A key factor in being competitive on a consistent basis especially for teams with a budget below the salary cap is drafting and development. The ability to regularly insert productive young players who earn modest salaries into the lineup is the surest way to get the most bang for salary bucks. Canes GM Ron Francis gets this. This summer he made a move away from a company guy to a new AHL coach in Mark Morris. I wrote about Morris’ unsung impact on the 2015-16 HERE. And Francis is working hard to improve the depth of the system with extra picks in each of the first 3 rounds this coming summer.

Out of curiosity, I took a quick tour through all of the Canes drafts since the team moved to North Carolina. At a basic level, I noted 3 things:

1-Especially recently, the team has fared pretty well with first round picks after a string of misses early on.

2-Except for 1 bumper crop and better returns only very recently, the team mostly failed to convert second and lower round picks into regular roster players of any significance.

3-Things seemed to turn for the positive with the strong draft in 2010.


The bumper crop of 1998

In terms of volume of good players from lower rounds, I think 1998 is the best in the team’s history (though 2012 could eventually rival it. First-rounder Jeff Heerema was a miss, but the Canes picked up Erik Cole in the third round, Josef Vasicek and Tommy Westlund in the fourth round and Jaroslav Svoboda in the seventh round. All 4 of these players played significant roles on low cost contracts in the team’s 2002 run to the Stanley Cup Finals.


Complete inability to develop mid-round picks for next 10 years

After the bumper crop from the 1998 draft, the organization was hit by famine in terms of drafting/developing mid-round picks. A top 5 from 1999 through 2008 for second round and later picks would include Niclas Wallin (fourth round 2000), Jamie McBain (second round 2006), Drayson Bowman (third round 2007), Justin Peters (second round 2004) and maybe even Michal Jordan (fourth round 2008). Of the bunch, only Niclas Wallin would really qualify as a regular NHL player. That simply is not enough help from the system. Ideally, a team would hope to find a couple diamonds in the rough and also add a handful of Wallin-like players who can at least adequately fill roster spots for a period of time.


At least the the sure things mostly worked out

The positive from this 10-year run is that the Canes at least managed to do well even if not perfect with top picks. After the dismal run of Nikos Tselios (first 1997), Jeff Heerema (first 1998),  David Tanabe (first 1999), no first in 2000 and Igor Knyazev (first 2001), the scouting department at least did better in the first round. Starting in 2002, the team had a decent run of first round picks including Cam Ward (2002), Eric Staal (2003), Andrew Ladd (2004), Jack Johnson (2005), no first in 2006 and Brandon Sutter (2007). A couple of those players were traded before yielding much for the Hurricanes, but even those players at least yielded trade value. After a couple more off years in 2008 and 2009, 2010 could prove to be a turning point in the franchise’s draft fortunes.


2010 as the turning point

The 2010 draft seemed to mark a turning point for the team especially in terms of adding players below the first round that could be more than temporary depth players. The 2010 draft was obviously a success with Jeff Skinner in the first round, Justin Faulk in the second round and even included Anaheim netminder Frederik Andersen in the seventh round but who reentered the draft instead of signing with the Canes.

The 2011 draft saw the Canes pick Ryan Murphy in the first round but again collect an NHL player in the second round in Victor Rask.

Despite not having a first round pick, the 2012 draft has the potential to rival the 1998 draft in terms of volume of diamonds in the rough found in later rounds. Phil Di Giuseppe in the second round and Jaccob Slavin in the fourth round are already middle of the roster NHLers with upside from there, and all of Brock McGinn (second round), Daniel Altshuller (third round) and Trevor Carrick (fourth round) still have the potential to make their way to the NHL.

The 2013 draft has Elias Lindholm in the first round and Brett Pesce in the third round running the streak to 3 years with a second or lower round pick stepping onto the NHL roster.

It is too early to grade the 2014 draft since players are just finishing their junior eligibility, but Haydn Fleury (first round), Alex Nedeljkovic (second round) and Warren Foegele (third round) project well.


40 percent of 2015-16 roster are Canes draftees from 2010 or later

It happened pretty suddenly, but the team is quickly approaching the point where half of the roster will be recent draftees. On defense, there are Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Noah Hanifin and possibly Ryan Murphy in a depth role. At forward, there are Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask and Phil Di Giuseppe. That is 8 out of 20. With extra draft picks in 2016 and the players already in the lineup young, it is reasonable to project that the ‘home grown’ element in the Canes lineup will push above 50 percent within 2-3 years.


Long story short, a combination of better drafting over the past 5-6 drafts has the Canes trending in the right direction. Combined with a better ability to convert more mid-round picks into at least serviceable middle of the roster players, Ron Francis’ goal of being a regular playoff participant and not an occasional 1 hit wonder is starting to look more like a near-term reality and less like a long-term, slowly developing plan.


Go Canes!

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