May 26, 2009. 2,840 days ago.
That’s the last time the Carolina Hurricanes and their fans participated in a playoff game. And, barring a miraculous Andrew Hammond-esque run, the drought will continue into 2018. With the Canes sitting dead last in the East, the focus once again shifts to “next season”, where the Canes could have a drastically different roster from this season. Maybe some prospects come in and earn their spot, so lets take a look at how the Canes’ prospects are faring this year.
It’s worth noting that the Canes are currently the youngest team in the NHL, with their entire core of players – Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, Teuvo Teravainen, Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce, Noah Hanifin and even Ryan Murphy all yet to reach their 25th birthday. The Canes have built their foundation on skilled youth, and looking into their prospect pool, much of the same is on the way. Lets get started.
Acquired in the Eric Staal trade, 19-year old Aleksi Saarela has had a wild season. He broke his wrist in camp, missed the Canes prospect camp and the beginning of his Finnish league year, where he was loaned to an inferior team Lukko Rouma. He started slow (just 5 points in 19 games) but since has heated up and has scored 8 goals and 17 points in his last 26 games, and is among the top U20 players in that league. Unfortunately he skipped the WJC this year (where he had 7 points in 7 games alongside Sebastian Aho in 2016) so I haven’t seen him play this year, but the speedy, hard-shooting forward has the tools to play alongside Aho again, next time in the NHL. He’s got top-9 potential.
Gregory Hofmann, taken 1 pick ahead of Johnny Gaudreau in the 4th round in 2011, skates like a missile and has some scoring ability, with 29 goals and 59 points in 91 games over the last 2 seasons with Lugano of Swiss-A. Now 24, if he makes it to the NHL it’ll be as a bottom-6 energy guy, comparable to Viktor Stalberg, but Hofmann stands just 5’10 180lbs. The Swiss league is an amazing league for local players, so I’d bet against Hofmann leaving there to play in the AHL. So at this point, it’s a longshot that Hofmann will ever amount to anything for the Hurricanes, but he’s still pretty young and has some nice skills.
After an early season injury, Jake Bean has been exactly as billed for the Calgary Hitman of the WHL, with 37 points in 36 games on a bad team. Bean is one of only 2 players averaging over one PPG on his team, and played a top-4 role for Canada at the WJC. Adding some weight and working on D zone positioning would be beneficial for Bean, who has time to develop considering the Canes’ young defensive depth. Down the road, Bean has the tools to be top-4 D who runs the top powerplay unit.
Julien Gauthier showed what he can do for Canada at the WJC, where he scored 5 goals and 7 points in 7 games. His goal-scoring totals have taken a step back in the QMJHL this year, but his size (6’4, 225lbs) and skill will make him an effective player in the NHL. I know fans love to rush prospects, but if Gauthier is on the Canes 2017-18 opening night roster, something will have gone wrong. He’s still at least a year away in my opinion, and he can benefit from fine-tuning his game in the QMJHL or at the AHL level.
The former #1 pick in the QMJHL draft, the Canes stole Nicolas Roy in the 4th round in 2015. After his draft year, he went on to lead that league in goals with 48 in 2016, and has followed that up with 32 goals and 72 points in 47 games this season. He also added 3 goals and an assist for Canada at the WJC while being lauded as one of, if not maybe their best all around player. At 6’4, 207lbs he’s ready for the NHL physically, and at 20 years old will turn pro next season. Maybe he impresses and earns a roster spot in camp, but I’d look for Roy to start his career in the AHL and continue to develop his all-around game. At worst he’ll be a high end 3C in the NHL.
Janne Kuokkanen has transitioned well to NA ice, and is scoring over a point per game with the London Knights of the OHL. In a team stacked with NHL talent, Kuokkanen has fit in very nicely, and continues to develop his game. He’s a ways away from the NHL, but he’s drawn comparisons to Mikael Granlund, so there’s a lot of reason to be excited about this kid.
Warren Foegele is another kid who will turn pro next season, and he’s taken a nice step forward in the OHL this year, upping his goals from 13 to 22 with a month to go in the OHL season. A very respected 2-way force, Foegele was traded to the powerhouse Erie Otters, and has a chance to win a Memorial Cup with them which would give him valuable experience. Foegele can be a good bottom-6 FWD with good upside down the line, and at 6’2 190lbs, has the size, natural ability and smarts to be a very capable NHL player.
Considering how he played in the Swedish league last year and at WJCs, the arrival of Lucas Wallmark shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. A fourth-round gem, Wallmark has been terrific for Charlotte, leading the team with 19 goals, earning rookie of the month honours in January and is second on the team in scoring as a 21-year old rookie. The AHL is a hard league to play in and most rookies tend to really struggle, but Wallmark has adapted perfectly from overseas and, to me, should be the next in line to be called up from Charlotte. This kid has earned an NHL look, and his all-around two way game make him a good bet to be a Carolina Hurricane in the near future.
When the Canes traded Kris Versteeg for Valentin Zykov last season, they were hoping this was a kid who’s lost his way and could get back on track with new scenery. Francis was right. Zykov has doubled his output from last year, has 14 goals and 29 points in 54 games with Charlotte, good for 3rd on the team. A big bodied guy, Zykov has the tools and ability to be an effective NHLer, and the former QMJHL rookie of the year has potentially earned himself a call-up at some point down the stretch. The other Russian, Sergey Tolchinsky hasn’t be as fortunate. He’s actually taken a bit of a step back this year, which could be due to coaching. Due to his immense skill level and his quality NHL tape from last season, I’m not ready to give up on him, but he just turned 22 and is running out of time considering the boatload of prospects the Canes have on the way. He’ll need to rebound in a huge way next year, or I could see his window of oppurtunity slamming shut.
Haydn Fleury, the Canes #7 overall pick in 2014, has been the Checkers best defenseman as an AHL rookie and deserves a call-up. Roland McKeown has had ups and downs but the Canes brass is high on him and he has the tools to be an NHL d-man. Andrew Poturalski leads the team in points as a rookie but lacks ideal NHL size. Alex Nedeljkovic and Daniel Altshuller have both shown their good and their bad sides and are developing slowly but surely.
The long list of Canes propsects goes on, with a good number of them also at the college level. I can’t mention everybody, so the ones I mentioned today are the most popular and most touted, and probably the closest to making it to the NHL. As you can see, the Canes aren’t short on quality prospects, however they do lack a complete game changer, but with 7 of the first 90 picks and 11 overall in the 2017 draft, the Canes are in great shape moving forward, already having the highest rated expected pick & prospect value in the NHL.