Carolina Hurricanes establishing a foundation at 2015 NHL Entry Draft

National Hockey League, NHL.com

National Hockey League, NHL.com

RALEIGH, N.C. – What should Carolina Hurricanes fans expect when they tune in to watch the 2015 NHL Entry Draft when it begins at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. on Friday?

As dedicated as many are, they will refer to their meticulously crafted notes as to who they believe the team will select during the first round.

Will executive vice president and general manager Ron Francis make a selection, the fifth overall, or will he trade it away to a team willing to part with experienced players in exchange?

It’s all a matter of what perspective and strategy he and his staff will take to rebuild the team to a level that it can qualify to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Having not completed and announced an exorbitant amount of free agent signings heading into the draft, it seems that Francis will probably make many selections, but part with some if there is a deal to bring in bottom-six experience and supplemental goal-scoring ability.

Recent signings of Derek Ryan and Chris Terry have likely made Patrick Dwyer expendable up front in the bottom six and special teams role, while on the back end, a bevy of blueline prospects in Charlotte as well as possibly dealing for other experienced defenders will mean that Brett Bellemore and Jack Hillen probably won’t get re-signed.

With that said, what type of player should the Hurricanes draft with their first pick if they don’t trade it away – a scoring forward, or a sizable, puck-moving defenseman?

If no blockbuster trade is made that would remove Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, or even Jeff Skinner from the lineup, then it is likely that a defenseman like Boston College’s Noah Hanifin or the University of Michigan’s Zach Werenski, if available, would be a logical pick to continue building the defensive corps for the future.

If a trade up front was made that opened up a need for scoring, then a selection like Erie Otters center Dylan Strome or Kingston Frontenacs left winger Lawson Crouse would make sense with the size and scoring and puck possession skills they possess.

London Knights center Mitch Marner would be the third choice behind those two.

Carolina’s draft selections must continue to stock the shelves with the Charlotte Checkers as well as open room for those developing in the Queen City to start filling open spots in Raleigh.

With free agents such as Zach Boychuk and Riley Nash still not yet signed, more spaces could open up for role players like Brendan Woods, Patrick Brown, Brock McGinn and even Phil Digiuseppe to get their shot at more NHL experience sooner than later.

That obviously doesn’t vacate the possibility that experienced and available unrestricted free agents around the league could be signed, and provide the size, depth and character that this team needs to turn things around.

Even with that said, Carolina’s biggest gaps to fill are along the blue line.

Another experienced top-four defenseman is needed, and if not acquired as part of a significant trade that would include draft picks, then a free-agent signing is  a distinct possibility to consider.

Solidifying a top-four defensive corps heading into this season and next will allow for younger defenseman like Trevor Carrick, Keegan Lowe, Haydn Fleury, and Roland McKeown, to name a few, to earn time and develop in the NHL.

Effective draft selection, development, and retention hasn’t been a strength for the Hurricanes, an organization that has used trades and free agency to piece together teams to hopefully catch lightning in a bottle with success.

That happened in 2006.

The mindset of being and operating like a relocated/expansion franchise must finally end.

That hasn’t worked in recent years, and it is evident that Francis has taken strides to ensure that prospects are signed with the expectation that they will play in Charlotte.

There a few roots, if any, growing from the foundation that exists there, but not many.

Thus, coupled with the fact that Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters values awarding playing time when earned, up-an-coming prospects will fully understand the team’s redeveloped expectations if they desire to play in the NHL.

Heading into the draft without a new AHL head coach yet announced, it seems a definite possibility that the individual who is hired will possess the same mentality and understand his role in developing players to play Carolina’s system under Peters’ direction.

The Hurricanes have the opportunity to select an impact player with their first selection on Friday – a player who could achieve the success that Eric Staal and Cam Ward realized early in their careers, if developed the right way.

It’s only a matter of hours until all eyes and expectations will finally fall on that individual.

Hopefully he’ll be ready to accept that challenge.