Carolina Draft Picks:
#12 – Martin Necas
#42 – Eetu Luostarinen
#52 – Luke Martin
#67 – Morgan Geekie
#73 – Stelio Mattheos
#104 – Eetu Makiniemi
#166 – Brendan De Jong
#197 – Ville Rasanen
Carolina went into the draft with five picks in the top 67, so great things were once again expected for a team that had just had two excellent draft classes. By the time they were finished, they’d picked up defenceman Trevor Van Riemsdyk to replace Ron Hainsey, a top-15 prospect in Martin Necas, and three players who weren’t ranked in Recrutes’ top 100.
Necas is the crown jewel of Carolina’s selections, and a speedy center who will be given plenty of opportunity to fill a top-two center role in a couple of years. Considered to be the fastest forward and arguably one of the five most talented, Necas has already produced in the Czech men’s league and shown dominant flashes at the U-18 and U-20 level.
The keys for Necas developing into an elite forward will be to become more consistent in his play and not just demonstrate flashes of brilliance. He will have to compete in the dirty areas and not be prone to staying on the perimeter, or he’ll find the going tough at the NHL level. You don’t score much in the NHL playoffs staying to the outside, and while he’s not shy, Necas will certainly need to adapt his game to find consistent NHL success. His speed and smarts help him on the defensive end – it may take a few years but once he gets stronger all the tools are there to be a productive two-way center if he learns to pay the price.
After the first round things took a surprising turn as the Hurricanes evidently thought that first-time draft-eligible players that were highly regarded by most weren’t up snuff. The club picked 1998-born Finnish prospect Eetu Luostarinen 42nd overall, a player that was not ranked by Recrutes. The 83rd-ranked European prospect on Central’s Scoutings list, the first hint that the 6-2 Finnish center may be a darkhorse pick on draft day was when he suddenly appeared on Bob McKenzie’s final draft rankings at 56th overall after being nowhere to be found all season.
Luostarinen had seven points in 32 games in the Finnish Hockey League, and three points in 17 playoff games. He brings good size but has some skating issues he’ll have to address. Carolina’s European-based scouts, Joni Pitkanen in particular, must have been attracted to his size and upside…as he’s never produced at a prolific pace, and last year in his first season of eligibility he was playing Junior B. We’ll reserve harsh judgement for a few years on this pick…but at this point it is hard to find justification in why Carolina would pass on a fellow Finn like Joni Ikonen in order to take a much slower, less productive center who turns 19 before training camp, and it’s not like the club lacks tall centers in the system.
By contrast, Carolina’s third selection was well-known in the scouting world. In fact – at the start of the season many considered Michigan University defenceman Luke Martin to be a first-round prospect, but when scouts took a closer look serious concerns about his skill level and NHL upside led to him dropping on many draft lists out of the top-three rounds.
The Hurricanes took another prospect who was passed over in last year’s draft with the selection of Morgan Geekie at 67th overall, adding yet another 6-2+ center with skating concerns to the prospect cupboard. Geekie blossomed this season with 35 goals and 90 points in Tri-City, displaying good puck skills and smarts despite needing to get stronger and improving his speed. If he can gain a step and improve his competitiveness he may challenge for an NHL spot in a few years.
The selection of Stelio Mattheos at 73rd overall brought good value for their first pick since Necas as he’s the only other prospect that was ranked in Recrutes top 100. A safe pick in the third round, Mattheos has the skating skills and competitveness to vie for a third or fourth-line role in Carolina in a couple of years. The former first-overall WHL bantam pick has never quite lived up to the hype, but he has enough tools, versatility and work ethic to play in the NHL.
European head scout Robert Kron and Pitkanen most certainly have GM Ron Francis’ ear as Carolina selected three Finns in the draft, including goalie Eetu Makiniemi and defenceman Ville Rasanen with late picks. Carolina will be hoping to catch Finnish lightning in a bottle like it did with Sebastein Aho a couple of years ago…time will tell.
Grade – C : The addition of Van Riemsdyk for a second-round pick to add some veteran experience to a young blueline that lost Hainsey at the trade deadline made sense considering how many picks Carolina has had in the past three seasons, and Necas has the upside to be one of the top forwards from this entire draft if everything comes together. Mattheos was also a solid pick in the third round as he will likely play in the NHL someday, and perhaps Martin has the size/experience to compete for a third-pairing defence role in due time, so it’s not like Carolina’s draft will be a disaster if the “reaches” don’t pan out.
Carolina has a well-stocked prospect cupboard so it wasn’t unreasonable to think a little outside of the box and take some players higher than they were expected to go. Nevertheless, on the surface at least, the club did not have a great draft considering the number of top 80 picks they possessed. Two players in Recrutes top 100 is not exactly a bounty…time will tell if they knew something we didn’t.