Things finally seem to be heading in the right direction for the Carolina Hurricanes. They’re winning games, scoring goals, and getting average goaltending. Yes, you read all three of those statements correctly. Before we get into the Canes prospects part of things, I do have one story to share.
I worked with the merchandise team at PNC Arena over my winter break and met a lot of people who were attending their first hockey game ever. They had always heard about hockey from their friends and wanted to check things out. I remember the game against the Sabres and telling people that were at their first game that they have to wait until the end of the game to see what happens. Most of the newcomers had never heard of the Storm Surge, the celebration that is making headlines around the NHL. Junior hockey teams are doing it, too.
The Canes won, the bowling celebration happens, and then those same people come back and tell me that that moment was when they fell in love with the team. It’s goofy, creative, and most importantly, FUN. Seeing youth hockey teams doing the storm surge is wonderful. This is going to be something that gets kids excited about hockey and will help to grow the game in North Carolina.
Now to your regularly scheduled prospect coverage.
It’s always tough seeing the deadline go past for junior players. A lot of guys have to leave teams that they’ve been with for three or four years, leaving friends and their billet families behind. I was very happy that Stelio Mattheos stayed in Brandon. They’re not a good team this season, relying on Mattheos, Burzan, and Patera to carry most of the workload. Mattheos is a leader that does a lot for the community in Brandon and kids look up to him. He’s a really fun player to watch and someone that younger players in the WHL can look up to. Brandon missing the playoffs could be great for Mattheos. He’ll get a chance to play for the Checkers once he signs a contract, giving him pro experience. He could provide depth scoring for one of the top teams in the AHL.
Eetu Makiniemi has been called up to Jokerit in the KHL and will be joining the team for their road trip. He did not play against Kunlun on Sunday and I’m not convinced that he’ll play in more than one game for Jokerit. Still, the fact that he’s practicing with the big club and getting a chance to develop in one of the best leagues in the world is fantastic news.
Lenni Killinen hasn’t played in Assat’s last two games, presumably due to injury. He’s been injured three times this season and has played in 22 games. Missing almost 20 games in your first Liiga season is never good, so we can only hope that he recovers quickly and gets back in the lineup.
Hurricanes fans should be excited for Morgan Geekie. The forward has been on a tear as of late and has left his December cold streak in the dust. He’s capitalizing on his chances and is seeing more ice time as a result. Geekie has a high shooting percentage this season, so it’s reasonable to expect some regression. Still, he might be closer to being NHL ready than we originally thought.
Brendan De Jong hasn’t played in Portland’s last few games dating back to the end of December. He was the recipient of a nasty hit that gave him a concussion. De Jong is still on pace for a career year, although I’m not certain that it’ll be enough to earn him a contract. He’s had some rough camps with the Hurricanes and will need to finish his final WHL season on a high note.
Remember Hudson Elynuik? Remember how the media spun the fact that he wasn’t signing into a narrative about how nobody wanted to play for the Hurricanes because of the owner? Pepperidge Farm remembers. Elynuik is having a good season with Newfoundland in the ECHL and was just called up to the Toronto Marlies. I’m happy that he’s found success elsewhere, but the Checkers seem to be doing fine without him.
Neha asks if the Hurricanes need Jordan Staal anymore, which is probably one of the bigger questions facing the organization right now. When utilized correctly, Jordan Staal can be an effective player. The problem is that Jordan Staal isn’t being used properly here. The Hurricanes are still using him on the power play and giving him a lot of offensive zone time, which isn’t the best way to use him. He’s much better off being a defensive center on a team’s third line rather than an offensive player in your top six. With Lucas Wallmark looking like a fine third line center, it’s tough to see any scenario where the Hurricanes keep Jordan Staal. Our fourth line has also been much better than expected, which is something that I didn’t think that I would have to say this season. Staal’s shooting percentage will need to go up in order for him to actually be moved out for anything close to fair value, though. Just don’t give him any breakaways.
Jonathan W. asks: What are Saarela’s chances of becoming an impactful NHL player?
If you asked me at the start of the season, I would’ve been skeptical of Saarela being an NHL player. Halfway through the AHL season, I’m convinced that he’ll be an NHL player in some capacity. I do not believe that Saarela is going to be a top six winger at the NHL level. I do believe that Saarela will be a very good third line winger that can score and create a lot of chances with his speed. His ceiling is likely 30-40 points in the NHL. Only three of Saarela’s 28 points this season are secondary assists. That’s pretty good.
Canes prospects are in the home stretch of their seasons now. It’s possible that we see Stelio Mattheos and Eetu Luostarinen signing contracts at the end of their seasons, which will be great for the Hurricanes. It’s also possible that De Jong signs, but I don’t think that it’s nearly as likely.
If you don’t already follow me, be sure to follow @CanesProspects on twitter. I keep track of all of our prospects in the AHL, juniors, and Europe so that you don’t have to! I’ve also been scouting NHL prospects as well as 2019 Draft prospects this whole season! I put all of my work for the draft on patreon to help pay for a few expenses. It costs just $1 to be a patron and you’ll get a lot of content directly to your inbox. You can find my patreon site here.