Assembling a ‘Bunch of Jerks’: How this Hurricanes team was built

The Carolina Hurricanes have far exceeded expectations as the lovable underdogs in their 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs run. Timing is everything in hockey, and this group is playing at its best at the exact right time.

It’s a fascinating roster for many reasons. The Hurricanes have built a solid foundation through the draft, but consider that Carolina parted ways with three former top-10 picks this past summer and hasn’t been able to lure many big names in free agency.

Most teams can’t lose that kind of homegrown talent and struggle in the open market and still have a lot of success. But Carolina has because it has had really good fortune with later draft picks making big contributions and some big trades. General manager Don Waddell and former GMs Jim Rutherford and Ron Francis have made signature personnel decisions that have helped build this team.

Let’s take a closer look at how the Hurricanes became this bracket-destroying “Bunch of Jerks,” running through how all 23 individuals on the playoff roster ended up with Carolina.

Homegrown talent

Ten players on the Carolina playoff roster were drafted by the team, but only two were first-round picks. The team traded former firsts Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin for other assets during the offseason, and former first-rounders Martin Necas and Jake Bean lead an extremely talented prospect pool. (The AHL-affiliate Charlotte Checkers were among the best teams in the NHL’s top farm league and are also amid a deep playoff run.) Here are the players who were Carolina draft selections, listed in order of draft status.

Andrei Svechnikov, RW, 18 years old

Round 1, No. 2 overall, 2018

The No. 2-ranked prospect in last year’s draft has made good on his projection early on, aside from one ill-advised decision to fight Alex Ovechkin. Svechnikov appeared in all 82 regular-season games and has four points in the five postseason games he has appeared in.

Haydn Fleury, D, 22

Round 1, No. 7 overall, 2014

Fleury has appeared in five postseason contests and has seen limited action. He hasn’t exactly lived up to the hype that comes with being a top-10 pick, but he’s still a quality young player who provides depth.

Sebastian Aho, C, 21

Round 2, No. 35 overall, 2015

The team’s most utilized forward and leading scorer in the regular season, Aho has become a driver for the Hurricanes over three NHL seasons. He is the offensive engine, despite being a second-rounder in that loaded 2015 draft.

He was a bit of an enigma in his draft season, as he bounced between junior and pro in Finland. Aho ended the year on a spectacular note, scoring the game winner for Karpat in Liiga’s final before rushing to play in the gold-medal game at the World U18 Championship. By the following season, however, the prospect world knew the Hurricanes had hit a home run. Aho was a point-per-game player in Liiga, dominant in Finland’s gold-medal run at the World Junior Championship and a major contributor on Finland’s team at the World Championship. He was in the NHL the next year and never looked back, getting better with each passing season.

Justin Faulk, D, 27

Round 2, No. 37 overall, 2010

I distinctly remember a scout telling me before the 2010 draft that he thought Faulk would be the best pro from a U.S. National Team Development Program team loaded with top defensive prospects, and he ended up being right. Faulk was the third blueliner off the board from that team and the ninth from any team. Now only Cam Fowler and John Klingberg have more points among NHL defensemen selected, and Faulk ranks sixth in his draft class with 559 games played.

Brock McGinn, LW, 25

Round 2, No. 47 overall, 2012

The draft isn’t always going to net star players, but everyday NHLers can be valuable too. Many draft picks never pan out at all. The Hurricanes did not have a first-round pick in 2012, but they landed McGinn with their second of two picks in Round 2. He is inexpensive depth, averaging 17-plus minutes per game in the playoffs and appearing in 240 regular-season games for Carolina.

Brett Pesce, D, 24

Round 3, No. 66 overall, 2013

It’s hard to imagine the Canes’ defense without Pesce at this point. He has been a top-four guy most of his career and just had a career season, with 29 points. When I initially saw him as a prospect, I thought he was a high-end defender, but there wasn’t enough offensive upside to make him a sure thing. I ranked him 14th among American prospects in his draft year, and he ended up being the 13th U.S. player selected. The industry and I were too low on him. Pesce has become the kind of defensive defenseman NHL teams need, one who can take time and space away from the opposition while getting pucks out of the zone and up the ice with good, smart puck movement.

Warren Foegele, LW, 23

Round 3, No. 67 overall, 2014

I remember Foegele as this big, raw project out of the Quebec high school ranks. No one was quite sure where he’d land in the draft. The third round is often a good spot to take a chance on a guy, and did the Canes ever find a gem. Things didn’t pan out for Foegele at the University of New Hampshire, but he moved to the OHL and ended up with the Erie Otters after a season-plus with Kingston. He won an OHL title and was the playoffs MVP that year. Perhaps that’s where he cut his playoff teeth: With nine points through 11 games, he’s among Carolina’s top postseason scorers in what amounts to his first full NHL season.

Lucas Wallmark, C, 23

Round 4, No. 97 overall, 2014

Wallmark is a good example of the importance of patience and the value of AHL development. This was Wallmark’s first full season in the NHL after he found success in his native Sweden and in the AHL the past two seasons, where he was a key player for the Checkers. Now he helps bring scoring depth to the NHL roster, with five points in 11 postseason contests.

Jaccob Slavin, D, 25

Round 4, No. 120 overall, 2012

Want to talk about draft value? Arguably the team’s most important player, Slavin is usually good for 30-plus points per season and major minutes in tough matchups. He is averaging 26:36 of ice time during the playoffs and leads the team with 11 points, all assists. Admittedly, Slavin was not on my radar in his draft season. He had decent USHL numbers, and I heard a few things about him as he played for the USHL’s Chicago Steel, but nothing jumped out. He spent an extra season in the USHL before going to Colorado College, and that’s when it started to look like there was a brighter future. But I don’t know that anyone could have anticipated it being this bright. Slavin has become one of the NHL’s better defenders.

Clark Bishop, C, 23

Round 5, No. 127 overall, 2014

A bit of a tweener, having played in both the AHL and the NHL this season, Bishop has appeared in five playoff games. He’s another development success story, with him spending time in the Canes’ AHL system the past three seasons and even a bit in the ECHL.

Free-agent signings

The Canes haven’t spent big in free agency, as shown by their dead-last ranking in team cap hit ($63.2 million), per CapFriendly. But they have been able to ink their No. 1 goaltender and the heart and soul of their offense, among other valuable assets. Here’s whom they landed on the open market, with the most recent signing listed first.

Calvin de Haan, D, 27

Signed July 3, 2018

This was a big-ticket purchase by Waddell this offseason, at four years, $18.2 million, despite de Haan’s essentially being a No. 5 defenseman for the team. A quality defender, de Haan had just 14 points in the regular season. He has almost always been a solid possession guy, and that has continued in Carolina.

Petr Mrazek, G, 27

Signed July 1, 2018

It was a cheap gamble on a goalie who had shown flashes of brilliance earlier in his career. The signing ended up being just one year at $1.5 million for 40 starts, 23 wins, a .914 save percentage and four shutouts in the regular season. Before he got injured and missed the last two games, Mrazek had two shutouts this postseason and a .913 save percentage. There were no guarantees that he would get his groove back, but he absolutely did and propelled this team.

Justin Williams, RW, 37

Signed July 1, 2017

Two years at $4.5 million per year was money well spent. On top of back-to-back 50-plus-point seasons, Williams has become the emotional leader of the Bunch of Jerks. The captain appears to have a genuine passion for leading this team and reigniting this fan base. He’s a winner, and that’s why the Canes brought him here.

Patrick Brown, C, 26

Signed April 14, 2014

An undrafted free agent out of Boston College, Brown has primarily been an AHL guy for the Canes. But the Checkers captain has played in eight playoff games with the NHL club this season. Undrafted free agents don’t often make significant NHL contributions, but if those players provide AHL depth and roster flexibility, it’s a win for the team.

Waiver-wire finds

Waivers aren’t typically a major source of roster pieces, but Carolina was able to snag its backup goalie on the wire back in October.

Curtis McElhinney, G, 35

Claimed on waivers on Oct. 2, 2018

Sometimes a little luck helps. With Carolina’s goaltending in a tough spot with Scott Darling’s inability to return to form, the Canes took advantage of a cap-strapped move by the Toronto Maple Leafs. They put in a claim for a veteran backup who has now won three straight games in the postseason with a .947 save percentage.

Trade acquisitions

Smart trades have been a major part of building this roster. In addition to the trades listed below, the Hurricanes acquired Aleksi Saarela via trade when they got the center and a pair of second-round picks from the New York Rangers for Eric Staal back in 2016. Saarela isn’t listed here because he has skated only nine minutes in the playoffs, all in one game. Trades are listed with the most recent first.

Nino Niederreiter, RW, 26

Acquired from Minnesota Wild for center Victor Rask on Jan. 17, 2019

This is another one of those masterstroke moves that could help Waddell redefine his career as a GM after a tough run in Atlanta. Rask had six points when Waddell moved the once-promising center for Niederreiter. In the 36 games after the trade, Niederreiter had 30 points. He hasn’t been as productive in the playoffs, but he’s a consistent threat. Rask had three points in his 23 games with the Wild. El Nino has three years left on his current contract.

Dougie Hamilton, D, 25

Acquired from Calgary Flames with defenseman Adam Fox and winger Micheal Ferland for defenseman Noah Hanifin and center Elias Lindholm on June 23, 2018

This was a pretty crazy trade for both sides, but it has largely worked out for both teams. Hanifin and Lindholm were high picks and would have been core players for most teams, but neither had reached his full potential in Carolina, so Waddell made what could be the signature move of his GM tenure.

Hamilton strengthened the top-four defense and brought more offense to the blue line, with 18 goals and 39 points in the regular season. He also has seven points in the playoffs and is averaging more than 20 minutes per game.

Micheal Ferland, LW, 27

Acquired from Calgary Flames with defenseman Adam Fox and defenseman Dougie Hamilton for defenseman Noah Hanifin and center Elias Lindholm on June 23, 2018

The other part of the Flames trade, Ferland had 40 points this season, giving the Canes good secondary scoring. He was injured in the first round of the playoffs and has appeared in only three postseason contests, but there’s no arguing that he has made a positive impact on this team.

The Canes traded the rights to Fox to the Rangers for two draft picks, so there are more assets to be gained from this trade, even though Fox never signed in Carolina.

Jordan Martinook, LW, 26

Acquired from Arizona Coyotes with a 2018 fourth-rounder (Ty Emberson) for center Marcus Kruger and a 2018 third-round pick (Luke Henman) on May 3, 2018

This looked like a nothing trade last spring. You don’t often see deals done while the playoffs are still going. But Martinook has rounded into a strong bottom-six forward who gives some scoring depth, and the Hurricanes liked him enough to offer him a two-year extension at $2 million per season.

Greg McKegg, C, 26

Acquired from Pittsburgh Penguins for winger Josh Jooris on Feb. 26, 2018

McKegg is on his fifth NHL organization and has yet to play more than half a season in the NHL. However, he has found a nice home in Carolina as the fourth-line center, as he had 11 points in 41 games in the regular season and has appeared in 10 of 11 playoff games.

Trevor van Riemsdyk, D, 27

Acquired from Vegas Golden Knights with a 2018 seventh-rounder (Riley Hughes) for a 2017 second-round pick (Jake Leschyshyn) on June 22, 2017

Selected by Vegas in the expansion draft, TVR never wore the Golden Knights garb. He was immediately traded for an extra draft pick and has provided solid depth on the Carolina blue line, but he was injured and will miss the remainder of the playoffs.

Teuvo Teravainen, C/W, 24

Acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks with Bryan Bickell for a 2016 second-round pick (Artur Kayumov) and a 2017 third-round pick (Evan Barratt) on June 15, 2016

Teravainen was essentially a sweetener to get the Canes to take Bryan Bickell’s contract off the books for the cap-strapped Hawks. Even though he helped Chicago win a Stanley Cup in 2015, the young Finn never seemed to fit with what Joel Quenneville was trying to do, and his ice time was limited. But in Carolina, Teravainen has thrived as a top-six forward, and he had a career-high 76 points this season. He has also netted six goals in the playoffs so far.

Jordan Staal, C, 30

Acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and a 2012 first-round pick (Derrick Pouliot) on June 22, 2012

A significant move in Rutherford’s tenure in Carolina, reuniting Jordan with brother Eric was an absolute splash. Although the Stall brothers never reached the playoffs together, Jordan is a huge part of this team. Despite missing time this season, Staal has been a top performer in the playoffs, with nine points. Having that Stanley Cup pedigree on your roster certainly doesn’t hurt, nor does a hard-driving center who can spearhead your second line.

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