Hurricanes look to familiar faces, Russia on NHL Draft’s 2nd day

Hurricanes third round pick Jayden Perron speaks to the media on Thursday during the second day of the 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville, Tennessee. (Cory Lavalette / North State Journal)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Hurricanes finished off their week in Nashville by drafting nine players in Rounds 2-7 on Thursday at the 2023 NHL Draft, adding a stockpile of prospects to go along with Friday’s first-rounder, Bradly Nadeau.

The Hurricanes made 10 picks in all, one of seven NHL teams to make double-digit selections over the past two days. Half of Carolina’s picks were on Russian players, the second consecutive year the Hurricanes have chosen more players from Russia than any other country.

There has certainly been a reluctance by some NHL teams to draft Russian players due to the war in Ukraine and the uncertainty it presents, but the Hurricanes’ scouting staff focuses on the player and not his nationality, said Darren Yorke, a Hurricanes assistant general manager who also oversees the team’s amateur scouting and the draft.

“I think every organization is going to look at that differently,” he said. “We can’t really control what other organizations do. We can’t control what’s happening in the world. We’re trying to make it as simple as possible and just draft the best player available.

“It just happens that the last few years there’s been a little bit more Russians available to us in our draft list and where we take them. But it doesn’t matter if they’re Canadian, American, Russian, we’ll just really take the best player that we have available.”

Carolina also tapped into some resources to take players their staff knew particularly well.

Bradly Nadeau, LW, 1st round, 30th overall

Before Carolina’s Russian blitz began, the Hurricanes selected three players in the opening three rounds, starting with Nadeau.

“Probably the best way to describe him is he just scores goals,” Yorke said for Nadeau, who was picked 30th overall out of Penticton of the BCHL and is headed to the University of Maine. “It’s pretty remarkable the types of goals that he was able to score this year.”

On top of being one of the draft’s best skaters and a prolific goal-scorer, Nadeau fits the Hurricanes’ hard-working player mold.

“He’s incredibly hard to play against,” Yorke added. “So you have this blend of competitiveness. You have this blend of just a high-end offensive player. It sort of fits in exactly what we want for our players.”

Felix Unger Sorum, RW, 2nd round, 62nd overall

Let the “Odd Couple” jokes commence. With its second pick, Carolina selected Unger Sorum, a winger who played a handful of games last season in the Sweden Hockey League. Unger Sorum, who won’t turn 18 until Sept. 14 and was born in Norway, is more of a passer and distributor than Nadeau.

“He sees the ice incredibly well, Yorke said. “He’s a guy that we saw who kept on getting better and better and better right from the November tournament and all the way through to April.”

Jayden Perron, RW, 3rd round, 94th overall

The Hurricanes were originally set to draft 71st with one of the three picks they received from Philadelphia at last year’s draft to send Tony DeAngelo to the Flyers. Instead, Carolina used the 71st to land two picks — reacquiring the 94th overall pick they sent to San Jose in the Brent Burns deal and adding the 100th overall at the start of the fourth round from the Sharks.

At No. 94, Carolina took Perron, a member of the USHL’s Chicago Steel who two years ago played coach Brock Sheahan. Sheahan served as the Hurricanes’ coach for their top affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, last season and surely had valuable insight into Perron.

Yorke compared Perron — who is 5-foot-9, 166 pounds — to Unger Sorum in his playmaking ability and said he can also carry the puck well in the offensive zone. Perron is headed to North Dakota to play with Jackson Blake, a 2021 fourth round pick by Carolina.

“(He’s) a kid that we know really well given that Brock coached him two years ago,” Yorke said. “A kid that we’re really familiar with … really didn’t expect to see him that late in the draft.”

Perron mentioned both his connections to Sheahan and Blake, as well as one to a fellow Winnipeg product, Seth Jarvis.

“I’ve met him a few times,” Perron said.

Perron said his goal is to be able to “play with the top players” once he reaches the NHL.

“I think I’m a smart player,” he said. “I think I have tons of skill. I think that’s what I could bring down Carolina and hope to do that.”

Alexander Rykov, RW, 4th round, 100th overall

The Hurricanes selected the first of five Russians with the extra pick they received from the Sharks.

Rykov, a 6-foot, 176-pound winger, played six KHL games with Traktor Chelyabinsk but missed much of last season.

“One of the highest-scoring all-time VHL players for 18 years old,” Yorke said of Rykov’s play in Russia’s second-tier league. “Competitive, smart, playmaking — able to handle the men which isn’t something you normally see from an 18-year-old.”

“I’m a two-way wing,” Rykov — who actually doesn’t even turn 18 until next month — said through a translator. “I can play in the defensive zone. I can score, I can pass. I can do everything in the offensive zone.”

He added he is a fan of fellow Russian Andrei Svechnikov, a Hurricanes winger, and tries to play the same style. Rykov has two years remaining on his contract in Russia and hopes to come to Carolina after that.

Stanislav Yarovoi, RW, 4th round, 126th overall

With their own fourth round pick, the Hurricanes selected a second straight Russian in Yarovoi. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Yarovoi will turn 20 in August and spent most of last season playing in the KHL, scoring nine goals with 16 points with Vityza Moscow.

He went undrafted in his first two years of eligibility but caught the Hurricanes’ eye this past year with his play in the KHL.

“High-end skill, high-end compete, high-end motor,” Yorke said, “really sort of that Carolina prototypical forward. At the same point, he’s been able to score and produce (against) men. It’s not something you normally see from 19-year-olds.

Charles-Alexis Legault, D, 5th round, 139th overall

The Hurricanes are certainly familiar with Legault, who played with coach Rod Brind’Amour’s son Skyler on Quinnipiac’s national championship team last year.

Brind’Amour said Legault “checks all the boxes” as far as his character and work ethic, and since the Carolina coach watched every one of the Bobcats’ games, he also is familiar with his play.

“He’s got real good instincts and skates really well,” Brind’Amour said. “and he’s 6-4 and a right-shot D-man. It’s pretty much a no-brainer to use a pick on him. And he’s undervalued, in my opinion — he didn’t play much because they have such a good team.”

Yorke said Legault is a fit for Carolina’s system.

“He plays the defensive style of game that we want to play, which you don’t normally see from college kids,” Yorke said. “He’s able to get up in the offensive zone, flush down the wall, seal off in the defensive zone, plays a really fast defensive game, and that’s something that we want in our defenseman.”

The fact that he’s only used up one year of eligibility also gives Legault more runway to develop as he takes on more responsibility on the Bobcats’ blue line.

Ruslan Khazheyev, G, 5th round, 158th overall

It’s never a bad idea to take a chance on a goalie in the later rounds, and Carolina did it twice. The first was the 6-foot-4, 201-pound Khazheyev.

“Incredibly powerful, balanced,” Yorke said. “He’s had unbelievable years the last few years in Russia. Our goalie coaches were just so impressed with the feet, the balance in combination with that power.”

Timur Mukhanov, LW, 6th round, 163rd overall

Don’t let the diminutive Mukhanov’s size deceive you — the Hurricanes believe the 5-foot-7 Russian makes up for his size with his competitiveness.

“He probably slipped in the draft a little bit (because of) his size, which is really not entirely fair to him because of how hard he works and everything that he’s accomplished to this point,” Yorke said.

Mukhanov attended the draft and was all smiles after being selected.

“He said he’s a fast player,” a translator relayed for Mukhanov. “He can play in the offensive and defensive zone. Every time, he said, that he is doing everything for the team and the main thing with him in the game is to win.”

Mukhanov, who previously played on a line with Carolina 2022 second round pick Gleb Trikozov, said he enjoys the style of Kirill Kaprizov along with Evgeny Svechnikov. He then added, “and Andrei Svechnikov, too.”

Michael Emerson, RW, 6th round, 190th overall

The Hurricanes tapped into their connections with the USHL’s Chicago Steel again in taking Emerson. Like Perron, he also played for Sheahan two years ago and will head to North Dakota this fall.

“He probably would have got drafted last year but he got hurt,” Yorke said of the 6-foot-1, 192-pound forward. “Straight-line speed — he was able to get the puck from the neutral zone to the net. Probably one of the best players in the USHL this past year.”

The New York native had 30 goals and 64 points in 60 games with the Steel last season.

Yegor Velmakin, G, 7th round, 222nd overall

With their final pick, the Hurricanes selected another Russian goalie. Velmakin had a .937 save percentage in 12 VHL games last season and could play for Dynamo Minsk of the KHL this coming season.

“We were impressed here with how his season went,” Yorke said. “It got a little bit better each and every game. A kid that we’re happy to get there right at the end of the draft.”