It’s been a really fun season. I’ve had a blast covering the Canes prospects for you all this season, and I hope that Pat isn’t regretting handing the prospects account over to me. I’ve tried to make it fun and interactive for you all, and it’s seemed to be a success. Not all of our prospects’ seasons are over, but it’s looking like the Everblades will still be in the playoffs when I leave for California. Since that’s the case, I’ll be talking about Noah Carroll, the Charlotte Checkers, and the Florida Everblades.
Who were the best?
There are quite a few players that come to mind here. A lot of our prospects had great seasons, and a lot of them saw NHL time. I’ve narrowed it down to the three prospects that had the best seasons this year, and those three players are Warren Foegele, Valentin Zykov, and Alex Nedeljkovic. So why these three? Players like Janne Kuokkanen and Callum Booth both had great rookie seasons, but neither of those players were as dynamic as these three guys. Foegele set the Checkers franchise record for goals as a rookie with 28 goals in 73 regular season games. Foegele had the 11th most goals in the AHL this season, and had the second highest goal totals for rookies behind Daniel Sprong. Foegele looked like a man amongst boys in the regular season, scoring the majority of his goals from close to the crease. He transitioned seamlessly to the AHL, and finished the season with 46 points in 73 games. Foegele finished 8th in rookie scoring as well. Foegele showed Canes fans that he could be a key part of the Hurricanes next season by scoring at a high pace as a rookie. In his brief NHL stint, Foegele wowed the NHL Network crew with his tough but creative style of play. Foegele was almost impossible to knock off the puck, and it allowed for him to score not one but two goals in two games. He also added an assist for three points in two NHL games this season. I loved how he played, and I really wish I could see more of him in the future. Foegele has definitely earned a spot on the NHL roster, and I’d be shocked if he’s not on the team next season.
Valentin Zykov emerged as the AHL’s leading goal scorer this season, edging out former Hurricane Chris Terry by one goal. He finished with 33 goals and 54 total points in 63 games this season. Zykov showed that he could be a pain to play against since he hovers around the net constantly. He’s not the biggest player, but his strength makes it almost impossible to push him out of the crease area. He had a career year, and should be another player on the Canes roster next season. Zykov could do really well in a top nine role. He can tap in those loose pucks that the Canes leave in the crease at least three times a game, and could provide an edge that the Canes need more of. Zykov does a good job of parking himself in front of the net, so he could also get power play time. I don’t think he’ll be the superstar that some Canes fans think he will be, but I do think he will be a good player. Just don’t expect a 30 goal season from him unless he’s playing with Svechnikov or Aho.
Alex Nedeljkovic had a great regular season despite an underwhelming save percentage. We’ll get to that in a moment. Ned had a great season with the Checkers and just looked much more comfortable on the ice. He was making the stops that he couldn’t last season, making highlight reel stops, and even scoring goals. Whenever I mention how good Nedeljkovic is doing, there always has to be the Debbie Downer that goes “bUt MuH sAvE pErCeNtAgE.” Folks, do you look at the Checkers tweets? I know that AHL live isn’t free, but Twitter is. Look at what they tweet whenever Ned lets in a goal. A lot of the time, it’s “the *insert team here* get a breakaway and score” or “they score on an odd man rush.” Ned can’t do much when a lot of the shots he faces are high danger shots. Ned was one of the top goalies in the league in shutouts and wins, and had a phenomenal season overall. Then we get to the playoffs, and he has a phenomenal first round. He shuts Wilkes-Barre/Scranton down, and makes it look easy. Lehigh Valley was a challenge for him during games three and five, but the Checkers weren’t doing him any favors. In the AHL’s longest game, Ned was the Checkers’ best player. I’m serious when I say that Ned could be a Hurricane next season. He won’t be the starter, but I believe that he’s got what it takes to be our backup next season. He’s developed really well this season, and has proven himself at the AHL level. All he needs is confidence in order to make the next step.
The prospect who just missed the cut for the top three is Aleksi Saarela. He had 25 goals this season and finished with 43 points in 69 games. Saarela definitely looked stronger this season, and stayed healthy for the majority of the season. His biggest issue coming into the AHL was that he was prone to injury, and it looks like he’s worked hard to stay conditioned. His lethal shot combined with his speed made him a huge threat to opposing teams, and he was really fun to watch in the playoffs. He was always buzzing in the offensive zone, and seemed to have a scoring chance every shift. Do I think he’s on the roster next season? No, but he’s close. We have a logjam right now, and he’s barely missing the cut. I like him a lot, and think he could be a deadly goal scorer in the future. There’s just no space for him now, and I’d like to see what he can do with a little more training. He’s close though.
Side note: His brother, Antti, is a forward eligible for the 2019 draft. He plays a similar game to Aleksi, but might be a little better at almost everything. Watch out for him next year.
The B List
Now when I say the B list, I don’t mean that they were bad. It’s just that we had so many great prospects this season, which is a great thing. Not every team can have five prospects exceed expectations and be a top player in their league. Rounding out the top five is Janne Kuokkanen, who had a sneaky good season with the Checkers. Kuokkanen was the only player for the Checkers to be named the AHL’s rookie of the month, winning the award in February. Kuokkanen established himself as a playmaker for the Checkers this season, with 29 assists and 40 points in 60 games. He figured out the pace of the pro game, and had good chemistry with Nicolas Roy and Julien Gauthier throughout the season. He started the season with the Canes, appearing in four games where he didn’t make it on the scoresheet. He’ll need another year since the Canes don’t have a whole lot of flexibility on their roster as of right now. Like Saarela, Kuokkanen is close to being NHL ready.
Nicolas Roy had a great rookie season as well. He had 38 points this season while spending most of his time on the fourth line. Roy was dangerous in the playoffs, especially against Lehigh Valley. He and Gauthier did a great job chipping away at the Phantoms, but couldn’t find a way to put the puck in the net. Roy is a lot closer to the NHL than I thought he would be. He’s still working on his speed, but has improved tremendously this season. I like the way he plays, and he could be an effective 4C for the Canes in 2019. I’m not convinced that he can be a top nine forward just yet, but I could see it if he keeps playing this well with Gauthier.
Clark Bishop had a good season with the Checkers after a rough rookie season last year. This season, Bishop had 28 points in 68 games, which doesn’t seem great on the surface, but he’s come a long way in just one year. Bishop has turned into a decent prospect that may have fourth line NHL potential someday. He’s gritty, and can pester opponents in any zone. He’s not going to score a whole lot, but he’ll chip in a goal here and there for good measure.
Roland McKeown had a great second season with the Checkers, and even earned some NHL time. In 65 games with the Checkers this season, McKeown had 23 points and was a plus 34. He has become an excellent two way defenseman, and could challenge for a roster spot next season. He was one of Charlotte’s most consistent defensemen this year, and was arguably their best defenseman in general. McKeown may not be cut out for a top four role just yet, but he’s definitely earned a third pairing role.
Callum Booth had a great ECHL season and did very well in four AHL games. Booth finished the year in Florida with a .911 save percentage in 28 games. In four AHL games, Booth posted a GAA of 1.60 and a save percentage of .941. It’s a small sample size, but encouraging nonetheless. Booth’s development in the ECHL this season should make him ready for the AHL next season. He’s earned a spot on the Checkers, and should play as their backup next season. He made some spectacular saves this season, and was part of the reason why the Everblades were so good. He’s struggled a bit in the playoffs, but has only played in two games. No need to panic.
On the surface, Julien Gauthier had a rough AHL season. In some ways he did, but it wasn’t as bad as it seems. Gauthier struggled to adapt to the AHL at first, and it definitely took some time for him to get up to speed with Charlotte. His ice time dipped, and he voiced his frustration in a French interview. He finished the season with 16 goals and 25 points, which is respectable for a rookie. Gauthier looked like a completely different player in the playoffs. He was faster, more aware away from the puck, and could even cause turnovers in the offensive zone. He was definitely a threat when he stepped on the ice, which shows me that he’ll be an impact player next season. His game may be taking a little longer to develop than Canes fans had originally thought, but he’s definitely showing signs of improvement. His skating has improved a lot, especially when you look at his acceleration. Gauthier isn’t just lumbering down the ice anymore, and his long stride allows for him to pass defenders. He’s still at least a year or two away from being a full-time NHL player, but the improvements he made this season will allow for him to take on a much bigger role in Charlotte next season.
The Other Everblades
Steven Lorentz had a decent season with the Everblades and has had a really solid playoffs as well. His 35 points in 62 games is respectable for a rookie, and could make the jump to the AHL next season. There’s no doubt that he’s physically ready for the AHL, but has his skating improved enough for him to keep pace in a much faster league? The ECHL is definitely a grittier league than the AHL, so it may take some time for Lorentz to adjust to the quicker league. Lorentz currently has two goals and seven points in nine playoff games. He’s been a really consistent player for the Everblades in the playoffs, and he’ll be relied upon as the series against Adirondack goes on. Lorentz is a prospect that will likely be a career AHLer, but he could be a reliable scorer at the AHL level. He’s 22, and will have two more years to show the Hurricanes that he can be more than an AHL player.
Most of Spencer Smallman’s season was spent recovering from shoulder surgery, but he did extremely well in his limited time with the Everblades. He played in 14 games with Florida, tallying 13 points in the process. Smallman definitely adjusted to the pro game well in such a short time, and could definitely be on Charlotte’s roster next season with guys like Foegele heading to the NHL. He’s currently sitting at 10 points in 10 playoff games, which is about what you’d expect based on his point totals this season. It’s hard to say just how much of Smallman’s game developed this season. It could be that he was AHL ready but was in the ECHL due to injury and lack of roster space. Charlotte had a huge roster this season, and roster space could have been an issue. Like Lorentz, Smallman is physically ready for the AHL. He’s quicker and better offensively than Lorentz, and should have no trouble transitioning to the AHL. He’s still only a fourth line player at best, but could be a good one if given a little bit of time. I’ll need to see a lot more of him before then though.
Josh Wesley had a decent ECHL season, but struggled in the AHL once again. It seemed like he wasn’t the same player he was last season. He struggled to get on the scoresheet, and didn’t look comfortable out there. In Charlotte, he played in seven games and only had one assist. In Florida, he played in 21 games, tallying four assists in that time frame. He then spent the rest of the season on the injured reserve due to shoulder surgery. It’s not looking good for Wesley’s future with the Hurricanes organization, and he’s got one year left on his contract to prove us wrong. He’ll have to spend a full season in the AHL for the Canes to consider keeping him, and he’ll have to improve a lot in order for that to happen. He needs to work on limiting turnovers in order to stay on the Checkers. Wesley will never be an offensive threat, so defense is critical to how he plays. If he can’t improve his puck control or how he distributes the puck in the defensive zone, it’ll be tough to improve defensively. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve met, and I’m definitely cheering for him. I’m trying to be as honest as possible, though. If the way he sees the ice doesn’t change, and the turnovers keep happening, there’s a chance that he’ll be searching for a new opportunity next season.
Is Tyler Ganly considered a prospect anymore? He’s in the third year of his injury-riddled ELC, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be playing in the Canes organization anymore. He had an average season in the ECHL, but once again spent a good part of the season injured. Ganly was a gritty shutdown defenseman that the Canes signed to bolster our defensive depth at the time. Unfortunately, the 2013 6th round pick hasn’t been able to play in more than ten AHL games since 2015. He’s spent the majority of his three years in the organization playing with the Florida Everblades, and there’s really no point in keeping him. You can find a better RHD to play in the AHL if necessary, and it may only take an AHL contract.
Thank you all for the support this season! I hope that all of you enjoyed the content that I provided for CanesProspects, and I’m extremely excited for what next season holds for our prospects! We’ll have a new class of prospects to cover, and it’ll be a blast. My draft coverage will be limited for the first, second, and third rounds of the draft. I’ll be working in California and likely won’t be able to provide much insight until the third or fourth round of the draft. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to provide my insight on the players we draft, as well as what we should expect as far as potential. Until then, just keep looking at Andrei Svechnikov highlights to make you happy.