The Carolina Hurricanes Need to Solve Their Haydn Fleury Problem

The Carolina Hurricanes have been very patient with Haydn Fleury’s development since making him the 7th overall pick back in 2014. Now, it may be Fleury’s patience that is wearing thin.

Safe to say, nobody expected that more than 5 years after the Carolina Hurricanes drafted Haydn Fleury in the 1st round of the 2014 draft, he still wouldn’t be a mainstay in the team’s lineup. The Hurricanes defensive picture has changed astronomically since Ron Francis touted Fleury to be the guy to lead his Hurricanes defense-first rebuild.

For Fleury, nothing has been necessarily his fault. His development was done the right way for young defensemen – slow and steady. He was given ample time to get stronger, learn defensive systems and hone his overall game. The slow path to the NHL had many (especially Canes fans) label him as a premature bust. There’s some that still believe that. But for many, we realize that’s not the case.

Let’s take a journey all the way back to 2014. When the Hurricanes drafted Fleury, their defensive prospect cupboard was bare. Ryan Murphy was the gem of the group. Keegan Lowe, Rasmus Rissanen and Danny Biega were the closest guys. Back then, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce were virtual unknowns. Fleury was the most obvious future piece.

But in the NHL, obviously, things change. The Carolina Hurricanes horrid D-core eventually accelerated Slavin and Pesce to the NHL. The Hurricanes also kept up with their defense-first trend in the 2015 draft and took Noah Hanifin 5th overall and plugged him right into the team.

Within the span of barely over a year after Fleury was drafted, situations out of his control saw those 3 defensemen pass him on the depth chart, and he’s been playing catch-up ever since.

ANAHEIM, CA – OCTOBER 18: Haydn Fleury #4 of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrates his second period goal with his teammates during the game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on October 18, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Robert Binder/NHLI via Getty Images)

Despite that, Fleury is a very talented kid. The Hurricanes opted to select him ahead of forwards like William Nylander, Nikolaj Ehlers and Nick Ritchie.

Ron Francis, the Hurricanes GM at the time, said “Our [scouts] really liked him. He’s a very big, mobile defenceman. He has a lot of upside. We were very pleased that he was sitting there at No. 7 when we were picking.” Fleury’s poise also impressed them. “He’s a very mature kid, very solid.” Francis said.

Ron Francis, the Hurricanes GM at the time, said “Our [scouts] really liked him. He’s a very big, mobile defenceman. He has a lot of upside. We were very pleased that he was sitting there at No. 7 when we were picking.”

And isn’t it funny how things can come full circle sometimes? The guy who walked up to the podium that day, way back in 2014, and made Fleury’s NHL dream become a reality?

None other than Rod Brind’Amour, the current coach of the team Fleury can’t stick in the lineup of. “It was absolutely surreal. Having Rod Brind’Amour call my name and Ron Francis being up there was unbelievable,” said Fleury at the time.

Fleury has proven his worth at every level. He was one of the best D in the WHL during his junior tenure there. He went to the World Junior Championships with Team Canada. He dominated the AHL in multiple stints, including during the Calder Cup Playoffs last year where he was the best player on the ice. And finally, he’s proven his worth with the Hurricanes.

….. or has he?

It seemed so. When GM Don Waddell traded Calvin de Haan for cap relief during the summer, he sang praise on Fleury. “We believe Haydn Fleury is ready to step in and be a [full-time] NHL player.” he said at the time.

“We believe Haydn Fleury is ready to step in and be a [full-time] NHL player.” – Canes GM Don Waddell.

For whatever reason, the team’s actions since have cast doubt on if Waddell was truthful. They went out and signed Jake Gardiner. Despite that acquisition, fans figured an impending Justin Faulk trade could open a spot for Fleury. Which seemed the case, until it was discovered that Joel Edmundson was part of the return. Once again, the Carolina Hurricanes had a full house on D.

The saving grace for Fleury was that Trevor van Riemsdyk was slated to miss time in his recovery from surgery and would give Fleury an opportunity to impress. And boy, he impressed. And along the way, clearly earned coach Rod Brind’Amour’s trust.

In his 10(ish) games – I use the “ish” because he only played 90 seconds against Columbus – Fleury posted a career best 52.6 Corsi, while starting a career-most 51.7% of his shifts in the defensive zone, mostly paired with Jake Gardiner. His ice-time gradually increased, and he played a career-high 16:15 against the New York Islanders on October 11th.

He also, finally, scored his first career NHL goal in his 96th game, against the Anaheim Ducks, and his teammates’ reaction shows you exactly how much he’s loved by his teammates. EVERYBODY wants this kid to be successful.

That game would go on to be his last as a regular. Trevor Van Riemsdyk returned the following game, and although the Carolina urricanes opted to use a 7-defensemen formation, Fleury was the odd man out. He played just 5:59 and then 1:30, and has spent the last 2 games as a healthy scratch. Which leads us to question: what’s next?

Though some fans have suggested trading Fleury to give the kid a much-deserved chance elsewhere, that doesn’t seem like a great idea from Carolina’s perspective. He’s still only 23, has an NHL future, and has cost-controlled RFA years remaining.

Edmundson and Van Riemdsyk are also pending unrestricted free agents after the season, and it’s hard to imagine the Canes re-signing them considering they have almost 20 million invested in their other signed D-men.

So if nothing else, Fleury *should* be guaranteed a spot next season; but that’s what we thought this year. There’s been no public news about any trade request – but it’s hard to imagine he’s satisfied with sitting in the press box at his young age and having proved his worth as an NHL defenseman. Unfortunately, the Canes do not have a ton of viable options in terms of handling the situation.

RALEIGH, NC – NOVEMBER 07: Carolina Hurricanes Defenceman Haydn Fleury (4) shoots the puck during a game between the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC on November 7 2017. Carolina defeated Florida 3-1. (Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

If the team truly does believe in Fleury, they could opt to move a defenseman ahead of him – which would likely be TVR. But TVR has been solid his entire tenure as a Cane, and an injury to any defender would have the Caroloina Hurricanes turn to Charlotte for a replacement.

They do have options there; youngsters Jake Bean and Chase Priskie have real promise, while Gustav Forsling and Fredrik Claesson have NHL experience.

On the other hand, could they look to trade Fleury and roll with what they have? His value on the trade market would likely not be a worthwhile return, but the risk of upsetting and alienating the player is an obvious worry for the franchise. Aside from that, the options are sparse. The 7 D formation didn’t work, and rotating TVR and Fleury as scratches doesn’t solve much.

Lots of potential options, but little that make sense. It’s a very unfortunate situation for Fleury, who’s come a long way in his development, and would almost surely be a mainstay in nearly every team’s top-6 around the NHL. Sometimes patience pays off, but when does patience finally wear out?

Question for CC Readers: What should the Carolina Hurricanes do with the Fleury situation?