So the Hurricanes finally took a defenseman in the first round, for the first time in six years and the fifth time since Peter Karmanos and Jim Rutherford took over in 1994. Ryan Murphy doesn't have to do much in a Carolina uniform to rank as the best of the bunch.
The Hurricanes’ refusal to take defensemen in the first round has always smacked of stubbornness. It’s almost as if they said, “We’ve been burned before and we’re just not going to bother anymore.” And maybe for good reason: Two of the Hurricanes’ four previous first-round defensemen were total, complete and utter busts: Nikos Tselios, 22nd overall in 1997 and Igor Knyazev, 15th overall in 2001.
David Tanabe, the 16th pick in 1999, ended up playing in 449 NHL games but was never had the impact expected of a first-round pick. Jack Johnson, the third pick in 2005, was a different sort of problem. He refused to turn pro in the spring of 2006 and the Hurricanes shipped him off to the Los Angeles Kings for Tim Gleason. So far, Johnson has been a good defenseman but not third-overall good. The defenseman the Hurricanes really wanted that year, Marc Staal, has been a stud for the New York Rangers, but the Hurricanes couldn’t pass on Johnson’s enormous potential.
After that, the Hurricanes took four straight forwards in the first round, passing on Cam Fowler last year to take Jeff Skinner (hard to argue with that), but also Kevin Shattenkirk, Erik Karlsson and John Carlson, to name a few of the impact defensemen who went after Carolina’s first-round picks. (There were some lemons, too, to be sure.)
Officially, the justification was that defensemen took too long to develop, and by the time they did, they were eligible for free agency anyway.
The unintended but beneficial consequence, combined with a goalie position set since Cam Ward was drafted in 2002, has been to stock the system with a long list of promising young forwards, more than the franchise has ever had. And with a few second-round defensive picks in the NHL already (Jamie McBain, 2006) or looking reasonably promising (Brian Dumoulin, 2009, and Justin Faulk, 2010), the system isn’t completely bare at the blue line.
There’s a lack of top-end talent, though, and the Hurricanes’ original we-don’t-draft-defensemen logic has been thrown out of whack by salary inflation -- if you’re not going to draft first-pairing defensemen, and you can’t afford to sign them as free agents, it’s hard to get them at all.
There were forwards ahead of Murphy on Carolina's list this year, but they weren't available at No. 12, and the Hurricanes had Murphy ranked substantially higher than that slot.
So they hope now that Murphy can overcome his size (5-foot-11 and 176 pounds) and questions about his ability to play defense at the NHL level to become more than a power-play specialist. If he does, he’ll be an exceptional player, the kind you can only get by spending millions in free agency -- or with a top-12 pick in the draft.