While the start of the 2013-14 season is roughly four months away, the onset of June moves us closer to Opening Night.
Until then, here are five things to keep an eye on in the months ahead.
1. Uniform Launch
A New Storm will launch on Tuesday, June 4 at noon, as the Hurricanes unveil their new home and away uniform sets. For those not attending the invitation-only event, it will stream live on CarolinaHurricanes.com. We will have plenty of post-event coverage as well, including written material, photo galleries, videos and more.
Each morning for the last 10 days (plus a bonus image), we’ve released teaser images on Instagram. Have you pieced the new sets together?
2. 2013 NHL Draft
The Hurricanes hold the fifth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, which will take place in New Jersey on June 30. In the seven-round, one-day draft, the Canes currently have five picks; the team traded its fourth- and seventh-round picks, and depending on how far the Pittsburgh Penguins advance in the playoffs, the Canes could acquire an additional sixth- or seventh-round selection.
This marks the first top-five selection for the team since it picked Jack Johnson third overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. A year prior, the Canes traded up to nab Andrew Ladd with the fourth overall pick, and in 2003, Carolina chose Eric Staal with the second overall pick. The fifth pick is the first in the top ten since 2010 when Jeff Skinner was selected seventh overall.
Ten years removed from the 2003 NHL Entry Draft – which produced Marc-Andre Fleury, Staal, Nathan Horton, Ryan Suter, Braydon Coburn and Dion Phaneuf, just to name a few in the top 10 alone – many consider this year’s class to be the deepest since. Buffalo selected Thomas Vanek with the fifth overall pick in 2003.
The general consensus is that this year’s fifth pick will provide a player who has the ability to make an impact in the NHL as early as next season. Rutherford believes the top-end talent might even extend beyond the top five.
“For a long time, I’ve suggested that it’s really the top six players that have that chance for next year,” he said. “Based on information I have to date now, I’m more comfortable saying that’s probably getting more to seven or eight.”
Because of this, Rutherford said he’s keeping an open mind.
“There are some areas of our team that we’d like to fix sooner than later. If we had the chance to get something that helps our team immediately and not move [down] too many picks, we would at least have to have a pretty in-depth conversation about that within hockey operations,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade the pick outright and wouldn’t drop too many spots, but I’m not going to say I wouldn’t do it at all. I think the odds are against it. Probably not going to trade it. But I think it’s important to look at all options.”
While the team could entertain dropping a few spots, Rutherford ruled out trading up.
“I like where we sit at five,” he said.
In the coming weeks, CarolinaHurricanes.com will begin profiling the top draft picks leading up to June 30. We’ll have live draft-day coverage from New Jersey, including live chats, video and more.
3. Free Agency
Free agency opens on July 5 this year, and Rutherford has already identified his main target: a top-four defenseman. Last year, he set out to add a top-flight winger to play alongside Staal, and he ended up adding a pair of top-six forwards.
Considering a healthy team, Rutherford said Justin Faulk, Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason comprise three of the team’s top four defensemen. Missing Faulk and Pitkanen for stretches in the shortened season ultimately doomed the team.
“Part of our downside last year is we had defensemen that are good NHL defensemen playing in roles they couldn’t handle,” Rutherford said. “In order to get the right balance on our defense and give it a chance to be successful, adding one more guy in the top four would be a top priority.”
So, does that acquisition come via free agency or a trade?
“It’s hard to say. It could come in any manner,” Rutherford said. “It could come in the form of a player that we trade for as a projection who hasn’t done it yet but we think could do it now. It could come in the form of a projection of a (Ryan) Murphy jumping in the top four. It could come many ways, but I do feel that’s an area we have to change.”
4. Schedule Release and Prospects Development Camp
We will be a month deep into astronomical summer in mid-July, but that doesn’t mean it will be completely void of hockey.
The 2013-14 NHL schedule should drop in mid-July, and it will be the first to feature the league’s new realignment. The Hurricanes will play in the still-unnamed Division D, retaining only the Washington Capitals from the Southeast Division. For a complete look at the new divisions and the more-complex schedule matrix, click here.
In addition, ice will be down at PNC Arena for Prospects Development Camp, which will feature most or all of the team’s 2013 draft picks, other previously-drafted players and select invitees. The on-ice portions of this camp, which runs July 16-20, will be open to the public and will coincide with the annual Select-A-Seat event for season ticket holders.
5. Training Camp
Kirk Muller joined the Hurricanes in November 2011, but over 100 games into his NHL head coaching career, he’s yet to have a full training camp. That will change this September, and he couldn’t be more excited.
“I would really like to give guys a chance to use exhibition games to either win a job or lose a job,” he said in a May interview. “I would love to see some of these guys come in and say, here are the holes that are open, who wants it? Who’s going to win that battle? That’s when we can make the firm decision of that guy can play that role, and that’s a guy that we need.”
With a healthy top six that features the Staal brothers, Alexander Semin, Jiri Tlusty, Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner, there will be ample competition for a depth slot. This becomes an even more intriguing storyline should the Hurricanes draft a forward capable of playing in the top nine next season.
“We have some guys that are in Charlotte – are they ready to come in and be a full time player in the top nine? Maybe, maybe not,” he said. “But we clearly have some guys there that are ready to come in and play certain roles. As long as we have a healthy top six, it’s a lot easier for those guys to fit in and play the role they’re supposed to instead of us trying to play them in a role they can’t.”
We have more in store on CarolinaHurricanes.com as we move along this summer. For everything else, stay plugged in to all that’s happening with our social media presences.
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