Sebastian Aho is one of the brightest spots in a suddenly deep group of Canes prospects.
After releasing my first article on Sunday to a pretty shocking amount of praise (thank you Caniacs <3) I immediately started trying to decide my next piece. I decided that I’d give the fans an in-depth look at the future of the Hurricanes organization, by giving an opinionated outlook on our prospects on their way to the NHL. Todays article will focus on the Canes top 10 prospects, their strengths, potential, and estimated NHL arrival. Enjoy.
So, for starters, due to already playing a handful of games at the NHL level, young players I’ve excluded from “prospect” status are Phil Di Giuseppe, Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce. Now let’s get started.
Considering the number of prospects the Canes have, clearly not everyone can make the Top 10 list, so I’ll start off with a few honorable mentions that, while not in my top 10, have a bright future and are worthy of being named. Again, not everyone can be mentioned.
F Warren Foegele: (6’2, 192lbs) 2014 3rd round pick, Foegele, a forward, transferred from New Hampshire Univ. to the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL where he scored 13 goals and 35 assists in 52 games. He currently has 8 goals and 2 assists in 7 playoff games. He could be a nice fit in the Canes bottom-6 down the road.
F Andrew Poturalski: (5’10, 190) The Canes’ FA signing out of New Hampshire Univ., 22-year old Poturalski was named a first-team NCAA all-star after a season where he scored 22 goals and 52 points in 37 games. He’s been playing with the Charlotte Checkers on an AHL PTO, where he’s registered 2 goals and 3 assists in 14 games. He has potential to be a depth scorer at the NHL level.
Finishing up the honorable mentions list is Swiss F Gregory Hofmann (6’0, 201) a 2011 Canes draft pick. Long considered to have the makings of a good two-way NHL player, Hofmann had a career year in the Swiss-A league with 17 goals and 31 points in 46 games, as well as 4 goals and 2 assists in 10 playoff games. However, with his 24th birthday approaching in November, no North American hockey experience and yet to sign his entry-level contract, Hofmann is starting to seem like a longshot to make it to the NHL.
Now, we get into my top-10 Canes prospects. Feel free to agree or disagree, make your own list, critique, etc. Discussion is always welcomed. Here we go.
10.Brock McGinn (W): Canes fans have already got a glimpse of what the 6’0, 185lb winger can do. He made his NHL debut this season, and scored a goal on his first NHL shift. He played 21 games with the Canes, scoring 3 goals but sporting a -14 rating. He fought injury in the AHL but has managed 17 goals and 14 assists in 45 games with 2 games remaining in Charlotte’s season. McGinn, a hard working, gritty player with some scoring touch, can play anywhere in the lineup. Ideally, McGinn is a player who you’d want in your bottom-6, a physical presence who can add depth scoring. He has a legitimate chance to make the Canes 2016-17 opening night roster.
9.Lucas Wallmark (C): Wallmark, the Canes 4th round pick in 2014, has a skillset very comparable to Elias Lindholm. A natural center, Wallmark is touted for his playmaking ability, two-way play and leadership. The soon-to-be 21 year old should make the move over to North America this offseason, after notching a team-leading 24 assists and 32 points with Lulea HF of the Swedish League. He also has 7 goals in 9 playoff games. The knock against Wallmark is his skating, which may not be as big of a factor on smaller North American ice. Wallmark, who has no North American hockey experience, is likely to begin the season with Charlotte as he adjusts to the game. He likely projects as a solid 2nd or great 3rd line center with do-it-all potential for the Hurricanes.
8.Valentin Zykov (RW): Zykov is an interesting prospect. He was a projected 2013 1st round pick after a 40-goal season in the QMJHL, but he slid to LA at #37. Since then its been up and down for Zykov, never quite being able to match his draft-year production. He was acquired at the deadline as the main piece in the Kris Versteeg trade, and had played 43 games with 7 goals and 7 assists with LA’s AHL team. He’s been injured since before the trade and has yet to play with Charlotte. If he can get his game back on track, his physicality and scoring ability will make him a nice fit in the Canes top-9.
7.Aleksi Saarela (C): Saarela will have some big shoes to fill, as he was the main piece acquired in the Eric Staal deal. Saarela, just 19 years old, led his SM-Liiga team by scoring 20 goals and adding 13 assists on the year. He was also a factor for the Finnish goal-medal winning WJC team, where he has 4 goals and 3 assists in 7 games. A gifted offensive player, Saarela will have to rely on his speed and scoring ability to succeed at the NHL level, where he projects as a top-2 center, despite his smaller stature of 5’10 190. It’s likely Saarela stays in Finland for the 2016-17 season.
6.Roland McKeown (D): Roland McKeown, the current Captain of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, is a solid prospect. He has 11 points in 7 playoff games as a defenseman, after finishing the season with 42 points in 59 games and earning a spot on Canada’s WJC team. McKeown has great hockey sense and is an effective two-way defenseman. His size of 6’1 200lbs won’t limit him defensively, and his passing and shooting ability is solid. Due to the Canes young defensive depth, its hard to see exactly where he’ll fit, but McKeown has the makings of a top-4 defenseman. He will turn pro next year and, unless he steals a spot in camp, should start next season developing with the Charlotte Checkers.
5.Sergey Tolchinsky (RW): Tolchinsky is a name that Canes fans have been intrigued about since his signing in 2013. After putting up back-to-back 90+ point seasons in the OHL, Tolchinsky turned pro with Charlotte, where he’s currently 3rd on the team with 36 points as a rookie. He also made his Canes debut, registering an assist and playing in 2 games. Tolchinsky, an undersized forward at 5’8 170, has a good shot, blazing speed, soft hands, and great vision + passing ability. His defensive game still needs work, but he’s been willing and has been improving in that area as a pro. Tolchinsky has all the tools to be a dangerous top-9 scoring forward, and, for a team searching for offense, Tolchinsky has a chance to make the Canes opening night roster in 2016-17.
4.Nicolas Roy (C): It’s very likely that when looked back upon, Nicolas Roy will be heralded as the steal of the 2015 draft. Plucked in the 4th round by the Canes, the former QMJHL’s 1st overall pick had yet to have a breakout season, accumulating just 16 goals and 50 points in 68 games in his draft year. Still a projected 2nd-round pick, 6’4, 196lb Roy fell to the Canes in the 4th, likely due to character concerns after Roy decided not to report to the QMJHL team that drafted him. Nevertheless, Roy led the QMJHL this season in goal scoring, registering 48 goals to go along with 42 assists. He signed his entry-level deal las week, but, considering his age of just 19 years old, he won’t be eligible to play for Charlotte next season. Therefore, if Roy doesn’t make the Canes he’ll be returned to Chicuotimi of the Q for another season. Roy, a gifted 2 way center very comparable to Jordan Staal, projects as a top-2 center in the NHL and is the gem of a very deep and skilled group of centers in the Hurricanes system.
3.Haydn Fleury (D): Fleury, when drafted 7th overall in 2014, was labeled to be the Canes’ “next big thing” on the blueline. Since then, the Canes drafted Noah Hanifin, and the quick and surprising development of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce has put a halt in Fleury’s rush to the NHL. His size (6’3, 207 lbs) and offensive ability (41 pts in 56 games in 2015-16) coupled with his defensive instincts should make Fleury reach his potential as a top-4 defenseman. However, considering the logjam the Canes currently have on defense – Fleury is likely to start his pro career in the AHL, as the 3 young dmen, Faulk, Wiznewski and Ron Hainsey are certainly ahead of him on the depth chart. Fleury could also be used as trade bait to bring in a young scoring forward that the Canes have been looking for, or to potentially move up in the draft. It’ll be an interesting storyline to follow.
2.Alex Nedeljkovic (G): Nedeljkovic, the Canes lone goaltending prospect in the top-10, was the 2013-14 OHL goalie of the year in the year he was drafted. The Canes snagged him in the 2nd round, and since then he has made steady progress, including winning a bronze medal as the starting goaltender for Team USA at the 2015-16 WJC. What Nedeljkovic lacks in size (5’11, 195lbs) he makes up for with his quickness, butterfly style and positioning. Likely 2-3 years away from the big league, Nedeljkovic will start 2016-17 either in the AHL or ECHL, improving his game over the next couple seasons until he should be ready to take over in the Canes crease. He has legit starter potential.
1.Sebastian Aho (C/W): The cream of the Canes prospect crop, young Finnish forward Sebastian Aho was virtually unknown when the Hurricanes took him 35th overall. Some labeled the pick a reach, a bust, while others such as myself took the wait-and-see approach. Was it ever worth it. Just 7 months after being drafted, Aho tore up the WJC and finishing 2nd in scoring with 5 goals and 9 assists in 7 games, assistant-captaining his team to the Gold medal. Draft eligible by just a few weeks, the still 18-year old Aho also led his SM-Liiga team in scoring, with 20 goals and 25 assists in 45 games, finishing 2nd in league MVP voting. He’s currently leading all playoff scorers with 13 points in 11 games. He outproduced his teammate and projected top-3 pick Jesse Puljujarvi by 17 points, despite playing less games. Aho, a great two way forward with impeccable offensive talent, can play center or wing – but will likely be a winger due to the Canes depth at center. Projected to be a top-line player, don’t shocked to see the soon-to-be 19-year old Aho on Canes ice next season, potentially even on the opening night roster.
In just 2 seasons, the Canes have gone from having virtually no high-level prospects to speak of, to having an abundance of young talent at every position. Combine that with the 7 picks the Canes have in the top-90 this year (including 2 first rounders) the future is looking brighter and brighter for Canes fans every passing day. And surely some of these young prospects and/or draft picks will be moved for immediate help, with Ron Francis already confirming the Canes will be “active” on Draft Day. The offseason ahead will be very important and, very exciting, for the Canes and their fans. Never a dull moment to be a Caniac.
Article by Alex Ohari of weliveforhockey.com