Expectations for Canes Prospects: CHL

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It’s time for the mammoth portion of this series! The Canes have a total of seven players in the CHL right now, with five in the WHL and two in the OHL. Ron Francis and his team have been drafting a balanced mix of players, so the amount of prospects in the CHL is a little more even with the others right now. Carolina has a good group of prospects in the CHL as of right now, and some of them will likely earn a contract before June 1. Jeremy Helvig, Noah Carroll, and Hudson Elynuik all have to be signed by June 1st, otherwise they will become free agents. I don’t believe that any of those players are eligible to re-enter the draft, so if left unsigned, they would just hit free agency. This article will be a bit longer than both of the others, and that’s due to the amount of footage we get from CHL teams. I’m able to look at videos of most of our CHL prospects, and I also had the opportunity to view all of them at Traverse City. So expect this to be a little more detailed than the others.

Jeremy Helvig

Helvig has had another fantastic season, and you’d have to be oblivious to say otherwise. Looking at you, local media. Granted, it is his overage year. Since he was drafted as a 19 year old, he’s currently playing in the OHL as a 21 year old. Still, his numbers are fantastic. He’s improved steadily since we drafted him, even if his team has gotten worse. In his draft year, Kingston had Lawson Crouse, Warren Foegele, Roland McKeown, and other players to help carry some of the workload. In the two years since we drafted him, Kingston has struggled a bit. Last season, they had a very young team, and not a whole lot of legitimate talent on the roster. Sure, Jason Robertson can score goals, but Helvig really bailed the team out on most nights. He’s gotten more support this season, and Kingston had to take advantage of that. It’s their last season with a really solid goalie, and they’re going to make it count. They brought in loads of talent to help Helvig, and naturally, his numbers have improved. Helvig is a large goalie, at 6’4, but he’s not leaky like some big goalies are. He’s athletic, and is able to get from post to post quicker than most goalies can at his age. He had the tendency to drift a lot during prospects camp and the Traverse City tournament, but he’s looked a little more comfortable staying put this season. You’d have to think that the Hurricanes offer him a contract. He’s got NHL potential, and he’s earned a contract based on his play in Kingston over the past three years. Expect Helvig’s numbers to get a little better thanks to the better roster, and expect him to be one of Kingston’s best players in the playoffs.

Noah Carroll

Carroll has had a very good season with the OHL’s best team. I’ve been really critical of him in the past, even for a sixth round pick. He seems like the type of player that will never be a great NHLer, but will always be a good AHL player. Phil DiGiuseppe but on defense. Carroll is an above average passer for a defenseman, and can exit the zone with little difficulty at the junior level. He struggles to do the same thing against better competition, but has done a much better job of that this season. Carroll’s shot isn’t great, but it’s a little better than Luke Martin’s shot. His shot finds the net a bit more, and he’s a little quicker to release his shot than Martin. The biggest concern for Carroll is if he’ll be able to play the game at the pro level. He’s got enough talent to become a professional hockey player, but his decision making is poor at times. A lot of the issues that I have with his game remind me of the issues some Niagra fans had with Josh Wesley. He was good in both ends, but would make that one turnover that led to a goal. Carroll has gotten better at this, so hopefully it’s an encouraging sign. He’s on pace for a career year, and has already set a career high in assists with 21. If the Canes do sign him, they’ll almost certainly give him a year or two with the Everblades to strengthen his game and adjust to playing against stronger players. I expect Carroll’s numbers to go up at about the same pace, and he’ll likely continue to play big minutes for the Greyhounds.

Hudson Elynuik

He’s gotten a ringing endorsement from Zach Boychuk in the past. Boychuk said he was a tall kid that could skate like the wind, and both of those statements check out. Elynuik is 6’5, and his speed has been one of his most improved assets since we drafted him. Thanks to more leg strength, Elynuik can fly by opponents. He uses this to his advantage, scoring goals by lowering the shoulder and driving the net. If he doesn’t score, he creates a scoring chance that his teammates can then follow up on. Elynuik was invited to the Checkers on an amateur tryout after his team failed to make the playoffs, but he never played in a game with the Checkers. Instead, he was able to work on his game while playing with professional players. This helped him adjust to the pro game a little bit, and you can already start to see the improvements pay off. He’s noticeably stronger, and his speed has been a huge asset for him this season. He’s grown more confident in front of the net, and has become a much better passer this season. He is on pace for a career year, where he’ll at least match his point totals from last season. Elynuik definitely deserves a contract, and will be able to make the Checkers better next season when some players move to the NHL. Elynuik’s upside is up in the air, however. I used to think that he only had bottom six talent and would be a third line grinder at best. After a couple years of development, my opinion has changed. I still think that Elynuik will likely be a third line player at the NHL level, but his style of play has more power to it. He’ll be a left winger that can drive the net for a goal here and there, but he’ll also be able to set his teammates up for goals. Elynuik has definitely earned a contract, and I think that giving him a tryout at the end of last season really helped his game. He’ll likely start in the AHL next season, and could be ready for the NHL after a year or two of development at the pro level.

Jake Bean

A lot of us got a good look at Bean this year since he stayed in camp a lot longer than other players. Bean had some great plays in the preseason, and was one of the best defensemen when it came to exiting the zone with the puck. Bean was the best skater, making things almost seem effortless out on the ice. It’s similar to Joni Pitkanen, who was a great skater, but he made it look easy. It’s why fans thought he never cared, and whatnot. Bean is going to be a really special NHLer someday, it will just take him another year to get there. A lot of his struggles in camp stemmed from turnovers and missed assignments that could have been avoided if he played against pro competition. There’s still no doubt in my mind that Bean is a special player. He’s just not used to how Bill Peters runs our defense. Since the Canes drafted him, they’ve really pushed Bean to not only get stronger, but to improve his defensive play as well. It’s why his goal totals haven’t been high. Bean is a smart hockey player, and he knows that NHL defensemen aren’t easy to move around. In the WHL, Bean can cut around players and easily wire a shot top shelf. In the NHL, that’s not going to be very effective. He’s adjusted his game to account a lot more for defense. Instead of being 80% offense, he’s toned it down to about 60% since his draft year. He’s gotten a lot better at covering gaps in his own end, and his decision making with the puck has become less predictable. Bean learned from his experiences in the preseason, which is really encouraging. Smart hockey players know how to fine tune their game in order to improve, and Bean has done exactly that. The first time someone stole one of his passes in the neutral zone, he was able to adjust. The next time, he waited an extra second before dishing out the puck, allowing the Canes to enter the offensive zone effectively. It’s a small adjustment, but it went a long way for his game. If he’s able to do this on a consistent basis, he won’t be in the AHL for very long. He was a force on a pretty terrible Calgary Hitmen team, and he’s playing even better with Tri-City. Since he already has an NHL contract, there’s no need to look for him to earn a contract. He’s already improved on his game a lot since we drafted him, and he might make the Canes out of camp if he works hard enough. Based on how the third pairing has been this season, that spot is wide open for him.

Stelio Mattheos

Man, he was impossible to stop for a while, but he’s been a little quiet as of late. He’ll occasionally score or grab an assist or two, but for a while, he was having multi-point games left and right. Brandon surprisingly sold at the deadline this season, trading away two of their better players in order to get better in the long run. Two players that Mattheos shared minutes with were traded away, which is likely the cause of his dip in production. Still, Mattheos is a talented forward with top nine upside. A lot of scouts really liked his speed and pace of play, but thought that he lacked any legitimate offensive skills. Prior to this season, he had spent most of his time as Brandon’s second line center, which was a more defensive role for him. This season, he’s been much more active both on and off the puck. He’s been scoring a lot more, already setting a career high in goals with 31. His point totals are already higher this season than they were last season, which is cause for celebration in itself. Mattheos has gotten a little stronger this season, but has worked on his positioning a lot. He parks himself in front of the net on some situations, but also tends to creep in behind the play unnoticed. When the puck comes to him, he’s left all alone for an easy goal. His shot has definitely improved, and it’s much more accurate than it was in camp. He has one go to move that works really well against WHL players, but won’t work in the NHL. He cuts to the outside, then lowers the shoulder. Once he hits the circles, he protects the puck, cuts inside, and then beats the goalie in close while fending off a defender. It’s a great showcase of his strength, but I’m not sure if NHL players will have much of a problem defending that. Still, it’s great to see a young player that’s stronger than most of his competition.

There’s the move I just talked about. Not many WHL defenders are able to stop that.

I expect him to have a slightly disappointing end of the season on paper, but it will be due to his teammates getting traded. There’s not a glaring need for improvement in his game. He seems to be a jack of all trades player, but he’s improving most aspects of his game every time he steps on the ice. It’s incredibly encouraging, and he might be a fun player to keep an eye on in the future. What I’ve noticed more  and more from Mattheos is his ability to effectively kill penalties. He’s tough on the puck, and he really makes opposing forwards work for their chances. Not only that, but he can score shorthanded goals, too. It’s not often that you get a player that’s dangerous on the penalty kill, but Mattheos can really make teams pay for ther mistakes. Just the other night he scored a shorthanded goal to put the Wheat Kings up 3-1. Penalty killing is valued at a premium under this management, so I’m sure they’ve taken notice. Mattheos likely won’t sign a contract this season, and will almost certainly spend next year in the WHL. The video below is clearly from last season, but it’s the best I can find. He’s gotten a whole lot better since then, I promise.

Brendan De Jong

I really like De Jong, but not a lot of people know about him. He’s a 19 year old player that the Canes drafted as a overage player. He’s your typical shutdown defenseman, although his offensive capabilities have been showcased as of late. When the World Juniors rolled around, De Jong was called upon to take on a much bigger role for Portland while some of his teammates were at the tournament. He did an excellent job, and his coach was impressed with the work he put forth. He was able to produce a little bit, notching a couple assists here and there. This season, De Jong hasn’t scored a whole lot. It’s not because he’s been snakebit or because he hasn’t done well, it’s just because he’s not in a scoring role. He’s relied upon to be a solid defender that is a threat in his own end. He’s 6’5, and breaks up a lot of plays due to his long reach. In Traverse City, we saw some really great defensive plays from him. He’d break up a play with his stick, and then pass the puck to a teammate. Some issues with his game were addressed this season, and he’s shown improvement in all of them. His skating was the biggest issue. He hadn’t quite adjusted to his size yet, so he was a little slower than you’d expect a 6’5 kid to be. After a good off-season, he’s improved his speed and acceleration a good amount. It’s now noticeably harder for opponents to get around him, and it’s definitely one of the reasons why Portland doesn’t allow a lot of goals most nights. De Jong’s speed has definitely helped his defensive coverage, which was another struggle for him at times during the summer. He’d get caught flat footed in the offensive zone, and it would lead to a goal or a good chance most of the time. This doesn’t happen nearly as much, although you’d like to see that improvement against better prospects this summer. Turnovers were a bit of an issue, but he’s definitely gotten better now that he’s seen what an NHL team wants from him. He’ll still have a few, but he sees the ice a lot better now, and thinks one move ahead. De Jong’s offensive game has improved a bit, and his most recent game was a really outstanding two point effort. He was named first star of the game with a goal and a primary assist. I tweeted about it a little, but I’ll provide more details here. He scored after he faked a shot, cut to the outside for space, and then fired a shot from the point. It’s an effective move that he used in Traverse City, but his shot is a good bit better now. It’s simple, but can work really well if he uses it right. His assist was on a nice transition play. He gathered the puck off of a rebound from the Portland goalie, and then carried it up ice. He definitely had gotten faster, because he was out-skating some forwards. He then made a nice saucer pass, allowing for his teammate to score. De Jong has some NHL upside, but it might take him a little while to get there. I expect him to get even better as the season goes along, and for him to have a deep run into the playoffs. He likely won’t get an NHL contract until next season.

Highlight’s of De Jong’s two point game are here

Morgan Geekie

Geekie has had another fantastic season, even with some of the injuries that the Tri-City roster has faced. He himself was out for several games, but is healthy now and ready for a playoff run. Geekie has cemented himself as a top forward on Tri-City, and he’s not going to be replaced. I really like Geekie’s game, and I think that he could definitely make an impact at the pro level if the Canes decide to give him a contract this season. He’s worked on his skating a bit, which was his biggest weakness when the Canes drafted him. Geekie is noticeably quicker, and a lot of it has to do with improving his acceleration. He has decent speed, it just took him a while to get there. That’s not as much of an issue anymore, which is encouraging to see. Geekie has a lot of offensive tools at his disposal. He’s strong, a great shooter, a better passer, and can crash the net. He’s got everything that an NHL coach would want, it’s just a matter of speed. If he can improve on that, then he’ll be good to go for the next level. He’s been able to produce at well over a point per game pace, even without Michael Rasmussen, who has missed half of the season due to injury. If Rasmussen were on the roster, I think Geekie’s numbers would go up. The good thing about Geekie is that he’s able to produce at even strength and on the power play. He has little upside in terms of penalty killing, but that’s just fine for a player with offensive talent. Geekie is able to drive play in all three zones, and he can effectively position himself for the right play in the offensive zone. He looks to be like the type of player that can either play the front of the net or the half wall on the power play. He’s a pretty big guy, so he’d be able to position himself in front of the net and find the back of the net on a lot of plays. Geekie’s release is phenomenal, and his shot velocity is great as well. He’d be a dangerous weapon once he bulks up a bit. Geekie’s playmaking prowess would be shown if he was the guy on the wall for the power play. He sees the ice really well, and is able to make a play that a number of pro hockey players wouldn’t be able to make. It would require him to constantly move his feet, however, so he’ll need to work up to that point. Still, the idea of having him on the second unit someday makes me excited for the future. I expect him to continue improving his game, and I think that his numbers will go up once Rasmussen is healthy. Geekie might earn an NHL contract at the end of this season, but I don’t think it’s too likely. The Hurricanes have a lot of prospects as it is, and I’m sure they’ll want Geekie to spend as much time developing as possible. Of course, if he’s outgrown the WHL, then maybe it’s time to give him a look in Charlotte. This highlight video is a year old, but just look at how good his shot was then. Now imagine his game now that he’s a year older and a good bit better.

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