It’s hard to predict how this week will unfold for the Carolina Hurricanes, whether it will be momentous or mundane.
The Canes could work a big trade during the NHL Entry Draft in Florida or routinely make their draft picks and head home. It could be intriguing or simply business as usual.
What we do know is that the Canes have 10 picks in all, including the No. 5 selection in the opening round Friday night. As for whether they will use that fifth pick, or all 10, general manager Ron Francis says that remains to be seen.
“Every draft is critical and every pick is valuable,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of homework for every pick we’ll make. When you look at our team there are a lot of areas where we need to improve. We’re looking at all aspects.”
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The Canes conducted 70 player interviews in the NHL prospects combine in Buffalo, Francis said. They’ve scheduled more this week before the draft in Sunrise, Fla.
But the draft is where general managers can meet, wheel and deal. In 2012, when Jim Rutherford was general manager, the Hurricanes upstaged the first day of the draft in Pittsburgh by trading for Penguins center Jordan Staal.
Three years later, Francis is hinting he’s willing to make some significant changes to the team. Could that begin this week?
“There’s been interest from other teams in the No. 5 pick,” Francis said. “Depending on who’s sitting there at the time, we might decide to move back in the first round and look to add some assets. But we’re comfortable at 5.”
Here’s a look at what might come:
Trade or no trade?
The Hurricanes have their first-round target set and believe a very good player can be taken at No. 5.
Many mock drafts have Carolina taking Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin, but other possibilities include forwards Mitchell Marner (London, Ontario Hockey League) and Lawson Crouse (Kingston, OHL), and defenseman Ivan Provorov (Brandon, Western Hockey League).
No one can say if the eventual choice will be in the Canes’ lineup next season. In 2013, the Canes took Elias Lindholm at No. 5 and the Swedish forward has been on the NHL roster the past two seasons.
“Even at 5, with a young player, when you introduce him to the NHL right away it’s difficult to make an impact,” said Tony MacDonald, the Canes’ director of amateur scouting.
But if the Canes’ targeted player is off the board by the fifth pick, the Canes may change directions and work a trade.
Francis said this past week he hopes to re-sign both team captain Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward to multiyear extensions. He also noted both have no-trade clauses in their contracts.
But what about a player like winger Jeff Skinner? He has no contract restrictions. And Skinner may not be the only Canes player drawing trade interest.
Could make for a busy time on the draft floor at the Florida Panthers’ BB&T Center.
Hanifin or Provorov?
Noah Hanifin seems like an obvious pick for the Canes, if available, but Ivan Provorov’s stock has been steadily rising.
“Hanifin is a big man who skates well, understands the game, plays a mature game,” MacDonald said. “Provorov has really gotten better in the last year and become a more complete player. Like Hanifin, he has a great sense, great feel for the game.”
McDonald compared Provorov, who’s listed at 6-feet and 201 pounds, to Canes defenseman Justin Faulk, an NHL All-Star. Both have a low center of gravity and exceptional core strength.
“In stature and style, he reminds me of Justin,” MacDonald said. “He has a great hockey IQ and skates very well.”
MacDonald said Provorov began as the seventh or eighth defenseman for Russia when it put together its national team for the 2015 World Junior Championship, only to emerge as a standout on the back end.
“By the meaningful games he had progressed and was logging a lot of minutes, used on the power play, killing penalties,” he said.
Hanifin, who’s 6-2 and 205 pounds (with 6.1 percent body fat), played well for the U.S. in the World Junior, had a strong college season for the Eagles and did well at the NHL combine. Some believe he could be taken as high as No. 3 in the draft, behind Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, and that the Arizona Coyotes may not pass on him at 3.
“The type of defenseman I want to be in the NHL is one capable of playing against forwards like that,” Hanifin told the NHL media at the combine. “That motivates me a lot.”
Marner or Crouse?
If Hanifin is off the board and Mitchell Marner is not, Marner could be donning a Canes sweater on Friday.
He’s not big – 5-11 and 163 pounds – but the center has been compared to Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Bay Lightning is another example of a smaller forward who plays big and scores.
“He’s probably as skilled as anyone in the entire draft,” MacDonald said. “Patrick Kane was a slight player physically as a junior, probably not as big (as Marner.) Like Kane, Marner is slippery, elusive and smart. He’s a prolific scorer who can finish his opportunities.
“He also plays the game well away from the puck. A lot of offensive players can be one-dimensional but Marner is committed to backchecking and playing a 200-foot game.”
Crouse is the prototypical power forward, a 6-4, 212-pound winger who helped Canada win the gold medal in the 2015 World Junior. He couldn’t match Marner’s numbers – Marner had 44 goals and 126 points in 63 games for London; Crouse 29 and 51 in 56 games for Kingston – but MacDonald said Crouse could be a dependable offensive contributor in the NHL.
MacDonald said Crouse has drawn comparisons to Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers although saying Crouse was not as good a skater as Kreider.
“But Crouse is an NHL skater and still evolving as a player,” MacDonald said. “He’s not a Kreider-type sniper but he gets to the net and plays a physical game.”
Not just the first round
It’s easy to be fixated on the first round, but Justin Faulk was a second-round draft pick in 2010 and Canes center Victor Rask was taken in the second round a year later.
MacDonald, with a long memory, likes to reflect back to 1998, when Carolina took forward Erik Cole in the third round, center Joseph Vasicek and winger Tommy Westlund in the fourth and winger Jaroslav Svoboda in the eighth. All played on Carolina’s team that reached the 2002 Stanley Cup final, and Cole and Vasicek were members of the 2006 Cup champions.
“You can get good value on your picks all the way through the draft and we’d like to cash in this year,” MacDonald said.
Francis said it’s a deep draft, with a lot of possibilities.
“We have a lot of picks,” Francis said. “We could use them, or we could move them.”
It could be some week.