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Charlotte Checkers NHL Draft Preview

Charlotte Checkers NHL Draft Preview
Before next year's Checkers team has a chance to come together over the remainder of the offseason, this weekend's NHL Entry Draft will provide an early and excellent glimpse of the future.

A total of 18 former Carolina Hurricanes draft picks suited up for Charlotte last season alone, with their date of selection ranging from 2004 (Justin Peters) all the way to 2013 (Elias Lindholm) and all but one year in between. It's the fundamental way in which AHL teams are built, as all but the very top prospects require at least a little bit of seasoning before they're ready to become full-time players on the biggest stage.

Recent history backs that up, as 18 of the 30 players drafted by Carolina between 2007 and 2012 (60 percent) have gone on to play at least one game in Charlotte. Within that range, a Carolina draft has never produced fewer than three future Checkers. A rookie-laden 2014-15 team could very well feature each of the Hurricanes' top five picks from the 2012 draft in Phil Di Giuseppe, Brock McGinn, Daniel Altshuller, Erik Karlsson and Trevor Carrick.

Charlotte Checkers Draught for the Draft Party Without further ado, a look at this particular draft and its potential impact on Charlotte. The first round begins Friday night and will be shown live at the Checkers' Draught for the Draft party at Queen City Q. Rounds two through seven take place on Saturday.

Immediate Help?

With pick No. 7 in hand, the Hurricanes are set to choose in the top 12 for the fifth time in as many seasons. Starting in 2010, those picks have landed Jeff Skinner, Ryan Murphy, a trade for Jordan Staal and Lindholm, showcasing the varying degrees of likelihood that a player chosen that highly will appear in an AHL game. Murphy (2011) and Lindholm both played in Charlotte this past season, albeit never at the same time.

Due to age restrictions on players selected from Canadian junior hockey, a desire to stay in school, a preference to stay in one's native European league before making the big jump to the NHL or simply the player's pace of development, chances are that the Hurricanes' first-round pick, provided they do make one instead of trading it, will not play in Charlotte this coming season. An exception to the rule was Lindholm, who had just the right mix of NHL readiness to the point where he was able to come over from Sweden but could still benefit from a conditioning stint of sorts in the AHL.

Could there be another Lindholm this season – one who could make a cameo, or perhaps something more, in Charlotte? It's difficult to predict, mostly because this draft seems difficult to predict. Given the abundance of Canadian junior players projected to go around No. 7 who, per an agreement between their league and the NHL, won't be eligible to play in the AHL next season, the best bets are from a small group of European-based forwards. Most notable among those are William Nylander, a highly skilled but potentially volatile Swede, Kasperi Kapanen, the versatile son of former Hurricane Sami Kapanen, and Kevin Fiala, a small but talented Swiss center.

Carolina Draft Picks on the Checkers

Player Round Choice
2013
Elias Lindholm 1 5
2012
Phil Di Giuseppe 2 38
Brendan Woods 5 129
2011
Ryan Murphy 1 12
Victor Rask 2 42
Keegan Lowe 3 72
Brody Sutter 7 193
2010
Danny Biega 3 67
Austin Levi 3 85
Justin Shugg 4 105
2009
Rasmus Rissanen 6 178
2008
Zach Boychuk 1 14
Michal Jordan 4 105
Mike Murphy 6 165
2007
Chris Terry 5 132
2005
Nicolas Blanchard 6 192
2004
Justin Peters 2 38
If the Hurricanes were to select one of those players or someone like them, the door would be open for them to play in the AHL immediately. Potential obstacles would remain, including the chance they jump straight to the NHL or something in their European contracts stating they can only opt out for regular NHL work. The latter was initially thought to affect Lindholm but did not prevent him from ultimately playing a handful of games in Charlotte.

From last year's draft, Lindholm and Rasmus Ristolainen, a defensemen chosen at eighth overall, were the only first-rounders to play in the AHL (excluding those who made late tryouts after their seasons had already concluded elsewhere). Ristolainen split the season evenly between Buffalo and Rochester.

There's also a chance that the Hurricanes could use a later selection on an older player with remaining draft eligibility. Though they were drafted as Canadian juniors, future Checkers Matt Kennedy (2009) and Brody Sutter (2011) were both eligible to play in the AHL in their draft year due to their age, even though both ended up returning to their junior clubs for one more season.

Organizational Needs

A few defense-heavy drafts have given the Checkers an abundance of young blueliners in recent years, with next season likely to again feature one or two on NHL contracts pushed down to the ECHL level. Meanwhile, recent depth at forward has been created by entry-level free agent signings like incoming rookies Carter Sandlak and Patrick Brown and AHL-level contracts like Matt Marquardt and Philippe Cornet.

That cycle would seem to suggest that the Hurricanes could look to stock up on offensive players with their (as of now) eight choices in this year's draft, particularly with Di Giuseppe and McGinn both preparing to turn pro and Karlsson perhaps ready to come to North America for the first time. After those three, the Hurricanes currently have only three forwards – Sergey Tolchinsky, Brent Pederson and Brendan Collier – expected to play in the college, junior and European ranks.

None of this is to suggest that the Hurricanes won't focus on taking the best available players early in the draft or pass on good value defensemen later. It also wouldn't be a surprise to see the Hurricanes select a goaltender or two, just as they did with Altshuller and Collin Olson in 2012, due to Cam Ward's uncertain future and the way their depth has been tested by injuries in recent seasons.

Trade Watch

The apparent lack of consensus on how available players should be ranked has opened the door to a number of trade possibilities as teams with high picks would be just as comfortable selecting several spots lower while perhaps still landing a prime target. As he approaches his first draft in charge, Hurricanes General Manager Ron Francis has seemed opened to moving picks in the first round, though he has not said anything to suggest that he's willing to move out of it entirely.

If the seventh overall pick does move, it could be part of a larger shakeup that has been, at times, suggested by Francis and his predecessor, Jim Rutherford. With draft pick assets about to expire and all of the league's decision makers huddled together in close quarters, the draft is always a busy time for trades. There's no better example than the Jordan Staal trade of 2012, though the Hurricanes have also made draft-day deals to land prospects and eventually prominent Checkers like Riley Nash, Bobby Sanguinetti and Jon Matsumoto involving their later-round picks.

Local Flavor

Carolina's Picks

Round Overall Pick
1 7
2 37
3 67
4 96 (from Vancouver)
4 97
5 127
6 Traded to Los Angeles
7 187
A player trained in North Carolina has yet to make the breakthrough to an NHL draft. That could potentially happen multiple times this weekend.

Now in his third year of eligibility, Charlotte's own Bryan Moore, a former Jr. Checker and Checkers stick boy playing with Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL, has cracked the NHL Central Scouting rankings for the first time. Having finished the season on a line with Tolchinsky and expected first-round pick Jared McCann, Moore totaled 61 points (25g, 36a) in 58 games to check in at No. 195 among North American skaters.

Other regional possibilities include defenseman Josh Wesley, the son of former Hurricane Glen Wesley, who is the 111th ranked North American skater. Wesley is entering his second season with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers. Logan Halladay of Cary, another former Jr. Hurricane, is Central Scouting's No. 16 North American goaltender.

Though most of his training took place overseas, Kapanen got his start in Raleigh while his father was playing for the Hurricanes. He is expected to go in the first round of the draft, perhaps near where the Hurricanes select at seven.