Before Ron Francis’ arrival as the Carolina Hurricanes’ general manager in 2014, the team’s recent draft failures were well-documented. Jim Rutherford’s persistence with trading away draft picks and then whiffing on key picks was a major reason for the beginning of a nine-year playoff drought in Raleigh, which in turn cost Rutherford his job.
When Francis took over in 2014, his vision was simple and realistic. He pledged to rebuild the team from the ground up by re-stocking the Canes’ depleted prospect group and developing their own guys. He stressed patience, but his vision was with long-term success in mind:
“I don’t want to just build a team that gets into the playoffs for one year,” he said. “I want to build it so it’s a very solid franchise and we can do it on a yearly basis.”– Ron Francis, in 2014.
Francis initially labeled it as a three to five-year project, but with new ownership taking over the team in 2018 and changing the team’s path, unfortunately, Francis never got to see out his vision. After four years on the job, a disagreement with new owner Tom Dundon on the direction of the team ended Francis’ tenure, but the foundation he assembled remained.
In this series, we’ll take a look back at each of Francis’ draft classes, starting with 2014, and see how he set Carolina up to be in a strong position for success in the present and the future.
7th Overall: D Haydn Fleury
The first selection Francis made as the GM of the Hurricanes was widely predicted, as the team chose Canadian defender Haydn Fleury from Red Deer of the WHL. At the time, the team’s defense as a whole was paper-thin, and the pipeline looked bleak. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce were in the organization, but both were wildly unknown at the time. Ryan Murphy was considered their best D prospect, so the Fleury pick was simple.
Fleury was unanimously considered the second-best D in the draft, after first overall pick Aaron Ekblad. Big (6-3, 210lbs) and smooth-skating, the two-way defender was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Canes, and he was immediately labeled as the future of their defense. A slow-burning development combined with the rise of Pesce and Slavin have soured some fans on this pick in hindsight, but it was undoubtedly the right move back then.
Fleury’s now 24 and has played 135 games for the club. The team’s depth has him on third-pair duty, but the eye-test and his advanced stats show reason to believe he’s a legitimate top-four defenseman in the NHL, which is exactly what Francis envisioned when selecting him.
Looking back at the draft board and seeing William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers picked right after Fleury may be tough, understandably. While it may not have been the most flashy pick, to get a legit top-four D anywhere in the draft is a win, and this kid will continue to be a big part of the team’s success in the future.
37th Overall: G Alex Nedeljkovic
With Cam Ward aging and with no heir-apparent prospect in the organization, Francis used his second pick to draft the kid long considered to be the future of Hurricanes’ goaltending: Alex Nedejkovic. Nedeljkovic was the third goaltender selected in the draft, and he was fresh off of being the OHL’s Goaltender of the Year in 2013-14, becoming just the third goaltender to win the award at his age.
In retrospect, the second round of the 2014 draft was full of duds, and with each passing day, Nedeljkovic looks to be among them. Despite winning an AHL Goalie of the Year award and leading the Charlotte Checkers to a Calder Cup victory in 2018, “Ned” has been unable to establish himself at the NHL level, and he’s barely even gotten a chance to do so. Now in his seventh year in the organization, he’s won just two games for the team and has started just five.
Now 25-years old and having just cleared waivers, the road to an NHL future for Nedeljkovic looks like it’s nearing a dead-end. In summary, 31 teams passed on the opportunity to have him on their active roster, and it’s hard to imagine the Canes risking him to waivers if they had any real belief in him. Crazier things have happened but at this point, unfortunately, Ned looks like a long shot to be an NHL goaltender. If he ever becomes one, it seems likely that it won’t be in Raleigh.
67th Overall: LW Warren Foegele
When drafted, Foegele was selected right out of high school, so kudos to the Canes’ scouts for tracking him down. Foegele was one of the sharpest risers in hockey at the time, after being unselected in the 15-round OHL entry draft just a couple of years prior. His dominance at the high school level cemented his draft stock, and Francis pounced on the chance to take him (albeit a little bit earlier than he was projected).
In hindsight, it was a swell move. Foegele’s development came along quickly, and just four years removed from draft day won his spot on the Canes’ opening night roster in 2018-19. Since then, he’s played in 150 games for the team, scoring 25 goals and 48 points. His energetic, hard-nosed style is endeared by fans, and his work ethic has made him a favorite of head coach Rod Brind’Amour.
As far as the pick value, only Brayden Point has played more games and scored more points than Foegele from the third round of that draft, so it’s safe to say the Hurricanes hit a home run here. In Foegele, they found a contributing member to their group, and he’s continuously showed growth as a player.
96th Overall: D Josh Wesley
If not for being the son of franchise legend Glen Wesley, this may have been even more of a head-scratching pick than it initially was. Wesley was an extremely raw prospect at the time, and it’s hard to imagine that any input on this selection didn’t come from father Glen, who was the Canes’ head of defensive development at the time.
Wesley had a nice size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and was a rugged presence on the blueline, but his lack of top foot-speed and any offensive game whatsoever made him a longshot for an NHL career.
Overall, he played more games in the ECHL (108) than at the AHL level (33) for the club, never received an NHL recall, and was non-tendered by the team as an RFA after his entry-level contract expired. At this point, now age 24, Wesley looks to be an AHL/ECHL tweener, and the Canes are down to zero Wesley’s remaining in the organization.
97th Overall: C Lucas Wallmark
With their second pick in a row, the Hurricanes opted to select overage center Lucas Wallmark from Sweden, who went unselected in 2013. Despite great stats in Sweden, serious concerns with his skating made scouts throw red flags at Wallmark, and the Hurricanes were the beneficiaries of his overlooking.
Though his skating always plagued him, he improved dramatically, and by 2018, had become a regular at the NHL level. His playmaking ability, hockey sense, and overall 200-foot game won fans and the team over on the ice, and his calm, innocent personality won fans off of it. He became a big part of the team’s penalty kill and was a key contributor in their deep 2019 playoff run.
After 160 games with the team, it was a heartbreaker to see Wally traded in February 2020. He was moved as part of the deal to bring Vincent Trocheck to Raleigh to upgrade the second-line center position. Wallmark signed in Chicago for the current season, and I’m positive I speak for all Caniacs when I wish him nothing but the absolute best.
127th Overall: C Clark Bishop
If I’m being honest, after tracking Bishop’s two-year development in the QMJHL after being selected by the Hurricanes in the fifth round, I was skeptical he was even an AHL talent. His offensive game at the junior level just wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t see anything necessarily dynamic about the player.
However, when he arrived in Charlotte at the AHL level, he did what you absolutely have to do as a player without a game-changing trait: established an identity. He became a bottom-line center who could skate, establish the forecheck, and kill penalties. That role led to him getting into 25 games at the NHL level plus two playoff games, and while never outstanding, Bishop was always reliable in that role.
Unfortunately, organizational depth and other younger prospects had passed him by, and Bishop was eventually traded to Ottawa for defenseman Max Lajoie just a few weeks ago. Though never a game-changer, Bishop is one of only six players from the fifth round of this draft to play more than 10 games in the NHL and contributed to the Checkers’ Calder Cup win. He was solid, and that’s enough to declare him a solid pick.
187th Overall: D Kyle Jenkins
Unfortunately for Kyle Jenkins, this is one of those picks that makes you stop and think: “Who?”. In his defense, he was a seventh-round pick, so expectations were always reasonably low.
Admittedly, I actually watched Jenkins play on multiple occasions for the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL (while I was watching his teammate, former Canes legend Sergey Tolchinsky). Jenkins never really did much to stand out, even at that level. He was a fine skater and could move the puck pretty well, but he was a real mess in his own end, so I wasn’t shocked when the team opted not to sign him to an entry-level deal in 2016.
So you must be just dying to know: what exactly happened to Jenkins? After wrapping up his OHL career in 2017, he attended Wilfred Laurier University in Canada for three years – where he was an assistant captain for the team in his final season. Now 24, Jenkins has finally just turned pro as a hockey player and is currently with the Tulsa Oilers of the ECHL. Great to see him still at it!
I think this draft class should speak for itself. While it didn’t yield any stars for the team, Fleury has slowly begun to emerge as a player who had lofty expectations, and they managed to find some hidden gems in the middle rounds. Overall, the draft has both quality and quantity, with three players becoming significant contributors for the team and all but two selections making NHL appearances in Raleigh. In hindsight, a job well done for sure.
Overall Draft Grade: B+