Tony MacDonald was sitting back, watching the NHL Draft Lottery in April, when something made him straighten up in his seat.
The Carolina Hurricanes were slotted to have the 11th pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, but when the No. 11 card was revealed, it had the New York Islanders logo. That meant the Canes were a lottery winner, leapfrogging from 11th into the top three picks.
“That was a bit of a shock,” said MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting.
Two hours later, the top three selections in the draft were announced. When the Montreal Canadiens came up third, MacDonald was on the edge of his seat. The Hurricanes didn’t win the No. 1 overall pick, which went to the Buffalo Sabres, but they made the biggest jump on the board by landing second.
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“A pretty exciting time,” MacDonald said. “It changed the landscape entirely for us. It was a stroke of luck.”
With the No. 11 choice, and looking to take a forward, the Canes might have been analyzing such prospects as Joel Farabee, who has played in the USA Hockey development program, or Finnish forwards Rasmus Kapari and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
As a lottery winner, in the flash of a card, forward Andrei Svechnikov came into play.
“Going from 11 to 2 sets the table for putting a player in place who can be a foundation player,” MacDonald said.
The Sabres badly need defensive help, and Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is said to be the clearcut No. 1 choice. When the draft begins Friday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, his should be the first name called.
That’s fine with the Hurricanes, who badly need someone to score goals, especially with scoring winger Jeff Skinner said to be available for a trade.
There are other draft options for a team that has missed the Stanley Cup playoffs the last nine years. Forward Filip Zadina of the Czech Republic is a sniper, a pure goal-scorer. Brady Tkachuk has a strong hockey lineage and is said to be a fierce competitor and strong leader.
But Svechnikov is the top-rated North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. A 40-goal scorer last season for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, the Russian was coached by Hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk, who has called him NHL-ready and a potential franchise player.
The Canes have scouted him the past two years. After the recent NHL scouting combine in Buffalo, N.Y., where Svechnikov tested well, they invited him to Raleigh to meet with management and the media, to be introduced to season-ticket holders.
“For an 18-year-old, he was very impressive,” said Don Waddell, Carolina’s general manager and president.
Officially listed at 6-2 and 192 pounds at the combine, Svechnikov can both score and defend, can be used on the power play and penalty kill. He’s not as one-dimensional as, say, Zadina, who scored 44 goals last season for Halifax in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and starred for the Czechs in the World Junior Championship.
“Svechnikov is a complete player who can play a power game and can play a skill game,” MacDonald said. “A year ago, we were projecting him as a top player in this draft. When you don’t have to draft them, they seem like a helluva lot better player than when you have to go up and make the pick the following year. But he’s a player who lived up to the hype this year despite some injuries and developed on schedule.
“He understands the game and how to play away from the puck. He’s a low-maintenance guy in terms of doing what a coach wants him to do.”
For MacDonald, this year’s draft offers something of a flashback to 2003, when the Canes last held the No. 2 pick. They took center Eric Staal of Thunder Bay, Ontario, after the Pittsburgh Penguins, as projected, made goalie Marc-Andre Fleury the No. 1 overall selection.
MacDonald said the Canes’ two choices were Staal and forward Nathan Horton, who was taken third by the Florida Panthers. But he said they also strongly considered something of a sleeper pick — Zach Parise, who was taken 17th by the New Jersey Devils.
“We liked Parise an awful lot, but in the end we went with the 6-4 guy over the 5-10 guy,” he said. “Eric was a solid player for a long time and helped us win the (2006) Stanley Cup. In the end, we felt we made the right decision.”
Two years later, the NHL lockout in the 2004-05 season resulted in a lottery to set the entire draft order. The lottery wasn’t held until July 22, eight days before the 2005 draft began in Ottawa.
At stake was wunderkind center Sidney Crosby, and the Canes were in the running until being slotted for the No. 3 pick. The Penguins won the top pick and took Crosby, instantly changing the dynamic of the franchise and the league.
“It was helpful to be able to zero in on a guy high on our list and not be guessing as much on who might be there,” MacDonald said.
The Canes drafted defenseman Jack Johnson but eventually traded him after he refused to leave the University of Michigan and sign his entry-level pro contract.
The Hurricanes have zeroed in on Svechnikov this year, and Waddell, who represented the Canes in Toronto at the Draft Lottery, has said the Canes would have to be “blown away” by a trade offer to wrestle the No. 2 pick from them. None have come close to that level, Waddell said.
MacDonald joked that Waddell had his “lucky coin” in his pocket at the lottery. If so, he’ll probably take it to Dallas.
Carolina Hurricanes 2018 draft picks
(Round and selection number)
First round — 2
Second round — 42
Third round — no pick
Fourth round — 96, 104
Fifth round — no pick
Sixth round — 166
Seventh round — 197, 216