The weight of a five-year playoff drought sags more heavily than ever as new general manager Ron Francis approaches his first big opportunity to change the direction of the team.
Francis and the 'Canes, thanks to the disappointment of the 2013-14 campaign, are blessed with the No. 7 overall selection and six more picks throughout the course of the draft. It's a full deck of valuable assets, but inanimate assets nonetheless—only with smart decision-making and savvy selecting can the maximum value of each of the seven picks be capitalized upon.
But the draft has historically proven to be challenging for Carolina.
Considering all draft picks from 2004 to 2013, 'Canes selections played in 3,016 combined NHL games, the ninth-smallest total in the league. Eleven of the top 12 teams in the rankings made the postseason in either 2013 or 2014; the 'Canes, meanwhile, haven't qualified since 2009.
Moreover, of Carolina's 71 picks between 2003 and 2012, only 24 have made a single NHL appearance (28th in the league) and a mere nine have hit the 100-game milestone (27th).
Perhaps most troubling has been the team's drafting past the first round, as the Hurricanes' second- through ninth-round selections from 2003 to 2012 have averaged just 19 NHL games per player. Only the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise has been less effective beyond the first round.
Why has the 'Canes drafting become so unproductive?
Each strong class, such as Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk in 2010, has been offset by a fruitless year—like No. 27 pick Philippe Paradis and the rest of the 2009 class.
Each first-round success, such as Brandon Sutter at No. 11 in 2007, has been followed by a disappointment of even greater proportions—like Zach Boychuk at No. 14 in 2008.
The few strokes of brilliance—Brett Bellemore in the 2007 sixth round, Niclas Wallin in the 2000 fourth round, even controversy-ridden Frederik Andersen in the 2010 seventh round—have been buried in an otherwise lifeless swamp of late-round strikeouts.
Of the Hurricanes' 32 selections in the fourth round or later since 2004, not one has yet hit the milestone of 100 NHL appearances or 15 NHL points.
Too often, the 'Canes have naively made draft day decisions considering only the team's current situation.
When Jim Rutherford made the decision to trade the No. 8 pick in 2012 to Pittsburgh as part of the package deal for Jordan Staal, he surely envisioned a dominant, Sedin-like, immediately developing All-Star tandem between brothers Eric and Jordan.
But Rutherford seemingly let his omnipresent affection for connections and cronyism override the logic that perhaps the future was more important than that one point in time. Brandon Sutter was growing into an elite player in his role; Brian Dumoulin would continue to emerge as a steady if not flashy prospect; A-grade picks like Jacob Trouba, Filip Forsberg and Mikhail Grigorenko were still available at the pick position.
A year later, the Sutter-vacated third-line role stood out as the top concern entering the 2013 draft. And so Rutherford made the "safe" decision and took Swedish center Elias Lindholm, immediately slotting him into the position in his internal vision of the depth chart.
More talented players were available, players like Valeri Nichushkin and Sean Monahan who would go on to have far more productive rookie seasons. The 'Canes, however, chose to draft Lindholm just like they would choose to sign a veteran free agent: valuing him for the hole he would fill in the roster at this time.
Forward-looking vision, arguably the most important heuristic in the draft process, lacked woefully in the Hurricanes of old.
This spring, Francis will likely be able to select, if he so chooses, Kasperi Kapanen—son of former 'Canes player Sami Kapanen—at No. 7.
He'll likely also be able to select, if he so chooses, William Nylander—a flashy winger who could pair up dangerously on a wing opposite Alexander Semin.
If the mistakes of the past have taught the 'Canes anything, however, then both of those potential picks should be considered with only the most critical eye. Drafting based on the now and not the future has repeatedly proved futile in Raleigh.
Mistakes of drafts past (as well as a plethora of other blunders) have left the 'Canes in an increasingly troubling financial situation that may only be resolved by a playoff berth.
The relative urgency of the state of the franchise, however, must not influence the new Francis regime to act impulsively at the upcoming and crucial 2014 draft.
Historical draft information courtesy of HockeyDB.com.
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