Hurricanes stock up at NHL Draft

Carolina took Ryan Suzuki with its first pick, then added talent throughout its system with 11 other players

Hurricanes first-round draft pick Ryan Suzuki poses for a photo with coach Rod Brind’Amour and general manager Don Waddell at the NHL Draft last Friday in Vancouver. (Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press via AP)

The biggest news involving the Carolina Hurricanes coming out of the 2019 NHL Draft was the team using it’s available cap space to wrestle a 2020 first-round pick away from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for taking on — and presumably buying out — the final year of veteran Patrick Marleau’s inflated contract.

But make no mistake: The weekend was about the draft.

Carolina took center Ryan Suzuki at 28th overall Friday night, then maneuvered its way through the draft’s second day by turning two surplus second-round picks into four selections. In all, the Hurricanes drafted 12 players in Vancouver, stuffing even more players into a prospect pool that was already overflowing at the edges.

Here’s a look at the dozen new Hurricanes, including where they were ranked in NSJ’s Top 100 list ahead of the draft, and what can be expected of them going forward.

Ryan Suzuki, C, 1st round, 28th overall (NSJ 20)

Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said the team had Suzuki ranked 12th on their draft list, so getting him at 28th is a steal from the team’s perspective. The Barrie Colts center was a teammate of 2018 second overall pick Andrei Svechnikov in 2017-18 and put up good numbers (25 goals, 50 assists in 65 games) on an otherwise poor team last season. The first overall pick in the 2017 OHL Priority Draft, Suzuki is a pass-first pivot with fantastic vision. There are concerns about his size (he’s 6-foot-1, but has a slender frame) and scoring upside, but there’s no denying his ability to distribute the puck. Suzuki plays with his head up at all times and is adept at making tough passes, plus he has manned the left point on the Barrie power play. His brother, Nick, was the 13th overall pick by Vegas in 2017 and is a prospect of the Montreal Canadiens.

Pyotr Kochetkov, G, 2nd round, 36th overall (NSJ 66)

In his third year of draft eligibility, Kochetkov was the second goalie off the board in last weekend’s draft. He was named the top goalie at last winter’s World Junior Championships, helping Russia to a bronze medal, and he is further along than most drafted goalies because he’s already 20. At 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, Kochetkov has ideal size and is also athletic. The Hurricanes haven’t had a ton of luck in drafting franchise goalies, but since relocating to North Carolina every one they’ve taken in the first two rounds (Cam Ward, 25th overall in 2002; Justin Peters, 38th overall in 2004; Alex Nedeljkovic, 37th overall in 2014) has reached the NHL in some capacity.

Jamieson Rees, C, 2nd round, 44th overall (NSJ 34)

Rees has a lot of Brock McGinn in him. He’s not the biggest guy (5-foot-10, 182 pounds) or the most skilled, but he’s a handful every shift. And like McGinn — a second-round pick in 2012 — in his draft year, Rees has not yet had a big statistical junior season due to injuries (10 goals, 22 assists in 37 games last year). But if he stays healthy, Rees has the opportunity to be an agitator in the pros. He has — like McGinn in junior — crossed the line at times, getting an eight-game suspension for a blindside hit last season. But if he can rein that in and mesh physicality with discipline, he could be a valuable piece down the road.

Patrik Puistola, LW, 3rd round, 73rd overall (NSJ 72)

Many saw Puistola as one of the draft’s biggest fallers, but we had him at No. 72 and he went a pick later. He is Finnish — a quality Carolina seems to be enamored with more and more — and a pure scorer. His father was also a pro in Europe, winning titles in both the Swedish and Finnish top leagues. The younger Puistola (6 feet, 175 pounds) could be a boom-or-bust type pick — he has the potential to be a goal scorer but has hurdles to overcome to be a pro if he can’t translate his offense to the next level.

Anttoni Honka, D, 3rd round, 83rd overall (NSJ 58)

Honka, the younger brother of 2014 Stars first-round pick Julius, was considered a late first- or high second-round prospect coming into the 2018-19 season, but a rough year saw him slide to Carolina in the third round. Like Puistola, Honka is Finnish and a risky pick — he could be a dynamic puck-moving defenseman, or prove too small and not responsible enough in his own end to make it to the NHL. At 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds, he’s a new era defenseman who uses his speed and elusiveness rather than his size.

Domenick Fensore, D, 3rd round, 90th overall (NSJ 94)

Speaking of undersized defensemen, Fensore is among the smallest. The New York native is listed at just 5-foot-8 and 153 pounds, but he packs a lot of excitement into his small frame. He was around a point-per-game player from the blue line for the U.S. National Team Development Program last year, and he did it as one of the younger players (he won’t turn 18 until Sept. 7).

Cade Webber, D, 4th round, 99th overall (not ranked)

Now we go the other way: Webber is big. Coming in at about 6-foot-6 and already 200-plus pounds, the Massachusetts-born defenseman will play in the BCHL next year and is committed to Boston University for the 2020-21 school year. With added strength and development, Webber projects to be a shutdown defender.

Tuukka Tieksola, RW, 4th round, 121st overall (not ranked)

The Hurricanes added another Finn in Tieksola, a small, point-producing winger. Tieksola was rookie of the year in the top junior league in Finland, registering a point per game (15 goals, 45 assists in 51 games played) and leading the league in assists. Listed at 5-foot-10 and just 146 pounds, Tieksola has to add muscle to complement his speed and skill.

Kirill Slepets, RW, 5th round, 152nd overall (NSJ 56)

Slepets was not drafted in his first two years of eligibility, but the 5-foot-10, 165-pound winger was expected to go much higher last weekend. Instead, he fell into Carolina’s lap in the fifth round. Already 20, Slepets has won two titles in the MHL (Russia’s second league) and was seventh in scoring at the World Juniors last winter with seven points — including five goals — in seven games. He’s a fantastic skater and puck-handler.

Kevin Wall, RW, 6th round, 181st overall (not ranked)

Wall is a Penn State commit who had 31 goals and 64 points in just 49 games with Chilliwack of the BCHL last season. The New York-born winger has a scorer’s touch but will need to work on his skating while in college.

Blake Murray, C, 6th round, 183rd overall (not ranked)

Murray is a two-way center who scored 30 goals for the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves last season. Carolina may have had some inside intel on Murray — the Wolves coach is former Hurricanes winger Cory Stillman, who is in his second year coaching Sudbury. Murray — who finished just outside the NSJ Top 100 — is 6-foot-2 and 187 pounds.

Massimo Rizzo, C, 7th round, 216th overall (not ranked)

Rizzo, who is committed to North Dakota, was a point-per-game player for Penticton of the BCHL last season. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound center was hampered by injuries the past two seasons, limiting him to just 87 regular season games, and had hip surgery this offseason.