Following their pair of trades on Wednesday, it’s become apparent that the Carolina Hurricanes could be in the midst of a rebuild. It’s been speculated for a while now that GM Ron Francis may have been leading the club into a youth movement, but with Eric and Jordan Staal forming a dynamic duo in the second half of this season, the Hurricanes have become a lot more competitive than they were at the beginning of the season. In fact, they’ve won five of their last ten games, but the moves Francis made on Wednesday clearly indicate where he thinks this franchise is headed.
If the season ended today, Carolina would be selecting fourth overall (barring any draft lottery changes) at the 2015 NHL Draft in Florida. And with just 23 games left in the season, the Hurricanes are 16 points out of a wild card spot – it would take a miracle for them to climb out of 15th place in the Eastern Conference and into the top-8.
So it makes sense that Francis dealt his pending UFAs before all the buyers are through with dealing. In doing so, he made it clear that the Hurricanes are sellers, and he got great value for both trade chips – a high-level prospect and a 1st, 3rd, and 5th/6th (conditional).
Any time you lose players like this, it’s tough. They’ve been good for us, been good soldiers, and they’re good people. It’s never easy but you need to give up good things to get good things. We feel like we were able to pick up some draft picks and pieces that will help us moving forward and will give us more options and flexibility building around the players we have.
– GM Ron Francis
In the Andrej Sekera deal, Francis acquired Roland McKeown and a conditional first round pick. That first rounder is conditional – if the Kings make the playoffs, the pick is for 2015; if they miss, it will be a 2016 pick. It makes sense for the Kings, as they don’t want to miss out on the draft lottery in the year of McEichel in the event that they don’t make it to the postseason (which is still a big possibility).
But beyond the future considerations, McKeown may turn out to be one of the biggest steals in recent memory. This may be a bit outrageous to suggest, but this could be another McDonagh-esque deal – Montreal dealt him to the Rangers for a veteran in Scott Gomez. McDonagh is now a Norris candidate-level defender in the NHL and the captain of his team, so dealing prospects like this is risky business.
— Roland McKeown (@McKeown20) February 26, 2015
In fact, fans of both the Kings and Hurricanes should know that all too well – just look at how Jack Johnson was traded from Carolina to LA before he had ever played a game for the Hurricanes. Sound familiar? Just flip which direction the defensive prospect was sent and this has the makings of a repeat.
McKeown, the Kings’ second round pick (50th overall) at the 2014 NHL Draft, was a prospect whose draft stock fell significantly in his draft year. Selected 2nd overall behind only Connor McDavid at the 2012 OHL Priority Selection Draft, McKeown projected as an eventual top defender at the NHL level when his junior career began. After inconsistent play and somewhat unimpressive results through two seasons in Kingston, his stock fell significantly. But regardless, the skill has been largely untapped in McKeown, and Francis believes the Fronts captain can be a real force on the blue line in Carolina some day.
I love this kid … he can play offensively and move the puck and has a bomb of a shot. When defending you he presents himself as a big, strong and mobile guy. He’ll push guys to the side; he’s a legitimate top prospect.
If he can translate his game to the NHL level, McKeown can be a top-4 defender on the Hurricanes roster behind Justin Faulk on the right side. Add 2014 first-rounder Haydn Fleury to the left side of the D-core, and you have the makings of a young, solid defensive unit.
Carolina has talented young forwards in Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm already playing in the NHL, with top prospects Sergey Tolchinsky and Brock McGinn still in the system. And the Hurricanes are poised to select in the top-5 of this year’s draft, so they’ll be adding one of McDavid, Eichel, Hanifin, Marner, or Strome – all potentially-elite prospects.
Amid Jordan Staal trade rumors, I am told he has been reassured today, by the team, that this speculation is unfounded. #TSN
— Aaron Ward (@TSNAaronWard) February 22, 2015
The one thing Francis needs to decide now is whether to trade captain and veteran center Eric Staal, who has been rumored to be on the trade block for the last couple of years. After the GM announced that Jordan Staal would not be on the move, it still has not been ruled out that the elder Staal will be on the move at some point this year.
Such a move would signal a total rebuild. If they can grab one of the top three centers (McDavid, Eichel, or Strome), Eric may become the odd man out. Jordan can serve as a mentor for a young new center who comes in, but Eric can fetch the Hurricanes a big return for more future considerations. With the trade deadline just days away, it’ll be interesting to see if Francis pulls off any other moves that will signal a rebuild in Carolina.