Haydn Fleury, the No. 7 overall selection in the 2014 NHL draft, took the first step forward in his NHL career on Thursday.
However, his campaign to become a regular defenseman for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2014-15 remains a difficult one.
According to Terrell Williams of the team's website, he signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the 'Canes on Thursday. The 18-year-old blueliner will earn roughly $2.5 million if he plays at the NHL level for the entirety of the deal, and he received an additional $277,500 signing bonus.
Both monetary values are fairly standard for a top-10 pick.
Speaking with Williams, general manager Ron Francis referenced Fleury's upcoming participation for the Hurricanes at the annual NHL prospects tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.
"We feel very strongly that Haydn is an important part of our team’s future. He performed very well at our development camp and we are looking forward to seeing him in Traverse City and during training camp in Raleigh," he said.
Naturally, Fleury has big dreams in mind for the future and touched on them in an interview with Chip Alexander of the News & Observer in July:
When you get drafted so high and you see top 10 picks make it the next year, that’s kind of one of your goals in the summer. I think at the same time I need to keep a level mind and realize not many 18-year-olds play in the NHL and it’s a big step, especially on defense.
Thursday's announcement does indeed guarantee Fleury will take part in the Hurricanes' training camp in September as well as at least a few of the team's seven preseason games, which run from Sept. 21 through Oct. 5.
He might even play for the 'Canes during the October portion of the regular season, as Michael Smith of Hurricanes.com notes the 6'3" blueliner can make up to nine NHL appearances without the season counting officially as the first of his three-year contract.
Come Carolina's ninth regular-season game, however—Saturday, Nov. 1 vs. the Arizona Coyotes—a decision will need to be made if it hasn't been already.
And it's highly unlikely that Fleury will remain a part of the NHL roster by the time the Los Angeles Kings roll into Raleigh on Nov. 2.
After all, the Alberta native may well enter training camp as the No. 9 defenseman on the depth chart.
Justin Faulk, Andrej Sekera, Ron Hainsey, Tim Gleason and trade speculation-plagued Jay Harrison and John-Michael Liles all sport one-way contracts.
Ryan Murphy is a former top-15 pick himself and will be hoping to build on his 48 NHL appearances from a season ago. Brett Bellemore, who made 64 appearances in 2013-14, was also brought back on a two-way contract last month.
The 'Canes finally have the defensive depth that they've sought and needed for years, but it may be at Fleury's expense.
Instead, the WHL product will join a number of AHL veterans (including Michal Jordan, Keegan Lowe, Rasmus Rissanen, Danny Biega and possibly others) and perhaps fellow recent entry-level contract signee Trevor Carrick in the cast of players hoping to break into that upper tier.
Fleury will undoubtedly surpass all of them in the long run, and his standout performance at July's prospects development camp did nothing to slow the pace of his fast-rising stock.
In fact, in Carolina's back-end rosters of old, earning a full-time NHL role at age 18 would've been very doable for a player of Fleury's pedigree.
In 2014, though, Carolina is a different team, and Fleury will encounter a different situation. Eight players with one or more seasons of NHL experience have legitimate arguments to be included in the opening-night starting lineup, and only six or possibly seven will achieve that goal.
The odds seem stacked against a full-length 'Canes campaign for Fleury in 2014-15.
Contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com.