Luke DeCock

Hurricanes lost draft lottery, but win lottery that is NHL draft

The Carolina Hurricanes didn’t win the draft lottery, but they won the lottery that is the NHL draft.

So many times in the past the Hurricanes have seen the player they really wanted disappear immediately before their pick. Not this time. This time, when the fifth overall pick rolled around, the top defenseman in the draft was still there.

Since last year’s draft, scouts talked about Noah Hanifin like he would be the No. 1 pick in most years, in a draft that didn’t also boast phenoms Conner McDavid and Jack Eichel. But the Arizona Coyotes, picking third, didn’t trade down and took a forward. The Toronto Maple Leafs, picking fourth, also took a forward.

The Hurricanes, picking fifth, took the consensus best defenseman in the draft.

You never know how this stuff works out, but in Justin Faulk, 2014 first-round pick Haydn Fleury and Hanifin, the Hurricanes have the raw material for what could be an elite blue line. Roland McKeown, acquired in the Andrej Sekera trade, isn’t of the same caliber as those three but could be a complementary part.

It won’t happen right away – Hanifin was the second-youngest player ever to play for Boston College and may benefit from more time in Chestnut Hill – but arguably, this is the strongest group of prospects the Hurricanes have ever had on defense. Now, the trick is moving them along to join Faulk in the NHL.

Hanifin doesn’t have Faulk’s power-play ability, but he’s big, he’s solid defensively and can move the puck out of his own end, even if he’s not as offensively talented going forward at this point in his career. There were flashier offensive options available on defense, Ivan Provorov or Zach Werenski, but Hanifin is bigger and moves just as smoothly.

This is an old story now, but the last time the NHL draft was held in South Florida, in 2001, the Hurricanes had their eyes on another Boston College player, forward Chuck Kobasew. The Calgary Flames took him 14th. The Hurricanes took defenseman Igor Knyazev 15th overall instead. Knyazev never played an NHL game and is currently residing in the “Where Are They Now” file.

Two years ago, defenseman Seth Jones slid to No. 5 and the Nashville Predators. The Hurricanes, picking sixth, took Elias Lindholm – a good player, but not a franchise defenseman like Jones. This time, the Hurricanes found themselves where the Predators were in 2013, and Hanifin landed in their laps.

What did happen Friday night – Hanifin falling to the Hurricanes – overshadowed what didn’t happen. Despite an afternoon filled with rumors and chatter involving Jeff Skinner, the Hurricanes stood pat. Trades don’t have to happen at the draft, but the combination of imminent picks and general managers in close proximity tends to act as a catalyst.

In a decade, this draft pick could end up being a defining moment for Ron Francis, but he still has yet to make a significant player-for-player trade as general manager – Buffalo’s Tim Murray did more Friday than Francis has done in 14 months. The clock is ticking on that, with Alexander Semin still around and Eric Staal and Cam Ward nearing the end of their contracts, making it increasingly expedient to either re-sign or trade them.

Skinner may still be moved this weekend – a trade could easily still happen Saturday, because there will be aftershocks in the wake of Friday’s trades involving Robin Lehner, Doug Hamilton, Milan Lucic and Ryan O’Reilly – but Friday was all about the player the Hurricanes added, not any that departed.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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