The Carolina Hurricanes haven't made the playoffs since 2009, but there is definite reason for optimism these days. That's because GM Ron Francis has overseen a rebuild that has stocked the organization with an asset often in short supply – defensemen.
It's staggering how many teams are in need of quality blueliners and how few teams have a surplus. Who could trade a defenseman right now and feel OK about it? Minnesota, St. Louis? Carolina is almost there.
The Hurricanes saw a great youth movement take hold this past season, with three rookies playing regular roles – Noah Hanfin, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin. While Hanifin jumped straight from the draft, Pesce and Slavin came in with longer NCAA track records and were trusted with moderately challenging minutes. The team played better once all three were engaged in bigger roles, which makes the future look bright.
But there's a lot more where those kids came from. Haydn Fleury ranked second among Canes in THN's Future Watch this year (Sebastian Aho was first), while Roland McKeown and Trevor Carrick have potential, as well. Then, GM Ron Francis and staff made offensive defenseman Jake Bean the team's first selection in the 2016 draft, adding another arrow to the quiver.
The Canes already have their unquestioned No. 1 defenseman in Justin Faulk and Ron Hainsey will continue as the grizzled veteran in 2016-17, thus helping The Kids' continuing growth. So now we come to the next step.
What is the next step?
Well, the Canes need offense. Carolina was actually a pretty good possession team this past season, but goals did not come easy – and they didn't stop enough to make a difference. It will be interesting to see what Aho (in his rookie North American pro campaign), Teuvo Teravainen and the returning Elias Lindholm can do, especially down the middle. Carolina has their two-way guy in Jordan Staal, but now they need the producer that Eric Staal was in his prime. I'm not sure if any of the three mentioned are No. 1 scoring centers (same goes for Victor Rask), but that's not to say they're useless as wingers or secondary scoring pivots.
But if Francis really wanted to use the leverage he has built up with his prospect pool, then trading one or two youngsters for, say, David Krejci, could be a deft move. Boston is apparently dangling the veteran center and though I'm sure the Bruins would prefer a blueliner who can make a more immediate impact, it would actually be more prudent for Boston to think long-term.
With five selections in the top-100 picks for the 2017 draft right now, Carolina could offer pretty much any of their young blueliners plus a nice draft pick to Boston for Krejci. Is it someone with NHL experience like Pesce or Slavin, or a prospect such as Fleury? Frankly, that's up to Francis and Bruins GM Don Sweeney. Maybe it's Ryan Murphy and Slavin but no pick. The point is, Francis has a buffet of options to offer.
Now, add Krejci on a line with Jeff Skinner and Lee Stempniak and you've got some offense. In a couple years, 2016 first-rounder Julien Gauthier comes up and adds sick goal-scoring chops on the right wing (plus he's a big dude). And hey, maybe Teravainen blossoms into the player we saw flashes of in Chicago. There are many positive outcomes with this Carolina crew, but it all starts with that defensive foundation. Whether the Canes use all those players in Raleigh, or trade them for other needs, the future looks bright.