Well, with the Stanley Cup Play-offs finally done, we can finally turn our attention to the upcoming draft. With the No.5 pick overall, rumors are rampant as to how the Carolina Hurricanes will play it this year. And, to quote TV game-show host, Howie Mandel, “Deal or no deal?” That is the question Jim Rutherford must be ruminating on as we head into this weekend’s draft festivities.
With arguably one of the best draft crops in years, there are some interesting options open to the Canes. The consensus top 3 remain Portland D-man, Seth Jones, and Halifax Moosehead forwards, Nathan MacKinnon, and Jonathan Drouin. Expect them to go in the top 3, although there is ongoing discussion as to who will go first overall. One day it’s Jones, the next MacKinnon.
Next up you have Sasha Barkov, Valeri Nichushkin, or Elias Lindholm. Any of these outstanding talents would be an excellent pick for the Hurricanes. All three played professionally in Europe last year and are clearly ready to step into a waiting NHL job with the Canes. Barkov is a favorite in Nashville, so likely he’s not an option. Lindholm is under contract to play one more year with Brynas in Sweden, so that might make him less interesting, unless a release is possible. So that makes Nichushkin the likely target, but there has been much talk that JR is not a fan of drafting Russians. (Remember Igor Knyazev?) In fact, you are hard-pressed to find any Russians drafted by JR in recent years. But, maybe that is about to change. It has been stated that Rutherford was planning on drafting Mikhail Grigorenko #8 last year, if he had not traded that pick to the Penguins as part of the Jordan Staal trade. Grigorenko was ultimately taken 12th by the Buffalo Sabres. Add to this the fact that Nichushkin uses the same agent as Alexander Semin, Mark Gandler, and drafting Nichushkin sounds even more plausible.
The word coming out of the Canes camp suggests they have a specific player in mind for their first pick. Given all the chatter recently, my guess is that Nichhuskin is their man. He gives them an added scoring dimension for the 2nd line which was sorely lacking last year. His potential is off-the-charts and a forward complement of the two Staals, Alex Semin, Jiri Tlusty, and Nichushkin starts to look interesting. And, his addition paves the way to finalize a deal for a much-needed top 4 D-man. Having said all of this, it is sounding more and more that Nichushkin could go in the top 4. Tampa Bay is making waves that Nichushkin could be their man now that he has committed to play in North America this year. And lately, Nashville has started to show interest in him, too. If the Lightening or Preds do select Nichushkin, the Canes could be looking at Barkov or Drouin, and wouldn’t that be amazing. And, what about Ottawa 67s star, Sean Monahan? He’s big, fast, and a highly-skilled, cerebral player. By all accounts, he is definitely in the mix and would be an ideal 3rd line center for years to come. The two Staals and Monahan would be quite a combination, for sure.
But, as we have seen in past years, draft day can be full of surprises. Who could have anticipated Rutherford selecting Jeff Skinner 7th in 2010 and JR’s grandstand move at last year’s draft festivities? So, what happens if the player the Canes are coveting is gone when their turn comes up? With such a deep draft, they may feel any of a number of choices would work for them. So, a trade down a few spots could very well happen if the deal included another first round pick or a current NHLer/prospect of interest to the Canes. Or, a blockbuster could happen to bring the Canes that high-end D-man they are seeking, such as the rumored Kris Letang offer from Pittsburgh. And, depending on the offer, Rutherford might sweeten the deal with a McBain, Dalpe, or Bowman, to get what he wants. Here are a some scenarios that might play out.
1. Edmonton Oilers
a. Trade 5th pick for Oilers 7th pick (Monahan, Lindholm, Nurse, Ristolainen, Shinkaruk)
b. Acquire player/prospect from Oilers (Paajarvi, Maracin, Musil) or Oilers 1st round pick in 2014.
2. Buffalo Sabres
a. Trade 5th pick to Sabres for 8th pick ( Nurse, Ristolainen, Lindholm, Horvat, Shinkaruk, Erne)
b. Add Canes throw-in McBain, Dalpe, or Bowman
c. Acquire Sabres prospect (Armia, Girgensons, McNabb, Foligno)
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
a. Trade 5th pick to Penguins for Kris Letang and Beau Bennett
b. Add Canes throw-in McBain, Dalpe, or Bowman
So, what would you do if you were Mr. Rutherford? “Deal or no deal?”
For me, nothing would be sweeter than if JR goes up to the podium on Sunday, grabs the microphone, and announces for the 5th overall pick, “The Carolina Hurricanes are proud to select, from Tappara of the SM-liiga, Aleksander Barkov”. But, don’t be surprised if JR has another blockbuster up his sleeve.
Next up, a look at potential trades and possible free-agent signings over the summer.
Follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/CanesTR
for all the latest scuttlebutt on the Canes.