Hockey / Sports

Fleury, Hurricanes' top draft pick, hopes to make NHL quickly

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Being a first-round draft pick -- even a top 10 draft pick -- carries no guarantees when it comes to playing in the NHL.

That's especially true for defensemen.

Haydn Fleury would like to think he'll be an exception, that he can play his way onto the Carolina Hurricanes' roster this year and make the jump from junior hockey to the NHL. Then again, he knows that could be asking for too much, too soon.

"When you get drafted so high and you see top 10 picks make it the next year, that's kind of one of your goals in the summer," Fleury said this week. "I think at the same time I need to keep a level mind and realize not many 18-year-olds play in the NHL and it's a big step, especially on defense."

The Canes made Fleury the No. 7 pick of this year's draft in Philadelphia, taking a player who had a big season for the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League and was rated the No. 2 defenseman in the draft. Fleury played in Red Deer for Brent Sutter, a former NHL head coach and the father of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Brandon Sutter.

"He teaches you how to be a pro at a young age," Fleury said of Sutter. "He treats everyone likes pros and has high expectations."

Two years ago, the Rebels had defenseman Mathew Dumba taken by the Minnesota Wild with the seventh pick of the draft. Dumba initially made the Wild roster after the NHL lockout ended but soon went back to Red Deer. Dumba made his NHL debut for the Wild last season but was sent back to the WHL after competing for Canada in the 2014 World Junior Championship.

Seth Jones was the fourth overall pick of the 2013 draft and the defenseman did quickly jump into the Nashville Predators lineup. The No. 7 selection, defenseman Darnell Nurse, was taken by the Edmonton Oilers but sent back to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.

The Hurricanes will watch Fleury closely this week in the prospects development camp. They'll watch him compete in the Traverse City (Mich.) prospects tournament Sept. 12-16, then make a decision on inviting him to the Canes' preseason training camp.

"It's going to be harder for a D-man than it is for a forward," Canes coach Bill Peters said. "We're not going to be in a hurry. We'll go step by step.

"I think he's a mature enough young man that he knows it's a process. He's in the early stages of that process of developing from a junior-age player into a pro. He's got some work to do."

At 6-3 and 207 pounds, Fleury has good size and NHL scouts liked his mobility, agility and ability to make the good outlet pass. But Fleury, from the small Saskatchewan town of Carlyle, said he and Sutter did have a frank, what-it-will-take discussion about playing professional hockey.

"He said if I want to play the way I played in junior I need to get better with the puck offensively, from the blue line down," Fleury said. "That's something I'm really trying to work hard at. Just be more creative. Don't take yourself out of a scoring chance. Just be a threat to score. But in the D-zone keep being hard on guys every second on the ice."

Fleury, a smooth skater, had eight goals and 38 assists in 70 games for Red Deer last season, a big leap from his four goals and 15 assists in 68 games in 2012-2013. He believes he can be a solid, two-way defenseman and the Canes agree.

Adding more strength is a must, Fleury said. While saying he likes his playing weight, he feels the need for more "man muscle" as a defenseman in the NHL.

"The margin of error is smaller for defenseman and the guys are a lot bigger," he said. "The forwards are grown men, 220 pounds. When you're playing junior you're playing against guys who are 170 pounds. So every day you need to keep working and get stronger to be able to compete with those guys."

For now, Fleury said he's trying to impress in the prospects camp. As he put it, "I'm just trying to soak up as much as possible to take back with me."

Fleury said he was interviewed three times by the Hurricanes before draft day and had an inkling they might pick him. He was a bit nervous at the Wells Fargo Center before his name was called, but said his younger brother noticed an NHL camera turn toward the Fleury family as the Carolina contingent was going up to the stage to announce the pick.

"It didn't make it any less exciting," Fleury said. "You want to know where you're going to spend the next little bit of your life and possibly the rest of your life."

(c)2014 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

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