A lot of our prospects are in the final stretches of their seasons, with some prospects already done for the year. March will mark the start of the CHL playoffs, NCAA playoffs, and SHL playoffs for our prospects, with the two prospects currently playing in the Finnish Elite League failing to qualify for the playoffs. As the season winds down, I figured that I would compile a list of questions to answer in more than 280 characters. I typically do Q&A sessions on Twitter every so often, but I figured that some questions needed more details than a simple tweet. Thank you to everyone that submitted a question!
The draft board has not been set yet, but CapFriendly has the Canes picking 21st overall on their website, so let’s use that as a reference. I’ve been watching a lot of junior hockey this year to prepare for the draft, and like a lot of scouts, I’m not a huge fan of this draft. I know that the Hurricanes probably won’t trade their first round pick unless it’s for a legitimate player, so they’ll likely end up making the pick.
The Hurricanes have a lot of depth at the center position, especially at the AHL level. The problem is that not a lot of their prospects have more than third line potential outside of Gauthier, Kuokkanen, and perhaps Mattheos. Geekie is also a wild card. There are a few good options outside of the top 20, but they’re not guaranteed second line players. They’ll likely lean towards picking a winger, and there are a few really good ones available. Cole Caufield, Bobby Brink, and Jakob Pelletier will all fall a few spots due to their size, so they may be good options if we’re looking for players with lots of potential in the offensive zone. Pelletier has second line potential and could be capable of 50 points in the NHL.
If the Canes do want to draft a center, they’ll probably have to go off the board a bit. For this draft, I’m firmly in the “Best Player Available” camp. There are good centers like Connor McMichael and Philip Tomasino later on in the first round, but you’re likely going to find a better player before then. I also think that Alex Newhook will fall, but I’m wary of BCHL players due to the lack of competition that they face. I’d target a guy like Brink or Pelletier. Both players have high ceilings, and while they may be a bit of a risk, the Canes can afford to let them develop for as long as they need to.
As for goalies, Spencer Knight is the only first-round caliber goalie in this draft. He’s been putting up great numbers for the NTDP this season and some scouts think that he could be the best goalie prospect from the United States since Jonathan Quick. That said, goaltending isn’t our biggest area of need. Alex Nedeljkovic is ready for an NHL position and we have two goalies with NHL potential currently in the minors. You’re better off drafting a goalie in the second round or later if you’re the Hurricanes.
I’m working on a mock draft that should be up on the site in the next few days. The first round will be free to the public!
After Nedeljkovic, we have Callum Booth and Jeremy Helvig. Booth will be the AHL starter next year assuming that Ned makes the team out of camp next season. Booth is more than capable of handling an increased workload, but the biggest wild card is Helvig. If he can show that he can replicate his junior numbers in the AHL, we might have a great goalie prospect on our hands. Helvig has been excellent for Florida in the ECHL this season and will also be in the AHL next year. Booth has NHL potential, but consistency has been his biggest issue since he was drafted. Outside of the pros, the Hurricanes have Eetu Makiniemi and Jack LaFontaine. LaFontaine has been able to revive his career in the BCHL this season but will need to prove himself with the University of Minnesota next season. I believe he has two more years of eligibility, but I could be wrong. Makiniemi is tough to get a read on since he was injured for prospects camp and missed the first month and a half of his season. He’s done well in Mestis, the Finnish second-tier league this season, but is not facing strong competition. His contract with Jokerit expires at the end of the season, so I wonder if he signs with a Liiga team to try and get experience in an elite league.
There are a few that have top six F or top four D potential and are likely to reach that potential. Adam Fox, Martin Necas, and Jake Bean are the ones that are in the system that fall into that category. All three players have elite talent in some capacities and will be able to make an impact at the NHL level. Necas is close to being NHL ready and will likely start in our top nine next season. Bean may need a year on our third pairing before he’s ready for a top four role, but he’s developing very quickly and will be an impact player. If Fox can show that he can do what he is currently doing for Harvard against competition that’s a lot stronger than most of what he currently faces, he’ll be a lock for the top four.
Julien Gauthier has top six potential but still needs another year or two. He was always going to be a bit of a project and I believe that he’s still on track to reach that potential. He also has two years remaining on his ELC after this year, which helps the Hurricanes. Janne Kuokkanen also has top six potential, but I’m not sure where he fits into the NHL lineup just yet.
Other than that, the Canes don’t have any players with very high ceilings. Morgan Geekie and Stelio Mattheos could be second line players, but it’s more likely that we see those players peak as third line forwards. The Canes may have depth at almost every position, but very few of those players have high-end potential.
Necas is doing fine but is missing his pal Janne. He also hasn’t been falling down as much, which is likely the reason why he is not scoring as much. All jokes aside, Necas has been fine. He’s been focused on making plays and is still making an impact despite not scoring as much. His playmaking game is as strong as ever and we’re starting to see him make better decisions without the puck now. Necas will be a big part of Charlotte’s playoff push moving forward.