For the Carolina Hurricanes, the 2011 NHL entry draft, held this past Friday and Saturday in Minnesota, was one of the quieter ones.
After eight selections and three trades in last year's frenzy, GM Jim Rutherford and the rest of the 'Canes staff smoothly went about their business this June as they made the 12th pick in each of the first, second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh rounds and also stayed out of the trading front.
However, an uneventful draft is not necessarily an unsuccessful one, too, and Carolina can certainly come away from the weekend feeling just fine about their decisions.
In the first round, that choice was to take Canadian Ryan Murphy, the first defenseman they've taken in the first round since Jack Johnson in 2005. Murphy, who was ranked ninth among all prospects by Central Scouting, was possibly the best offensive defenseman of the draft. He had 26 goals and 53 assists for a stunning 79 points in only 63 games from the blue line, ranking him easily first among all Ontario Hockey League 'D'-men in scoring.
The 2010-'11 campaign was Murphy's second with the Kitchener Rangers, where he may stay for one more season before signing an entry-level contract. In '09-'10, Murphy began to come into his own by scoring six goals and 39 points during the regular season and then contributing greatly with five goals and 17 points in 20 postseason appearances.
At the time, he was teammates with now-2011 Calder Cup Winner Jeff Skinner, who was the 'Canes seventh overall pick a year ago and will be soon be teammates yet again with Murphy, only this time at the NHL level.
After making Murphy the 'Canes' only highlight of Friday night, they started off the second round on Saturday morning with a bang by choosing center Victor Rask, one of the more controversial players of the draft but also, perhaps, one of the biggest steals at No. 42 overall.
Rask had five goals and 11 points in 37 games played this past season for Leksands of the Swedish Elite League, not a junior hockey team but rather a professional one, making Rask actually one of the lesser players.
The numbers and scouting was enough to get Rask eventually ranked 12th among European skaters by CS and 25th among all prospects by the ISS, a far cry from his eventual pick number.
The knock on Rask, however, is his personality, which can take a turn for a worse in bad times. He's been known to go weeks without putting any effort into his game, something that is simply not acceptable in the NHL and will need to be fixed.
An hour or so later, Murphy and Rask were joined by third-round choice, defenseman Keegan Lowe out of Edmonton of the Western Hockey League (WHL). Lowe, son of current Oilers' President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe, will be a counterpart to Murphy, who was born just two days later than Lowe, and has the potential to become a reliable, physical force for the Hurricanes.
With the Oil Kings, Lowe had two goals, 22 assists, 123 penalty minutes (PIM) and a plus-33 rating in 71 appearances this past season, building on top of his two goals, 12 assists and 60 PIM in '09-'10.
With the San Jose Sharks eventually choosing the 'Canes 133rd choice in the draft during the fifth round, the Hurricanes then were able to take a break before grabbing a goalie, Matt Mahalak, who had slipped far down the draft board. Mahalak was only 1-3-1 with an .840 save percentage as a backup for the Plymouth Whalers this past year, but had been touted as high as the 18th best prospect by some sources.
To finish off a two-day stretch of grabbing players who had slipped down the board with perhaps the only player who hadn't fallen off from his projection, the 'Canes nabbed their third center in Brody Sutter in the seventh round. And yes, indeed, this is one of those Sutters.
Brody will join relatives Brandon, an assistant captain at only age 23 for the 'Canes, and Brett, 24 and working his way towards an NHL spot, in the ranks of the franchise after scoring 18 goals and 42 points in '10-'11 for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. He might not be the most promising of the six players chosen by Carolina, but, in any case, to grab a Sutter in the seventh round is still a risk worth taking.
Who's the most promising player for the Hurricanes coming out of the 2011 draft?
While picking out the stars of this year's draft will only take time, here's a first impression glance-over of the 2011 draft class and also a look back how each of the 11 players from the Hurricanes' 2010 group have progressed over a year.
Ryan Murphy, being the 12th overall pick, easily runs away with this prize at the moment. Murphy, whether he stays another season with Kitchener or not, could become what we picture as a 15-years-younger version of current 'Cane Joe Corvo in his rookie year. As Joni Pitkanen also likely departs Raleigh this summer, his scoring ability will become needed more than ever before, and Murphy should be able to deliver.
We're so impressed with his scoring ability even while playing defense, we'll go as far as saying that Murphy is the second-best best defenseman (behind Jacl Johnson) the Hurricanes have ever picked since taking on the name. While that's not a very large crew—some of its top names are David Tanabe, Niclas Wallin and Jamie McBain—Murphy still has the potential to become a great player.
As prospect defensemen Bryan Rodney, Casey Borer and Zach Fitzgerald all hit the free-agent market this summer with Bobby Sanguinetti and Brett Bellemore also possibly joining them, the Hurricanes pool of developing 'D'-men continued to lack a top name entering the draft.
With Rutherford's general skepticism of using top picks on that particular position, we were worried that 2011 might be another 2010, where Rutherford took a forward first before then taking four consecutive depth blueliners.
Thankfully, we were wrong.
Keegan Lowe stands out as a steal in the third round, mostly for his well-rounded skills, experience being around the NHL, and his physical tendencies as a defenseman that tend to translate more consistently to the NHL than blueline scoring (sorry, Ryan, but we had to say it).
The third round is often right on the edge between producing top prospects and just being a shot-in-the-dark round of guys who only hope to make it past the minor leagues. However, Lowe is definitely in the first category, as we could easily see him becoming a defensive staple in the near future.
Will Victor Rask work out with Carolina or not?
Even with Victor Rask's near-unlimited upside, this pick could've been a good candidate to trade for, maybe, one of those mid-line wingers the 'Canes have so few of under contract at the moment. If not, we still think a few other fallers from the early workings of round two could've been better selections than the ultra-controversial Swede.
Also available at the time of the pick was winger Brandon Saad, ranked 24th overall by the ISS. With three centers out of six selections perhaps being a little over-excessive, a winger thrown in would've been a welcome addition and Saad was also one of the most capable wingers out there, posting 27 goals and 55 points last season for OHL Saginaw. Saad went with the next pick to the Flames.
We also liked LW Mario Lucia and center Shane Prince, the eventual second-to-last and last picks, respectively, of the second round, drafted by the Wild and Senators, also respectively. Straight out of high school was Lucia, who has more potential than just about anyone, and Prince, also not expected to drop that far, is coming off an 88-point campaign with the Ottawa 67's.
With the hockey experience that Brody Sutter has lived with all of his life, we think he might be as good of a bet to make the NHL as anyone taken in the seventh round and perhaps even in the last several rounds.
Brody will likely be fairly comfortable in North Carolina, with a relative in both the NHL and AHL teams, and has the family talent, even if he hasn't fully blossomed yet on his own, to go far. As is the typical case, it's hard to find NHL-ers that come from the seventh round—proven by the fact that the Hurricanes have yet to do it in 14 previous drafts—so the downside isn't much when using the 163rd overall choice on someone like this particular Sutter.
With two young goalies already in the system in Justin Peters and Mike Murphy and very little experience with a starting job at any respectable level, even junior hockey, Matt Mahalak, despite his high praise, doesn't have the statistics to show us that he really is capable of being worthy of an entry-level contract.
We seriously doubt he'll ever even become productive in the AHL, much less the NHL, and, even being a sixth-round pick, Mahalak is simply not a decent-enough prospect to be worth nabbing. Don't count on him doing anything noteworthy on the hockey front for the rest of his career.
Checking In on 2010 Draft Class
While the jury has only started and is definitely still out on the six players of the 2011 class, the previous year has been enough time to start to see where the paths of Carolina's 11 players from last June are headed. At least for Jeff Skinner, one season was most certainly enough time to realize his full potential.
The 37th overall choice, second-round defenseman Justin Faulk, attended Minnesota-Duluth this past season, scoring eight goals and 33 points in 37 games, and then signed a three-year, $2.53 million entry-level contract with the 'Canes just a month ago, putting him atop of the current list of under-contract defensive prospects.
Carolina's fourth-round choice from a season ago, LW Justin Shugg, improved upon his 39-goal, 79-point '09-'10 campaign with OHL Windsor that put him on the draft board with an impressive 41-point, 87-goal season this past year for OHL Mississauga, and then also signed a three-year entry-level contract worth $1.85 million this spring. Shugg is quickly becoming one the Hurricanes' most promising young forwards.
The franchise's four other defensemen from last June's draft—Mark Alt (second round, 53rd overall), Danny Biega (third round, 67th overall), Austin Levi (third round, 85th overall) and Tyler Stahl (sixth round, 167th overall)—all still remain with their development-stage clubs.
Alt, with the University of Minnesota, is still a few years down the line, while power-play defenseman Biega out of Harvard and bruiser Stahl from WHL Chilliwack appear to be ready for deals soon. Levi remains in the mid-stages with OHL Plymouth.
Seventh-round choice, goalie Frederik Anderson from Denmark, is looking like a possible compensation pick-generator as he may never leave Europe.
As for those coming over on the trade front, center Riley Nash, traded from Edmonton at the '10 draft, had 14 goals and 32 points in 79 games played this past year for AHL Charlotte.
Former Flyer Jon Matsumoto, acquired for a mere seventh-round choice, hit the 20-goal plateau and finished with 48 points in 65 AHL appearances and two goals in 13 NHL games, but is an RFA this summer.
And lastly, defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, acquired from the Rangers, also has an expiring contract and may be dealt as trade bait after a concussion limited him to only 31 GP this past season for the Checkers.
Despite the check-in, we will still wait another year before official ruling on the stars and busts of the 2010 and 2011 draft classes. Stay tuned to the prospect wires for more throughout the course of the 2011-'12 season.
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 285 articles and received over 305,000 total reads.
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