Jim Rutherford and drafting

Earlier this week, it was announced that Philippe Paradis was being assigned to the ECHL by the Chicago Blackhawks/Rockford Ice Hogs. You may remember that Paradis was the Hurricanes first round pick from the 2009 NHL Draft and was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs later on in the year in exchange for Jiri Tlusty. Seeing how Tlusty has emerged as a top-six player and is currently playing well overseas while Paradis has struggled at just about every professional level, I think most would agree that the Hurricanes won this deal by a landslide. This did get me thinking about what kind of shape the Hurricanes prospect pool would be in had they kept Paradis and how Rutherford and the Canes scouting staff has had a lot of tough luck when it comes to drafting during their tenure.

Would you believe that since the year 2000, there have been only eight draft picks by the Hurricanes who went onto play 100 or more games for the team? Would you also believe that behind Eric Staal, Niclas Wallin has played the most games in a Carolina sweater among players drafted by Rutherford? Well, it’s true. Not every team can be as good as the Detroit Red Wings when it comes to drafting younger talent, but the Hurricanes had some very rough drafts from 2000 through 2009. Aside from landing Cam Ward, Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter, there were not a lot of great players to come out of those drafts at all.

Now with that being said, the Hurricanes were still a reasonably competitive team during most of those years and this was mostly due to Rutherford being able to acquire talent through trades rather than the draft. If you were to look at just about any of Rutherford’s moves during the last 10-12 years or so, it’s pretty easy to see that he is more of a “play for the present” kind of guy and doesn’t like to have his team sit through long rebuilding periods. He has shown that he isn’t afraid to trade away draft picks from proven talent and would rather take a risk on a somewhat seasoned prospect rather than drafting one who is a few years or so away from the NHL. The recent trades involving Jordan Staal, Riley Nash and Bobby Sanguinetti indicate that and so do the trades he made during the 2005-06 year when Carolina won the Stanley Cup.

Trading away draft picks is something that a lot of GM’s are reluctant to do but in the end, those picks are only as valuable as the team’s scouring department, as it has been proven over the years that some organizations have an eye for finding talent in the later round of the draft. The Hurricanes, unfortunately, have not been one of those teams for most of the last decade and Rutherford seemed to notice this somewhere down the line and began to use a lot of his draft picks as trading chips. Some may not like this strategy but draft picks are never a sure thing and Rutherford was able to turn some of Carolina’s picks into pieces the team could use to make the team immediately better.

The most pointed at example of Rutherford’s trading is the deal that sent Keith Primeau and a 5th round pick to Philadelphia in exchange for future captain Rod Brind’Amour but there are actually a few more that really stick out. The Canes had to send five of their draft picks away to bring Doug Weight, Marc Recchi and Anton Babchuk to Carolina during their Cup run and I think just about everyone will tell you that they were well worth the price, and that’s before you consider that the only current NHL-er to come from those picks is James Reimer. A couple other trades to mention is the Matt Cullen deal from 2008 where the Canes sent their third round pick from 2008 to the Rangers to acquire him and the Aaron Ward trade from 2002 where Carolina got him from Detroit for a second round pick. Both of those players ended up being more than just rentals for the Hurricanes and played important roles in their post-season success, albeit in separate years.

Rutherford’s strategy changed a little bit once 2010 rolled along. The team’s core was aging and there were not many younger players to take their place outside of Eric Staal. Knowing that the organization needed young talent and that they were going to end up with a high draft pick, Rutherford elected to trade away some of his older players on expiring contracts in exchange for picks. Since then, the team’s drafting has gotten better and it also helped that he used a few of those picks to acquire some other younger talent like Riley Nash and Bobby Sanguinetti who were far closer to being NHL ready than most kids in the draft.

Then you have the Jordan Staal trade, which shows Rutherford going back to his older ways of trying to win now rather than waiting out another rebuilding year. I’m still not sure if Staal’s value will equate to what Rutherford gave up, but this isn’t the first time that he has traded away a first rounder or a high draft pick before. Seeing how the best player taken with a pick that Rutherford traded away was Jiri Hudler back in 2002, I don’t think the Canes have too much to worry about on that front. Carolina still does not possess a top-notch prospect pool but they do have a lot of young talent who are on the verge of being NHL-ready, so it will be interesting to see what happens with these players and what Rutherford does in future drafts. The lockout is going to put even more pressure on a team like Carolina to play for the present, so we could see some interesting moves up his sleeve once if the NHL season resumes.