Already boasting one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL, the Carolina Hurricanes will add more talent to their bullpen in just over a week when the 2021 NHL draft kicks off on July 23. With at least one pick in every round except the fifth, their scouting will once again be tested, and that begins with their most valuable pick – the 27th overall selection.
Most teams typically abide by the rule that you should always draft the best available player, regardless of position. The Hurricanes can play by the book, and draft who they believe is the best player on the board, but when it comes to the depth of their system, they do have needs that should be addressed.
The ‘Canes have several blue-chip centers on the come-up in Seth Jarvis, Ryan Suzuki, and Jamieson Rees. In goal, the Hurricanes have the 25-year-old recently promoted Alex Nedeljkovic, and own 2019 second-round pick Pyotr Kochetkov, currently developing in the KHL.
But the Hurricanes haven’t drafted a defenseman in the first round since Jake Bean in 2016. They’re become thin in blue line prospects, and also thin on the wings, and those are two areas they’ll likely look to address in the upcoming draft.
Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide
There’s no guarantee they’ll have a defenseman of Round 1 quality on the board, however, as the 2021 draft only has a handful of defensemen worthy of that title. There are, however, plenty of wingers pegged for the late first round who could mesh well in the Hurricanes’ system.
With that in mind, here are six players – three defensemen and three wingers – the Hurricanes may look at drafting with the 27th-overall selection.
1. Corson Ceulemans, D – Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
There’s no shot – in my opinion – that defenseman Corson Ceulemans will still be available at No. 27, but he’s worth putting on this list due to how great of a fit he’d be in Carolina.
Ceulemans is one of the most polarizing players in this draft, with some scouts touting him as a top-15 pick and others relegating him to the late second round. Much of that discourse comes from his fairly one-dimensional play, but like any other young player, he can be molded.
Ceulemans is an offensive specialist who projects to be an excellent power play quarterback. His defensive game could use some work, as his over-aggressiveness often gets him in trouble, but his offensive IQ is impeccable. He’s at his best in the offensive zone – on defense his weaknesses are more exposed.
If Dougie Hamilton is out the door, the Hurricanes are eventually going to need a guy who can come in and fill that role. I can think of no better candidate than Ceulemans – one of the purest offensive defensemen in this draft. I think that’s a criminally underappreciated type of player, and one the Hurricanes sorely need.
His rawness will likely concern some teams, but if he falls into the Hurricanes’ lap, he’s worth taking a risk on.
2. Stanislav Svozil, D – Kometa Brno (Czech Extraliga)
You’ll find there are a lot of home-run swing prospects on this list. Stanislav Svozil is not one of them. He’s a relatively safe option – a steady defenseman who is a jack of all trades, master of none, but does his job efficiently and is essentially guaranteed to be selected in the first round.
The Czech defenseman is 6-foot-1, 179 pounds, and is a left-hand shot. High hockey IQ, an active stick and fantastic mobility are the things you notice most when watching him play. He generally focuses on the defensive side of the game, but he’s not completely ineffective offensively either. He has a great first pass out of his zone, and plays with a high level of confidence.
Svozil played 30 games for Kometa Brno last season, registering three points. There’s a connection there already with Carolina, as Hurricanes winger Martin Necas is a Kometa Brno alumni who was drafted out of the Czech league in 2017.
Picking Svozil is a good idea for the Hurricanes because they need a safe and sturdy defensive prospect in their system who can join the team in a few years and play behind Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce – two players he draws some stylistic comparisons to. He’s not a flashy pick by any means, but if the ‘Canes are looking for a guy they can count on becoming a serviceable roster defenseman, Svozil is a great option.
3. Scott Morrow, D – Shattuck St. Mary’s U18 Prep
In the past few years, the Hurricanes have developed a reputation to swing for the fences with some of their mid-to-late-round picks. That’s typically not the case for their first pick of a draft, but maybe it’s time for that to change. Scott Morrow is a defenseman from Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep, one of USA’s premier hockey development schools, and a player who scouts often label one of the more high-risk, high-reward players of this year’s draft class.
He’s a 6-foot-2, 192-pound right-shot defenseman with plenty of tools that make him a solid all-around player. He’s certainly got offensive explosiveness, evident from his 1.43 point-per-game average over his past two seasons. I think if the ‘Canes are going to target a defenseman, they’re going to be looking for a guy with a little bit of spunk, and Morrow can provide that. The only question is how he’ll transition from the high school level to playing with men.
Morrow is quite similar to Ceulemans in his raw nature, and talent for scoring. He is a little bit more of a wild card, however, due to his lower quality of competition.
Morrow will certainly be chosen before the third round, but if the Hurricanes and general manager (GM) Don Waddell really like what they see, they probably can’t hope for him to drop into their hands in Round 2. They’ll have to take a risk if they want to draft Morrow, but the reward could be immense if he can reach his full potential.
4. Simon Robertsson, RW – Skellefteå AIK (SHL)
Switching from defenseman to wingers, let’s look at Skellefteå AIK’s Simon Robertsson. I’m a big fan of Robertsson’s game, but what I like best is how seamlessly I believe he’d fit with the Hurricanes’ main core of players.
There’s another winger from Europe I like – Samu Tuomaala in Finland – and Robertsson plays a similar style to Tuomaala. They’re both shifty wingers with electric shots, both projected to be first-round picks. I could have chosen either player for this list, but I prefer Robertsson due to his versatility. His game differs in that he brings a bit of spice and net-drive willingness, rather than just being a pure sniper, and that would be a better fit in head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s system.
Robertsson is a few years away from the NHL level of course, but I like to imagine what he would look like on a line with Andrei Svechnikov. Two heavy wingers driving up and down the ice, forcing the puck to the net while a center like Sebastian Aho balances things out in the middle? Yes, please.
5. Prokhor Poltapov, RW – Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL)
Prokhor Poltapov is one of the most thrilling players to watch in this draft class and a personal favorite of mine. He’s got that Russian swagger about him, and his play backs it up. He’s silky smooth with the puck, creates plays that make your jaw drop and scores highlight reel goals seemingly at ease.
He loves to get physical, putting as much effort into his one-on-one dangles as he does his body checks. He’s also pretty solid defensively, which is a huge plus for a winger with his kind of offensive flare. Poltapov is like an engine that never runs out of gas, and that to me, seems like a player who would fit in well with the Hurricanes.
Now, there are a lot of players who dominate their junior leagues and struggle to adapt their game as they progress up the ladder. That could be a roadblock for Poltapov, who only has one KHL game under his belt. Despite that, there’s enough speed and tenacity to make me think he’ll be effective in any position in an NHL lineup.
His rankings are all over the place, with some scouts declaring him top-20 worthy, and others placing him as low as the third round. Drafting Poltapov at No. 27 is definitely going off the board, but it’s very likely he’ll be there when the Hurricanes select, and I can say this – whichever team drafts him should be very excited.
6. Zachary L’Heureux, LW – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Zachary L’Heureux is a name that’s generated a lot of buzz recently for a guy pegged to go late in the first round. That’s because he’s a controversial type of a player, but the kind that every fan wants on their team.
L’Heureux was suspended a total of four times in the 2020-21 season, mostly for unsportsmanlike conduct, which limited him to just 33 games for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. In that time, however, he racked up 19 goals, 39 points and 47 penalty minutes.
L’Heureux is a force. He’s heavy, physical, and plays with an edge that gets under the skin of his opponents. He’s also got pretty good hands and a nose for the net. The Hurricanes were overpowered in the playoffs for the third straight season by a better, stronger team, and L’Heureux is exactly the type of player who could insulate their lineup and give them the edge they need.
They’ve already got Rees, a pesty young player drafted by the ‘Canes in 2019, who’s no stranger to suspensions himself, so I don’t believe L’Heureux’s antics will completely turn off GM Waddell and the Hurricanes. He’s got the talent and he’s got the bite, and he’s the rugged kind of winger with offensive ability that the Hurricanes need more of. If they can’t get a defenseman, and L’Heureux is still on the board, they should seriously consider him.
There will be 26 players selected before the Hurricanes have their shot, and with so many names in flux this year, there’s no telling if all, or none of these names will still be on the board when the ‘Canes step up to the plate. It’s probably more likely that there are higher profile players who slip through the draft that the Hurricanes can select instead.
Defense should remain a priority if there are still good options available. In their draft position, any player they select will need at least two more years of development. After those two years, Pesce and Brady Skjei will be in the final year of their contracts, and Slavin will have just two years remaining on his deal. They need to pad their blue line depth or it may morph into a problem down the road.
Who would you like to see the Hurricanes select with the 27th-overall pick? The 2021 NHL draft will have its first round get underway on Friday, July 23.
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Matt Cosman is a Sheridan College print journalism graduate from Oakville, Ontario. I’ve been with THW since 2019 covering the Carolina Hurricanes, one of my favorite childhood teams. When I’m not in my hockey bubble you can probably catch me jamming out on the piano or losing money at the poker tables.