From the top three into the ranks of the second and third round, this year's crop of prospects has been touted as arguably the best in a decade. The 'Canes, thanks to their disastrous late-season trainwreck, will have the opportunity to grab one of the elites at the very top of the board.
The franchise, even dating back to their days in Hartford, has always been dead-on with their top selections—their last six top-seven draft choices include Jeff Skinner (2010), Jack Johnson (2005), Andrew Ladd (2004), Eric Staal (2003), Jeff O'Neill (1994) and Chris Pronger (1993).
In 2013, they'll have to live up to that standard not only to continue the club's perfect record with top picks but also to help the squad end a four-year playoff drought as soon as possible.
Which youngsters should the Hurricanes consider for the fifth overall pick? We break down four perfect candidates (and a trade theory) below.
Aleksander Barkov, C/LW
Aleksander Barkov's game is predicated on hockey smarts—he knows what to do with the puck and how to hold onto it until then.
At 6'2", 205 pounds, he's much more well-built than most 18-year-old prospects and demonstrated that maturity in the Finnish professional league this past season. Up against players in their 20s and 30s, Barkov registered 21 goals and 48 points in 53 appearances.
Tony MacDonald, Hurricanes' head of amateur scouting, recently raved about the 17-year-old to team reporter Michael Smith. "He’s an NHL-ready player in terms of the fact that he’s already playing with seasoned professionals," praised MacDonald. “He’s proven that he’s more than capable of holding his own and making a significant contribution.”
Although he's under contract overseas through this coming season, Barkov's presence alongside Jordan Staal and Tuomo Ruutu would certainly make for an intimidating second line in 2014-15.
Valeri Nichushkin, RW/LW
The possibilities of what Russian winger Valeri Nichushkin could do alongside fellow countryman Alexander Semin seem infinite.
The 6'3", 196-pound Nichushkin possesses a rare and special combination of power and skating ability. He played for a variety of teams in 2013-14—making 18 appearances for Russian pro club Chelyabinsk, 15 for Russian minor-league team Chelmet, nine for Chelyabinsk's junior side and six for Russia's IIHF junior national team—but impressed scouts everywhere with his raw skills.
He's like a bigger, non-concussion-hampered Jeff Skinner. And he's three years younger.
Since announcing he's moving to North America this summer, Nichushkin has been increasingly included among many experts' projected top four. It's hard to imagine he wouldn't be snapped up by Carolina at fifth if he fell that far.
Darnell Nurse, D
The son of a CFL receiver and the nephew of Donovan McNabb—yes, the real Donovan McNabb—Darnell Nurse's upbringing didn't exactly lead directly to hockey.
From the Hurricanes' perspective, however, it sure is a good thing Nurse chose the sport he did. The 6'4" rearguard from Ontario is a top-tier defensive defenseman; his positioning and mobility are excellent, and he's learned to take advantage of his large frame well.
Nurse's offensive ability took a massive step forward in 2012-13, too. He scored 41 points and a plus-15 rating in 68 appearances for OHL Sault Ste. Marie.
On a Hurricanes defense that ranked last in the NHL in shots allowed, Nurse's conservative style would seem an ideal fit. We would love to see him and Justin Faulk on the team's top pairing a few years down the line.
Nikita Zadorov, D
Opinions vary widely on colossal defenseman Nikita Zadorov—the ISS ranks him among their top ten while the CSS spots him as a fringe first round player—but we're absolutely sold on this monster in the back end.
He's officially listed at 6'4", 200 pounds, but others (such as TSN) have him measured as big as 6'5" and 230 pounds. Either way, Zadorov is a huge presence in his own zone. The Moscow native is as tough and punishing as they come (consider him a bigger, meaner Tim Gleason) and appears on the fast track to a true shutdown role in the NHL.
He racked up 25 points and 54 penalty minutes in 63 games played for OHL London this past campaign.
Although he may be a reach at fifth overall, Zadorov could easily the diamond in the rough of the 2013 draft class.
Speculation has grown exponentially over the past few weeks that general manager Jim Rutherford could be interested in trading down.
A number of defensive defenseman—like Nurse and Zadorov but also Rasmus Ristolainen (Finland) and Ryan Pulock (Canada)—could be available well after the fifth choice. As other teams seek a shot at one of the coveted top-five skaters, the 'Canes could be happy picking later and reeling in a decent established player in the meantime.
The Buffalo Sabres, who have already openly admitted to negotiating with Colorado for the first overall pick, have both the eighth and 16th selections in the first round. Would the fifth pick and a third- or fourth-rounder be enough for that pair of choices? It's certainly a possibility.
Another potential idea involves a package deal with the fifth pick and oft-dangled defenseman Jamie McBain in exchange for a later first-round pick and a solid top-four NHL blueliner. Would Dallas (10th pick) be willing to part with Jamie Oleksiak, Phoenix (12th pick) with Keith Yandle or Winnipeg (13th pick) with Zach Bogosian for that return? It's also certainly a possibility.