By Dan Canavan
In Part I of From the Draft Table: Carolina’s Top Ten First Round Picks, we ranked the bottom half of Carolina’s top 10 first round draft picks. Here are the top 5:
5. Cam Ward – Jim Rutherford selected Ward 25th overall in 2002. Through 5 NHL season, Cam Ward has been impressive. He broke into the big leagues full-time in 2006, backstopping the ‘Canes to their first Stanley Cup and took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. To date, Ward has posted a career record of 134-98-23 and a career GAA of 2.80. In the post-season, Ward has been even more remarkable, posting a GAA of 2.38 through 41 games. He holds the franchise record for wins in the regular season (134) and post season (23). He is currently third on the ‘Canes all time shutout list with 12, behind Mike Liut (13) and Arturs Irbe (20). Ward is only 25, has only played in 266 games and has a lot of hockey ahead of him. Absent a devastating injury, Ward’s place on this list will likely rise as his trophy case continues to expand.
4. Eric Staal – The first of his brothers to make it to the big leagues, Eric Staal was selected by Carolina as the 2nd overall pick in the 2003 draft. No other members of the 2003 draft class has played in more NHL games than Staal, missing only 1 contest in his first 5 seasons in the big leagues. Through almost 6 seasons, Staal has posted 416 points in 472 NHL games. He has played in 3 All-Star Games (2007, 2008, 2009), and he is one of only 23 players in the Triple Gold Club, winning an Olympic Games gold medal (2010), a World Championship gold medal (2007), and the Stanley Cup (2006). The only reason Staal is not higher on this list is because he is just 25 years old.
3. Bobby Holik – Hartford selected the Czech center 10th overall in 1989. He played just 2 years for the franchise, amassing 88 points in 84 games from 1990-1992. Prior to the 1992-93 season, Brian Burke shipped Holik and a 2nd round pick in the 1993 draft (Jay Pandolfo) to New Jersey for goalie Sean Burke and defenseman Eric Weinrich. The trade transformed the franchise in Hartford, as Burke became the face of the team until its relocation to Carolina in 1997. As everyone expected, Holik went on to a stellar career, playing in 1314 NHL games, appearing in two NHL All-Star games (1998, 1999) and raising 2 Stanley Cups with New Jersey (1994-95, 1999-00). Holik retired as a Devil in 2009.
2. Chris Pronger – At the draft table in 1993, Brian Burke traded up to secure the 2nd overall pick, selecting Pronger after Ottawa had taken Alexandre Daigle 1st overall. Like Holik, Pronger played only 2 years with the franchise before being traded to St. Louis for Brendan Shanahan in the summer of 1995. Shanahan played only a year for the team before begging General Manager Jim Rutherford for a trade out of Hartford. Meanwhile, Pronger developed into a tremendous talent, culminating in a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007. On the international circuit, Pronger has won two gold medals for Team Canada (2002, 2010) and a World Championship for Canada in 1997. He has appeared in 5 All-Star games (1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2008). Pronger can currently be found on the Philadelphia blue line, where he continues to be a presence in the NHL.
1. Ron Francis – As one of the best to ever play the game, Francis is clearly the franchise’s top first round draft pick. And he almost wasn’t a Whaler. Howard Baldwin and his staff had intended to select Bobby Carpenter, who was picked 3rd overall by Washington in the 1981 Draft. Francis had been their back-up plan, who ended up going to Hartford as the 4th overall pick. While Carpenter would go on to play in 1178 NHL games, Francis became a legend, wining two Cups, and posting 1798 points (529 g, 1249 a) in 1731 games. He is second on the all time career assists list (behind only Wayne Gretzky), and third on the all time games played list (behind only fellow Whaler Gordie Howe and Mark Messier). During the 1991 season, a rift between management and Francis emerged, and Francis was shipped out of town in one of the worst trades in NHL history. On March 4, 1991, Francis was traded along with Grant Jennings and Ulf Samuelsson to Pittsburgh Penguins for John Cullen, Jeff Parker and Zarley Zalapski. Francis and Samuelsson went on to win two Cups in Pittsburgh, while Hartford never recovered from this one-sided swap. When Francis rejoined the franchise after a 7 ½ year stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he was immediately re-crowned the team’s captain. While Francis had already accumulated most of his gaudy career stat totals before returning to the franchise 1999, Francis was a welcome addition to the ‘Canes. He would lead the team to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002. Before he would retire in the Fall of 2005, Francis would play in 4 All-Star Games, spanning 13 years (1983, 1985, 1990, 1996). The Hurricanes would retire his No. “10” on January 28, 2006. A year later, Francis was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In the end, Francis would play for parts of 16 seasons with the franchise, and would serve as its captain for a decade. His leadership still guides the team today, serving as the ‘Canes’ Associate Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel.
Dan Canavan is an attorney in Hartford, Connecticut. Dan regularly covers business and legal issues facing the hockey industry for ctsportslaw.com. He has appeared as an on-air guest with regard to the NHL and the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy proceedings on CBC Radio’s World Report. His analysis and commentary have also been published in various media outlets including The National Post, The Windsor Star, The Star Phoenix, The Montreal Gazette, The Edmonton Journal, The Ottawa Citizen, The Vancouver Sun, The Province, Faceoff.com, and the Sports Litigation Alert. You can follow Dan on Twitter at twitter.com/DanielRCanavan. Dan can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.