Obviously the players on the ice ultimately decide success, but I think a key to the Canes team 3-5 years out could be Mark Morris and his ability to develop young defensemen.
Right now, the Canes have an imbalance of prospects by position. Whereas the team is light on top-tier forwards, the Canes are stocked with high potential young defensemen.
–In the last two years, the Canes have used high draft picks to add the second defenseman taken in the entire draft. In 2014 at #7 the Canes nabbed Haydn Fleury. In 2015 at #5, the Canes picked up Noah Hanifin.
–The Canes also have a 2nd and 4th-rounder from 2014 in Roland McKeown (acquired from Los Angeles) and Josh Wesley respectively. Both are early in their development, but progressing well.
–Trevor Carrick and Jaccob Slavin who were both taken in the 4th round in 2013 have also risen up the rankings for their draft year and rank in the top 5-7 prospects in the Hurricanes system.
–Then there is Ryan Murphy who was a 1st-rounder in 2011, has shown elite skating and offensive skills and just needs to round out his game defensively to become a regular at the NHL level.
–And all of these players are working to join the anchor, Justin Faulk, who is already established himself as a solid NHL defender despite being only a couple years older than these players at 23.
With prospects who are early in their development, it is not reasonable to expect them all to pan out, but 3-5 years out there seems to be enough quantity and elite potential that the Canes could build the majority of its blue line from what is already in the system. But the key is development. Can Hanifin and Fleury develop in #2/#3 type defensemen? Can enough of Wesley, McKeown, Carrick, Slavin, Murphy and others yield a #4 defenseman and depth for the 3rd pairing?
It is not yet clear if some of these players will jump quickly to the NHL level and develop there, but most will log a significant number of games at the AHL level. This puts new Charlotte Checkers coach Mark Morris in the spotlight. He will largely be tasked with converting potential to NHL performance.
As a long-time coach, the Checkers Mark Morris has experience doing this. With Manchester who was the Kings AHL team, he had pretty good track record converting middle-tier draftees into pretty good NHL players. The list of players that Morris coached from middle of the draft pedigree up to NHL production includes:
–Jake Muzzin who was drafted in the 5th round and played parts of 3 years in Manchester developed into a solid top 4 defenseman.
–Slava Voyno who was drafted in the 2nd round and played parts of 5 seasons in the AHL also became a top 4 NHL defenseman.
–Alec Martinez who was drafted in the 4th round and played parts of 3 seasons in Manchester developed into a serviceable #4/#5 NHL defenseman.
–Davis Drewiske who was undrafted and played 1 year at the AHL level grew to become a decent middl-tier NHL defenseman.
(Note that Drew Doughty skipped the AHL.)
When you look at the stable of prospects that the Canes currently have on defense combined with Mark Morris’ good track record developing middle tier draftees into pretty good NHL players, it seems realistic that the Canes could develop the majority and importantly the higher-end players for its blue line a couple years out. If this happens, it could be a huge step toward building a team that can not only return to the playoffs but make them consistently.