Carolina pick Haydn Fleury (Photo by Ken Andersen/NHLPA via Getty Images)
The Hurricanes couldn't pass up on the Red Deer defenseman at the 2014 draft and now they're getting a look at what he can do at the Traverse City prospects tournament in Michigan.
The Carolina Hurricanes tend to go with forwards early in the draft and even when they did take a blueliner with their first selection in 2011, it was Ryan Murphy, the offensively inclined D-man. But when the seventh pick rolled around in 2014, the Canes tabbed 6-foot-3, 203-pound Haydn Fleury and they're pretty happy with that selection.
“Sometimes in the past we've shied away from taking a defenseman that high," said GM Ron Francis. "But he was the best player available according to our scouts and I think he has a bright future in the NHL for a long time.”
Fleury is one of the biggest names playing for Carolina at the Traverse City prospects tournament in Michigan and the 18-year-old from Saskatchewan is loving the high pace of the games and the competition. Plus. he's getting instruction from Canes legend Glen Wesley, who now works for the organization's development department.
“Glen has a lot of good things to say," Fleury said. "It's the little things, like carrying the puck closer to the middle of the ice instead of the wall so you can keep your options open.”
Fleury was the second defenseman taken in the 2014 draft, after No. 1 pick Aaron Ekblad went to Florida. And while Ekblad will step into the NHL right away with the Panthers, Fleury knows he has a slightly longer development curve.
“My goal is to make it when I'm 19," he said. "I'm going to go to main camp and make it hard on them to send me back, but realistically I need that one more year of junior to get stronger and more mature. I want to step in and make a contribution.”
Heading back to the Western League's Red Deer Rebels, Fleury will get excellent coaching from Brent Sutter and the chance to play in a competitive environment. He can also take on a leadership role with the squad, which also features Colorado first-rounder Conner Bleackley up front.
“I want to help the Rebels be a championship team – we have all the pieces," Fleury said. "We have a lot of young guys coming back into their second season, a lot coming into their draft year, so I want to help those guys through that experience.”
The big defenseman will also have a great shot at playing for Canada's world junior team. He suited up for the national squad twice last season, winning gold at the Ivan Hlinka summer tourney and bronze at the world under-18s.
Right now, Carolina has a veteran-laden blueline corps, but Francis likes the group of prospects that his franchise has begun to assemble. College kids such as Jacob Slavvin and Brett Pesce aren't eligible to play in the Traverse City showdown (since they're not signed yet), but Trevor Carrick is here, while Fleury has impressed his new boss already.
“He's a big guy but he's extremely mobile and he makes good decisions with the puck," Francis said. "Part of the areas he needs to improve on are things that come naturally – he's still young and he needs to get stronger, but that will come with time.”
For Fleury, he hopes that time will be soon. And with the way Carolina has struggled in recent years, the Canes might not balk at the idea of the kid coming in one year from now with a bit more muscle on his frame and making an impact in the big league.