The Carolina Hurricanes have a highly underrated prospect system. I’ll admit, I even was taken aback by how deep their system is, at all 3 positions. Recently, I wrote about the Hurricanes PK, why it requires highly skilled & smart hockey players. Taking a look at the Hurricanes system, it is very obvious they have gone for smart, skilled players. Hurricanes fans have a keen interest in a few of them, but I’ve added some that may not be high on the radar.
Let’s start in goal, the most important position. Ward and Lack, while steady, are not ideal candidates to have long-term. Coaching the OHL, I see a lot of video and there is one goaltender who separated himself last season, Alex Nedeljkovic. He announced himself at the World Juniors, backstopping the Americans to a medal that many argued, the team didn’t deserve.
Alex Nedeljkovic, G
Ned, as many of his teammates call him, spent his OHL time last season split with Flint and Niagara. Flint was an absolute mess last season, on and off the ice. More nights than not, Ned would see 40+ shots. This guy is used to high quantity and quality scoring chances. He’s very calm in the net because he reads the play so well, rarely overreacting to developing plays. His flexibility enables him to move laterally (post to post), like no goaltender in his age group. He’s very technically sound, with quiet feet, meaning he won’t get caught “swimming” in the crease. Adding to his lateral movement, his reflexes give him a glove hand that is tough to beat, even on a cross-ice pass. He challenges well, and exudes confidence, a key to success as a goaltender. He will adjust to the pro-game in the AHL and I would expect him to be Carolina’s starter in 17/18 or 18/19 season.
The Canes have some good defensive prospect depth in the pipeline with Fleury, Carroll, and McKeown. Couple that with Hanifin’s young age and Justni Faulk, it has the makings a good core going forward. The common theme in all of them is their ability to make good first passes and manage the puck well.
Haydn Fleury, D
A brilliant skater, Fleury has the footwork necessary to make it in today’s NHL. After a tough season last year, he has rebounded nicely, coming to camp stronger and has been the most important part of the Checkers blue-line. He’s an offensive d-man, who has been a minute-muncher at every level. With the focus shifted to his defensive play, he projects to be a No.2/3 D-man who will be an effective part of special teams. His offensive flair will see him run a PP unit in Carolina, and his ability to skate and close down opponents fits right into the Canes PK. He’s had a nice start in the AHL, expect him to get the call if injuries hit. If not, I would imagine he’s up full-time next season, likely in a starring role, alongside Hanifin.
Noah Carroll, D
Carroll is a very raw prospect, who is relatively new to the position. He made the switch to D in his OHL draft year, so his forward to backward transitions still are a work in progress. However, he is one of the OHL’s smoothest backwards skaters. He’s got an average shot, but he’s got a knack for getting his wrist shot through, creating many opportunities at the net. One of his best attributes is his puck management. He moves it efficiently, very rarely turning it over, and makes a solid first pass. Very often, his crisp first pass leads to a controlled zone entry for his team, very important. On a young Canes blue line, don’t expect to see him for a few years as he needs to develop in the AHL.
Roland McKeown, D
The GTHL and Kingston Frontenacs product is an elite skater to go along with an innate ability to distribute the puck. He’s a one-man breakout machine, something every NHL team needs. He finds passing lanes that don’t seem to be there, until the puck is there. For this reason, don’t be surprised to see him on the Canes PP, running the unit. This will allow the pair of Faulk and Hanifin to play the PK and match-up down the road, lessening the overall load. He’s not as physical as he should be, but he’s strong along the boards, often winning battles. With his frame, if he can improve his physical game, he projects to be a No. 4, two-way guy. Bottom line: he keeps it simple, skates well and moves the puck. Think, Roman Josi.
Moving up front, the Canes have a few prospects that are loaded with talent. They are complete players, who are good skaters and have the ability to read the play. A variety of passers and finishers, don’t be surprised to see these players in Carolina’s top 6 in short order.
Sebastian Aho, RW/C
Aho is one of the great finds in his draft year. He has the innate ability to play with superstars, evidence by his performance at the World Juniors with Laine and Puljujarvi. One of the most impressive parts of his game is his play without the puck. Playing pro in Finland with Karpat, his defensiveness awareness and ability to “take care of the puck” shone. His stick is in passing lanes, often leading to takeaways, he closes down really well, and has a unique ability to transition the puck, quickly. His speed and smarts create space for his line mates, often finding them open for scoring chances, like this. Should Gauthier or Koukkanen pan out as a goal scorer, Aho would be the ideal centre.
Warren Foegele, LW/C
Foegele, drafted out of St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, now plays a key role for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. Having watched him come up through the ranks, he’s as consistent as they come, on and off the ice. He’s a ring leader in the gym and his work ethic earns high praise from the coaching staff. He’s a great skater, that really drives with his stride. He’s not gifted offensively, but has the ability to be a distribute the puck well, which is why he’s used on the PP. A big body, who can read plays well, he is Kington’s most trusted face off man and penalty killer. In order to make the jump to the NHL, he’s got to simplify his game. Sometimes he tries to do a little too much offensively, and it makes him less effective. He needs to work on his shot, as it isn’t a pro-level release. More importantly, he bails out, meaning doesn’t take a hit to make the play. That’s an important factor. Should he adjust this, he’s a solid 3rd liner with some offensive flair and a great reader of the play.
Julien Gauthier, RW
At 6’4, 225 lbs, Gauthier is one of the most physically developed prospects in recent memory, save for Aaron Ekblad. The son of a professional weightlifter, there is no doubting his strength. His frame makes him one of the hardest players to knock off the puck in junior hockey. Couple this with his ability to release the puck in stride and with velocity, it makes him a power forward. Think Nick Bjugstad, Jamie Benn & Rick Nash. He’s got 19 points (6G,13A) in 16 games this season, using his puck skills to set up teammates. Scouts are impressed with the hands he has for a big man. He’s scored at every level, so that much doesn’t seem to worry anyone, either. He figures to be a key part of Canada’s junior team this winter. I wouldn’t shock me if Gauthier caused some teams to lose sleep down the road for passing on him at the draft. Riding shotgun with Aho, there are goals in his future, lots of them.
Janne Kuokkanen, C
Here’s your first clue that this kid is good: He’s playing for the London Knights. The Knights are an NHL factory, and the Hunters have a habit of producing NHL-ready, highly-skilled, well-rounded players. Kuokkanen’s strongest asset is his hockey sense and ability to distribute the puck. He’s an elite passer that sees the ice really well. He anticipates plays, allowing him to find open space when his team has the puck, and create turnovers when his team doesn’t have the puck. He handles the puck calmly, especially in tight spaces and is lethal below the face off dots. Good in his own end, his agile skating allows him to stop and start, while his stick takes care of the passing lanes. He lacks game-breaking ability, but I suspect the year in London will do wonders for his confidence at both ends of the ice. Think Mikkel Granlund, with less flare; a solid 2nd line winger.
Nicolas Roy, C
At 6’4, 203 lbs, Nicolas Roy is a hulking middle-man. Many scouts had him pegged in the late 1st, but a less than stellar draft year saw him slip. With his size and skill, Roy has the potential to dominate the middle of the ice. Though he is not speedy, he has a good stride, a deceptive set of hands, and a knack for finding the quiet areas to create high danger scoring opportunities. In the offensive zone, he is dominant on the cycle, as defenders have a tough time dealing with his frame and skill. There were worries about his defensive game in his draft year, but his play on the defensive side of the puck has steadily improved. He’s got all the tools to be a strong power forward, with two-way capability; likely, a good 2nd line centre and PP weapon. Look for him to play for Canada at the 2017 WJC.
Aleksi Saarela, C
At 5’10, Saarela is a diminutive forward with exceptional acceleration. He gets to top-speed quicker than most in his age group and it allows him to create separation. This breakaway acceleration wrecks havoc on defenders and makes him difficult to handle off the rush. He’s a skilled forward with great puck skill, and creates chances for himself and his line mates. He needs a few years to develop, but he’s good defensively and has great hockey IQ. With the absence of Aho, Laine and Puljujarvi at the World Juniors, look for Saarela to star for Finland.
That’s a wrap on the Canes prospects, one of the deepest talent pools in the NHL. The defensive depth is key going forward, and the Canes have many prospects up front that can make an impact. Another guy to watch out for is Tolchinsky, a highly skilled Russian that provides offensive jolt to any line he’s on.