Picked seventh overall in the 2014 draft, Haydn Fleury is expected to turn pro this fall rather than take advantage of his remaining year of junior eligibility. Rather than follow the traditional path of Hurricanes prospects and head to the Charlotte Checkers, however, Fleury has his eye on a spot in Raleigh.
“Ever since Wisniewski was bought out, that’s the only thing that’s been on my mind,” Fleury told Kurt Dusterburg for NHL.com. “It’s extra motivation for me in the gym and on the ice the rest of this summer.”
It’s clear that Fleury wants it — but what is the reality of the situation?
Perhaps the biggest factor in Fleury’s favor when it comes to making the Hurricanes next season — aside from his own talent — is the team’s buyout of defenseman James Wisniewski, which opens a roster slot.
After only playing 47 seconds in the home opener last season, Wisniewski was sidelined with a torn ACL and the makeup of the Hurricanes’ defense slanted much younger than coach or general manager likely anticipated.
Fortunately for the Hurricanes, that younger defensive corps proved themselves more than capable. As such, head coach Bill Peters may not be averse to adding another young defenseman to his lineup.
With Ron Hainsey and Justin Faulk around to provide a steady veteran presence, Peters could feel comfortable allowing Fleury to come into Carolina in a full-time role.
Fleury won’t be lacking competition for a spot in training camp. Ryan Murphy, highly touted in the past, will be pushing to finally carve out a full-time spot for himself in the Hurricanes’ lineup.
Trevor Carrick and Matt Tennyson will also undoubtedly be putting up a fight, and while 2016 first round pick Jake Bean cracking the opening night roster is unlikely, he’ll definitely be looking to make an impression on his new team.
Additionally, 2016-17 will be Fleury’s first year playing pro hockey. The Hurricanes may decide the best path for his development is to get some seasoning under new Checkers head coach Ulf Samuelsson. With the success of last season’s defensive corps, no one could blame Peters and Ron Francis for taking their time with Fleury rather than throwing him directly into the NHL.
Finding Fleury’s Fit
The Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting, Tony MacDonald, noted after this summer’s development camp that Fleury is likely ready physically to play the NHL game. Whether he is mentally ready, on the other hand, is something we’ll find out come training camp in the fall.
Fleury brings many strengths to the table, not the least of which is size — he’s 6’3” and 221 pounds — that won’t allow him to be pushed around by the bruisers he’ll encounter in the NHL. More importantly, however, he brings good instincts at both ends of the ice. His nose for offense is still there, as he set a career high of 12 goals last season, but it’s his defensive game, which had been questioned in terms of playing at the NHL level, that has improved the most.
We need only to look to the example set by Pesce, Slavin, and Hanifin last season to see that a young player can make a noticeable difference to the team.
Of course, that young player may not be Fleury at all—it could be his World Junior Championships defensive partner Roland McKeown. He will also be vying for a spot on the Hurricanes’ roster this fall, as he leaves the OHL behind and looks to make the leap to professional hockey.
Rest assured, however, that Fleury has all the tools he needs to put up a convincing fight for that spot. Now it’s up to him to use them.