The first round of the 2016 NHL Draft is less than a week away. It’ll be a big weekend for all 30 clubs, but the Carolina Hurricanes will be in a unique situation.
The draft will be very telling for the Hurricanes. With six picks in the first 75 selections, general manager Ron Francis will have the options to both pick a lot of players and potentially package some picks for trades, just like he did when he acquired Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Carolina’s first pick in the draft will come at number 13, unless the club decides to either trade up or trade the pick.
As it appears now this selection won’t be able to be used on a top-flight franchise player, but the pick still holds plenty of value given the forward depth in this year’s draft. Francis will have a plethora of options, so let’s go over the five players that make the most sense for the Hurricanes.
Tyson Jost, Penticton Vees (BCHL)
Draft Rankings: #9 – ISS Hockey, #10 – Future Considerations, #15 – McKeen’s Hockey, #16 – NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters), #10 – Hockeyprospects.com, #5 – THW
Coming out of a lesser known league in the form of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), Tyson Jost has flown under the radar over the past year. After a dominating performance in the U18 World Junior Championship with Canada though, he is widely thought of as a top-10 quality draft pick.
The center logged a staggering 42 goals and 104 points in the BCHL with the Vees. Along with his 15 points in seven games in this year’s WJC, Jost would be a steal for the Hurricanes, who currently possess the 13th overall pick.
Jost is an exciting and dynamic offensive player. He plays fast and has the skill level to do it effectively. Despite being on the smaller side at 5-feet-11-inches and 190 pounds, the 18-year-old isn’t afraid to play tough, get to the corners and wreak havoc in front of the net.
On top of his high-instinct offensive game, he is a responsible player who has a solid stick when the other team has the puck. He’s able to disrupt plays with his high hockey sense, which in turn, creates offense for him and his team.
While he may not have the upside of an Auston Matthews or Patric Laine, he has the skill set to become a top-six quality player in the NHL who can create a lot of offense both at even-strength and on the powerplay.
In most projections Jost is expected to be off the board when pick number 13 rolls around, but if he is there when general manager Ron Francis walks to the stage, he is a no-brainer.
Tyson Jost has committed to play college hockey at the Univeristy of North Dakota next season.
Kieffer Bellows, USNTDP (USHL)
Draft Rankings: #17 – ISS Hockey, #16 – Future Considerations, #19 – McKeen’s Hockey, #10 NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters), #18 Hockeyprospects.com, #16 – THW
Perhaps a more realistic option than Tyson Jost, Kieffer Bellows is a power forward who is projected to go towards the middle of the first round.
Bellows is listed at 6-feet and 196 pounds, but he plays much bigger. He’s described as a power forward and he has warranted that title.
He has the ability to push the physical side of the game, but he also has the hands and scoring ability of a top prospect. He netted an impressive 50 goals with the US National Team Development Program last year. He ended the season with 81 points and 101 penalty minutes in 62 games.
Bellows also performed very well in the U18 World Junior Tournament, logging five goals and eight points in seven games as the Americans finished with a bronze medal.
The young forward has it all. He can skate very well, win board battles, get to the front of the net, deliver crisp passes to his teammates and put the puck in the back of the net with the best of them.
Carolina’s need of goal scorers and strong finishers should lure them to Bellows. His top-end goal scoring should add a great dimension to the club’s farm system. He has been compared to Rick Nash, and for good reason. He projects to be a strong top-six goal scorer that can truly fit into a power forward role.
As an extremely reliable two-way power forward, Bellows has the complete package that the Hurricanes need going forward.
Kieffer Bellows has committed to play college hockey at Boston University next season.
Clayton Keller, USNTDP (USHL)
Draft Rankings: #12 – ISS Hockey, #7 – Future Considerations, #11 – McKeen’s Hockey, #9 – NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters), #9 Hockeyprospect.com, #9 – THW
Outside of the top-three players (Matthews, Laine and Puljujarvi), Clayton Keller may have the best offensive upside in the entire draft.
Keller’s record-breaking numbers with the USNTDP last season contributed to him skyrocketing up the draft rankings. In 62 games, Keller logged 70 assists and 107 points.
Clayton Keller is an elite offensive talent who can do everything imaginable with the puck on his stick. He has quick and silky hands, and the same can be said about his skating acumen. He can dance around defenders, deliver stellar stick-to-stick passes and finish around the net.
Keller will not overpower you with his physical game. He’s just 5-foot-10-inches and 163 pounds, but that doesn’t hinder him from going to the net and into the corners. Although he isn’t as effective as Bellows in those areas, he isn’t a liability by any means.
Another area where Keller strays away from Bellows is his two-way game. Clayton Keller isn’t the complete package that Bellows is in regards to his defensive game, but his offensive instincts and ability to make big things happen in the offensive zone more than makes up for it, as he showed in this year’s U18 WJC with Team USA. He finished the tournament with 10 assists and 14 points in seven games.
A good comparison for Keller is Jeff Skinner, but they do differ in their core strengths. Skinner has always been a natural goal scorer who goes to the pass as a secondary option in many scenarios. Keller is the opposite, being a top-flight playmaker. That being said, he does know how to drive the net and score his fair goals. In terms of hands, skating, and offensive instincts, the two players are very similar.
Keller should come off the board in the 8-12 range, but if he falls to the Hurricanes at 13, it will be hard for them to pass up on the big upside that he has.
Clayton Keller has committed to play college hockey at Boston University next season.
Michael McLeod, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Draft Rankings: #13 – ISS Hockey, #15 – Future Considerations, #7 – McKeen’s Hockey, #13 – NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters), #19 – Hockeyprospects.com, #20 – THW
Perhaps the most complete two-way forward in the entire draft, ‘Mikey’ McLeod has the makings of a future top-end center in the NHL.
Scouts rave about McLeod’s ability to play both sides of the ice. He is a dominant faceoff taker, an effective offensive creator/goal scorer and a true two-way player at heart that takes care of his own end first.
His statistics won’t jump out at you. He posted a solid year with Mississauga in 2015-16, logging 61 total points in 57 games with the Steelheads.
Despite not being the offensive talent that Keller, Jost, or even Bellows is, McLeod more than makes up for it by being a smart and reliable player down the middle. He also has a better frame as an 18-year-old, standing at 6-feet-2-inches and 185 pounds. He’ll need to continue to put on muscle, but he already has impressive size going into June’s draft.
Another plus in McLeod’s game is his speed. His top end speed can match anyone in this draft class. His combination of aggression, speed, offensive instincts and defensive responsibility makes him effective in all areas.
Carolina’s lack of a true elite centerman could draw them to McLeod. While it isn’t clear if he can develop into a number one option down the middle, the reward far outweighs the risk as his style of play should translate to the next level extremely well.
Michael McLeod will likely return to Mississauga for his third year in the OHL next season.
Luke Kunin, University of Wisconsin (NCAA)
Draft Rankings: #18 – ISS Hockey, #19 – Future Considerations, #16 – McKeen’s Hockey, #11 – NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters), #17 – Hockeyprospects.com, #25 – THW
After busting onto the scene as a freshman with Wisconsin this past season, Luke Kunin has stabilized himself as a top-25 pick in the 2016 draft.
Kunin is an offensively gifted center with highlight-worthy hands and a very accurate shot. All of his capabilities were on display as he posted 19 goals and 32 points in 34 games with Wisconsin in 2015-16. He was named to the All-NCAA Rookie team.
The 5-foot-11-inch forward has an impressive array of offensive skills. He finishes around the net with the best of them, which is probably his best asset. He’s a great goal scorer with a fantastic work ethic and hands. Kunin also captained Team USA in the U18 WJC in 2015, leading them to a gold medal finish.
While he doesn’t possess the most powerful shot, his ability to pick corners and put the puck exactly where he wants to put it has been more than enough to make up for it at the college and USHL levels.
Adding more muscle should help him get a more powerful shot over the next few years.
He has areas to improve on. He can stand to become a more reliable two-way player as he develops, and his skating isn’t near the level of the likes of Michael McLeod or Kieffer Bellows.
Kunin would be a very solid backup option for the Hurricanes if they aren’t able to land some of the players above. If he drops a few spots in the first round, he would be a dynamite option for Carolina’s 21st overall pick.
Luke Kunin will return to the University of Wisconsin for his sophomore season in 2016-17.
The Carolina Hurricanes have lots of options
The first round of this year’s draft will be very forward-heavy, and fortunately for the Carolina Hurricanes, that is their biggest position of need.
I’d be remised not to mention Logan Brown here. Brown has the dominant 6-foot-6-inch frame and an impressive power forward game, but he has rapidly jumped up draft boards and now looks like a sure-fire top-10 pick, thus not being on the board when the Hurricanes pick.
If Ron Francis is able to scoop up one or two high-end offensive talents, the farm system will improve significantly. As it stands, the bulk of Carolina’s top end young forwards are in the NHL or will be in the next few months. It never hurts to have an organization stocked with forwards, and it looks like the Canes will have their fair share of chances to ensure they are fully loaded entering July.
Covering News and the Carolina Hurricanes for The Hockey Writers. Senior writer for SB Nations’s CanesCountry.com. Former editor of CardiacCane.com (2013-2016).
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, @brettfinger (Twitter)