pick.

After Kobasew exited the stage, the cameras cut to Carolina's table, which appeared to be somewhat in disarray. The Canes ended up taking a highly touted Russian defenseman, Igor Knyazev, who emerged from the stands wearing a tuxedo and bow tie.

The Canes said Knyazev was the top defenseman on their list (Carolina passed on Tim Gleason and Shaone Morrisonn, among others), but Kobasew was Carolina's guy from the start -- just not at the end.

"The fact that we got one of the two, we were real pleased with that," Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said at the time. "We like both of those players."

Almost eight years later, the (draft) tables are turned. Kobasew, traded from the Flames to the Boston Bruins in 2007, is facing the Hurricanes in the playoffs instead of playing for them. He thought in 2001 that playing for the Canes was a possibility after interviewing with Carolina before the draft.

"I'd heard a little bit of it," Kobasew said this week. "But I was pretty young. You don't know what to believe or who's interested. You don't want to put too much into it. You're just a young kid. You're just excited to be there."

Kobasew is not just a familiar face to Carolina's front office. During the 2004-05 lockout season, the Flames and Hurricanes shared an American Hockey League affiliate in Lowell, Mass. So for Carolina's Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Chad LaRose and Ryan Bayda, he's a former teammate as well.

With the Lowell Lock Monsters, Kobasew was part of the AHL's best line that season. His center? Staal, who led the team in scoring. Kobasew was second.

"I think it was extremely good for me at that point in my career moving forward," Staal said. "I think it was for him, too. Chuckie's a very hard-nosed, feisty player who goes to the net. He scored a lot of goals for us that year. He's a guy you have to keep an eye on, for sure."

Seeing Staal and Kobasew on the ice at the same time, albeit for different teams, "brought back memories" for Hurricanes assistant coach Tom Rowe, who coached the two in Lowell that season.

"It was a great year, especially my first year as a head coach having a guy like Chuck," Rowe said. "He was an outstanding captain, and he really led by example.

Kobasew was a regular with the Flames when they went to the finals in 2004, and he blossomed in Boston. Now, he's a crucial part of the Bruins, who are looking to tie their series against the Hurricanes going into Game 4 in Raleigh tonight.

He helped set up Mark Recchi's goal Wednesday that tied the score 2-2 and forced overtime, where Jussi Jokinen won it for the Canes. That was Kobasew's fourth point of the playoffs after he set career-highs in assists (21) and points (42) and recorded his third career 20-goal season.

Knyazev, meanwhile, played one full season in North America before the Hurricanes sloughed him off to the Phoenix Coyotes in a trade, and he returned to Russia not long after -- a complete NHL bust.

Of the 30 first-round picks in the 2001 draft, Knyazev is one of only three never to appear in an NHL game. Only five players from that draft have scored more NHL goals than Kobasew's 78, including the top two picks but only one other player drafted higher than Kobasew.

Sometimes, it's funny how small the world of hockey can be. Kobasew, the one who got away, could come back to haunt the Canes in this series, just like Aaron Ward and Recchi, from the 2006 Stanley Cup champions.

When the Canes were building that team, the Canes were able to bring Mike Commodore over from the Calgary organization to join his former Lowell teammates on the Stanley Cup, but not Kobasew -- as much as they would have liked to add him as well.

"I'm not saying a word," Rowe said, laughing. "I'll leave it at the fact he was a great guy."