Having had some success drafting older players in the late rounds, the Hurricanes hope that trend continues with forward Brendan Woods.
NHL teams had passed on the 21-year-old, who made his professional debut in two Checkers games following his sophomore campaign at the University of Wisconsin last season, in his first two years of eligibility before Carolina nabbed him in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. In doing so, they followed up the overage selections of Brody Sutter (7th round in 2011), who is developing into a legitimate prospect after an offensive breakout with Charlotte last season, and goalie Frederik Anderson (7th round in 2010), who the organization hoped to sign before losing him to Anaheim and what ended up being a promising rookie season with AHL Norfolk.
Will Woods provide the same kind of value? It’s too early to say, but the Hurricanes saw enough encouraging signs to offer him a contract last March even though he still had two seasons of college eligibility remaining.
“He’s got size, speed, can shoot the puck and he’s strong in those battles down low,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels of the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Woods. “He’s got a lot of good assets.”
Daniels’ impressions are mostly limited to those two late-season games and a handful of practices Woods took part in as a member of Charlotte’s “black ace” group of extra players during the playoffs. Exposure earlier in his career was also limited, most recently while in a depth role at Wisconsin but perhaps most notably by a broken femur in his initial draft year.
“I wasn’t even supposed to play that game but they changed their mind at last minute,” recalled Woods, who was playing junior hockey with Chicago of the USHL at the time of the injury. “It was kind of a leg-on-leg hit and I thought it was just a charley horse at first so I took my next shift and just fell to the ground.”
Looking back now, Woods acknowledges that coming back from that injury three months earlier than expected didn’t help his cause. All of that has led him to become something of an unknown going forward – his exact role and even his position (he can play at center or on the wing) will remain up in the air until training camp.
Still, some early returns have been positive.
“Woods was a guy I didn’t know much about before, but he’s a big body, plays hard and goes straight line,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said following a scrimmage at the team’s recent development camp in Raleigh. “He was very impressive there.”
“I try to be a force out there and a big body that can create energy,” said Woods.
The son of Anaheim Ducks assistant coach Bob Woods, the younger Woods played on the wing until entering Wisconsin, where he quickly developed a reputation as a faceoff specialist. Last season, he led the team with a stellar winning percentage of 61.6.
Despite that prowess, with plenty of unknowns surrounding those who have played center for Charlotte in the past – Riley Nash, Brett Sutter and Jeremy Welsh are all NHL candidates, and the fate of depth players like Sean Dolan has yet to be determined – Daniels said that he couldn’t commit to using Woods exclusively at either position next season.
“We haven’t really talked about it yet as far as what’s best for him, but if he can play both it’s only going to help him come call-up time,” he said. “You want that flexibility.”
“I love playing center, I take pride in my faceoff and a big guy down low is nice to have too, but wherever is going to help the team out I’ll play,” said Woods.