After a disappointing season for any hockey team, the next offseason usually includes a complete roster assessment, a youth movement, and a strong emphasis on putting together an excellent draft class.
That list of priorities fit the Carolina Hurricanes plan almost perfectly this summer. Just one season removed from an appearance in the Eastern Conference finals, the 'Canes struggled mightily this season, and were unable to recover from a dreadful autumn, despite several bright moments throughout the spring.
However, there is still hope for the Hurricanes. This will certainly be a vital summer in terms of the decisions made for the team moving forward. And any changing of the guard will likely begin the night of June 25, when the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft is conducted in Los Angeles.
The 'Canes won't be left out of the fun for long, either. Their first pick comes just seventh overall in the order. The decisions will also continue the next day, as the Hurricanes hold a league-high 11 draft picks (at one point, there were even 12), including three in the second round and two in the third.
However, this plethora of selections is not without plenty of holes to fill, as well. There is, without a doubt, an abundance of youth-lacking positions on the 'Canes squad. In addition, there is also always the option of trading away picks for established prospects, as already occured in a brilliant deal sending a fifth-round pick to Phoenix for Jared Staal.
Despite all of the speculation and activity, we all know the weekend of June 25 and 26 will be a critical time for the Carolina franchise's future. It won't be just when the next Hurricane walks up to the podium with the seventh pick, either.
Each and every player chosen could end up as the next franchise centerpiece, or just a complete waste of a pick.
The draft class as a whole will also be examined time and time again by staff, players, fans, and writers like myself. There will be an ample supply of chances for the team to pick up one individual, but it's really the group together that could "make or break" the Hurricanes farm system, the future of the team.
Meanwhile, the real truth to it all is that the 'Canes really just need to focus on solving their needs going into July's free agent season.
Here are five things that Carolina desperately needs to have accomplished when they look back at the synopsis of this year's selections.
Replenish the Defense
With the recent youth movement at the NHL level, the Hurricanes farm system defensive corps are getting left in the dust.
Given the departure of regulars such as Jamie McBain, Brett Carson, Bryan Rodney, and Jay Harrison to contend for a spot at the top level, the AHL defensive unit could use a major boost to keep the supply of NHL-ready 'D-men' steady.
The prime focus, in terms of adding new defensive prospects, is on that seventh overall pick. But time must be spent on the now-Charlotte Checker's blue line unit throughout all seven rounds.
In the best situation, at least five of the 11 selections should be spent on defense, especially given the slow development of defensive prospects.
Find a New Jamie McBain
For this hole in the farm system to be filled, at least during this season's draft, the Hurricanes would likely need to devote their one top-ten overall selection to the cause.
Jamie McBain may just be the Canes best-looking prospect-turned-NHLer. The 22-year-old defenseman was in just his first year at the AHL level this year. But after racking up 40 points and a plus-8 rating from the blue line, McBain was called up for his first appearance in Raleigh.
He was even more spectacular there, putting up a stunning 10 points and a plus-6 rating in just 14 appearances.
However, his transition [hopefully] into a defensive centerpiece for the Hurricanes has also added to Carolina's shortage of defenseman in the minor leagues.
One of the "Big Three" defenseman in the draft, an elite trio consisting of the likes of Cam Fowler, Eric Gudbranson, and Brandon Gormley, would be the best bet to replace McBain.
Unfortunately for Carolina, many experts have all three of those prospects falling in the top five selections, leaving the 'Canes out of the fun at the seventh slot.
Unless at least two teams from a group including the Panthers, Blue Jackets, Islanders, and Lightning decide to instead pursue another talented forward like Brett Connolly, Ryan Johansen, or Jeff Skinner, fate may not be on the Hurricanes side.
This leaves either trading up a few picks or reaching down to grab a second-tier defenseman, such as Mike Pysyk or Dylan McIlrath.
These two options could prove difficult to pull off (or to swallow, that is). However, no matter the situation, it could prove absolutely crucial to find a new player with McBain's potential to keep the Charlotte defense looking alive.
Pick Up A Fast-Learning Center
Besides the defense, center is also another position in need. Behind captain Eric Staal and 2010-breakout prospect Brandon Sutter, who has now deservedly found a solid spot on the NHL roster, no one else can spark Carolina.
Rod Brind'Amour is all set to retire, or be bought out (preferably the first option), and Pat Dwyer is completely unproven. A fast-learning center who can quickly take over the third line position will definitely be an overlooked yet vital priority for the Hurricanes this summer.
Additionally, this may be the alternative option for the Hurricanes first rounder. There are several worthy players who could be worth using the seventh overall pick on, Alexander Burmistrov, Ryan Johansen, and Mikael Granlund just to name a few.
If a center isn't taken there, one of the three second round choices would then become the next option. But unless Rutherford and his staff can find a hidden steal all the way back down there, a couple of picks may be worth trading away for a late first round pick to solve this need.
Trade For Already-Developed Prospects
With such a wealth of choices, the Hurricanes may also want to consider dealing some of them away to more needy teams in return for already- or partially-developed prospects, a strategy that has worked well for them in the past.
All four of those teams also have their fair share of prospects who could be worthy finds for the Hurricanes, including players such as Jamie Benn, James Neal, Jason Demers, and Alexander Vasyunov.
Carolina proved to be completly open to this tactic when they traded for Jared Staal. Hopefully, they will continue to employ this strategy throughout the draft, as players who've already shown they have the potential to grow into solid performers are always welcome.
Stick With the Philosophy
Above all else, the Hurricanes must stick with the philosophy that has produced caliber players like Eric Staal, Erik Cole, Cam Ward, Jack Johnson (who was soon traded for Tim Gleason), Brandon Sutter, and Zach Boychuk in Los Angeles. It's these type of moves that have led the Hurricanes to three Conference Finals in the past nine seasons.
General Manager Jim Rutherford and his staff have always been known for just making sure to pick the best (or one of the best) players on the board, rather than reaching to all areas of the draft plan, to find the player to fill the gap they specified with that pick. It sounds like a good idea, and it has proved to be one time and time again.
The 'Canes, for now, are holding more picks than any other team, and those selections are spread out over the entire draft, as well. Only six selections will be made before Carolina has their first opportunity "on the clock", and there will be only four more selections remaining from any team after the 'Canes make their last choice in the seventh round.
Some of those choices may be dealt for existing players, and some of them may end up with a player that many will question. The players suddenly heading to Charlotte, N.C., may never have heard of each other, may never have been to North Carolina, and may not even speak English.
Young hockey prodigies from the far corners of the globe, from Iceland to Canada to Ukraine, may soon be united under the red and black of their new Hurricanes jersey. Each one will play a different position with a different style, have different expectations, and will wear a different number.
But, as a whole, hopefully each and every one will have a place in the future of the franchise. Some will work out, and, naturally, some won't. Nevertheless, on June 27, when the whole Caniac nation looks back on all of the headlines that just came out of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, it seems pretty likely that most everyone would be content if the 'Canes can solve these issues and fill in these holes outlined above.
And then, there's always the case of the next Alexander Ovechkin.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist and community leader for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. In his 21 months so far with the site, he has written over 200 articles and received over 140,000 total reads. Visit his profile to read more.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist and community leader for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. In his 21 months so far with the site, he has written over 200 articles and received over 140,000 total reads.
Visit his profile to read more.
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