The Carolina Hurricanes entered the summer with a decent pool of blue line prospects and then immediately added another elite one when they drafted Noah Hanifin #5 overall. He joined Haydn Fleury who was picked #7 a summer earlier, Ryan Murphy who was also a first round pick and on the brink of a make or break season and a batch of mid-round picks who progressed well.
A solid summer
The group looked good in the July prospect camp and also in the Traverse City tournament. Then things became even better when the group looked pretty good in preseason games against at least a mix of NHL level talent.
At the conclusion of preseason, I wrote the following post re-ranking the Canes blue line prospects. I still stand by this ranking a few weeks later.
And things keep getting better
And the future of the blue line continues to become brighter:
- Noah Hanifin is still very much learning as a talented 18-year old, but he looks physically capable at the NHL level and better than I would have hoped defending with the puck in front of him.
- Ryan Murphy is off to a good start and playing very good hockey right now.
- Brett Pesce has demonstrated poise and solid defensive play seemingly way above his development level/age when he stepped into the top 4 slot that opened up when James Wisniewski was injured.
The story is also positive in the system:
- Trevor Carrick has 4 goals and 3 assists in 10 games in the AHL.
- Jaccob Slavin has 6 assists (no goals) in 10 games in the AHL and leads the team with a whopping plus 8 which is even more impressive when you consider that the second best defenseman (Tyler Ganly) is only plus 2.
- Haydn Fleury has 3 goals and 7 assists in 10 games with the Red Deer Rebels in the Western Hockey League.
And to boot, the leader of the group is Justin Faulk who is already an elite NHLer but only 23 years old.
Is it time to trade D for F?
But at forward the situation is more challenging. The Canes lack high end forward depth that could be put to use now to fill out a roster that could use more fire power. And the prospect pool looking out 2-4 years is not as strong as the story on defense.
With the room to put them in the lineup immediately and the need for long-term help at the position, might it soon be time for general manager Ron Francis to try to balance the prospect pool by making an even trade of a defense prospect for a forward prospect?
I think so for a few reasons:
1) A high end forward prospect especially with a unique skill set (i.e. power forward) could possibly slot into the lineup immediately, improve the team and also provide long-term help.
2) The Canes have more defensemen than they can use. The challenge is always trading the right one since not all prospects work out.
How does Ron Francis go about doing this?
I think the process goes like this:
1) Make a list of desirable forward prospects that are comparable in age and quality level to the Canes blue line prospects.
2) Make inquiries asking to see if any would be available via trade for a defenseman and who the trade partner would want in return.
3) Make a priority list for Canes D prospects. This is obviously an imperfect process at this early stage of these players’ development, but Ron Francis and his team should know these players better than anyone else. Doing nothing runs the risk that the lower-ranked players hit snags in their development and lose value.
4) Seek situations where potential trading partners for forwards want 1 of the defensemen that Francis and his team rank lower.
If the Canes added a 20-22 year old forward with significant AHL experience, such a player could compete for a roster spot as early as this season and help expedite the Hurricanes rebuild by balancing the young talent across the forwards and defense.
I would guess that Ron Francis and his scouting department have already had discussions about the young defensemen and have a pretty solid pecking order for the group, but it also seems reasonable to get a bit deeper into the 2015-16 season to see how these players look side by side with many of them now playing in the same league. I think it is possible that Francis is already poking around to see who might be available. Those conversations always have the potential to lead to a deal, but I think more likely January through the trade deadline would be a more likely time to expect a deal.