The regular season is right around the corner, and after a strong off-season, the Carolina Hurricanes look ahead to the coming season. I’ve been focused on Hurricanes prospects since the JCWC in late August. The pipeline is as strong as ever and is without a doubt a top ten pipeline in the NHL. Now that most of the Hurricanes’ prospects are playing in the regular season, it’s a good time to write about some players that have either made an immediate impact or some players that have surprised me.
Murray’s Strong Start
Blake Murray had just one secondary assist in his first two games to start his post-draft season. Sudbury was thrashed in both games, losing 6-3 to Niagara and 5-2 to Erie, and Murray didn’t look all that impressive. Murray followed that up with a three point performance against Mississauga, scoring his first goal of the season and adding two primary assists. Watching Sudbury is going to be tough this season. You have an elite forward prospect in Quinton Byfield and a late-round draft pick in Blake Murray. Other than that, Sudbury isn’t all that great. Their depth is a big issue, and I’ll bet that Byfield and Murray will be factoring in on a lot of Sudbury’s goals this season. I was impressed with Murray against Mississauga and saw the type of player he could be. He was strong and quick, played a smart game, and was making better passes. His hockey sense is above average and I do see some NHL potential in his game. Consistency is the only issue, as we saw in the first two games. If he can play well on a consistent basis, the Canes get another steal in the later rounds of the draft.
Quick note on Jesper Sellgren here. I’m sure a lot of people know at this point, but Sellgren will be heading back to Lulea in the SHL this season. He is going to finish the final year of his contract with Lulea before playing hockey at the AHL or NHL level. My guess is that he comes over and plays with either Charlotte or Carolina when his season is over. It was pretty clear that this was the plan when he was on Lulea’s SHL roster at the beginning of August.
It’s easy to focus on negative things when you look at a first round pick. Sometimes you wonder why the player is making the decisions he’s making. Other times you might wonder why they’re hesitant to get involved or why they’re making so many mistakes. I had to hold myself back from making some of those comments during Suzuki’s first NHL preseason game. He was timid and made a lot of poor decisions with the puck, but I saw a lot of positives in his game as well. Suzuki is only 18, and as a 28th overall pick, he doesn’t have the pressure of being a high first round pick. That’s still so weird to me. With that in mind, it’s a lot easier to appreciate what Suzuki has done in camp. He’s earned his NHL contract, played at a high pace, and grown a lot. In the first game against Tampa, the biggest thing that stood out was in the next shift or two after a really bad power play performance, Suzuki made an impact. He rushed up ice with speed, tried cutting to the middle, drew a holding penalty, and was still able to get the pass to a teammate to create a scoring chance. That’s a fantastic shift and should show fans why he was projected to be a top 20 pick at one point. It’s been wonderful watching Suzuki play. He’s been paired with AHL veterans or good prospects, ensuring that he plays with people who know the pro game and are willing to pass along a lesson or two. Saturday’s performance as a whole was not good, but Suzuki’s speed and hockey sense stood out all the same. This is a player who has done everything that has been asked of him and more, which should excite Canes fans. He likely won’t make the NHL team for another couple of years, but his performance has been encouraging. The more time he’s away from the OHL and with the Hurricanes, the better. Suzuki is close to outgrowing the OHL and will need all of the pro experience that he can get.
The Finns off to a Slow Start
It’s been a slow season for our Finnish prospects. Tuukka Tieksola had an excellent JCWC with Karpat U20 and earned a call-up to the men’s team, but has yet to appear on the score sheet. Lenni Killinen’s first two games with Assat were disappointing, and the forward has already missed two games due to an illness. Patrik Puistola has been buried on the fourth line and finally saw more than ten minutes of ice time in his fifth game of the season. Anttoni Honka is the only Finn with a point thus far, but even his season has been up and down due to his issues on defense. It’s still very early to be speculating about how good these prospects are, but I’ve been underwhelmed. Tieksola needs more time in the men’s league before he can fully adjust to the strength and pace. That much has been clear to me in the first few games of his Liiga career. He and Patrik Puistola might benefit from a loan to another Liiga team or a team in Mestis, the Finnish second-tier league. Both players have bright futures but need more ice time in order to succeed. Puistola isn’t going to get that ice time with Tappara, and I think that Tieksola might be passed by Aku Raty or someone else. Anttoni Honka just needs to keep playing and then work towards getting better. I believe that all four players have a shot at Finland’s team for the World Junior Championships in December. That’ll be a big boost for each player that does make it.
Geekie’s Next Destination?
Morgan Geekie has looked quicker in camp and has impressed me with his transition play. I like the way that Geekie plays and I think that he could be an NHL center in the not so distant future, but I’m not sure if this is the year he breaks out in the NHL. I do think we’ll see Geekie as a call up option if a top nine roster spot opens up, but for now, Geekie will start the season in Charlotte. He’s one of Charlotte’s few returning players this year and will likely be the first line center for that team.
Roland McKeown has been waived, so what does it mean for Prince Pretty? Yes, I’m trying to make this nickname happen. McKeown is a player that I think a lot of teams could be interested in, especially since he’s looking like your ideal third pairing defenseman. Plus, he instantly makes your team hotter and you can make jokes about him looking like Tyler Breeze. There have only been one or two players that I’ve thought should be claimed by other teams so far, and both have cleared waivers. It’s possible that McKeown clears, but it’s likely that we see Prince Pretty on another team at noon tomorrow.
Gauthier’s Impressive Training Camp
I wrote that Julien Gauthier was the Hurricanes prospect most likely to have a breakout season in 2019. What I didn’t account for was Gauthier contending for a roster spot this late in camp. He’s looking like he’s ready to move on from the AHL and into a top nine role in the NHL. It’s a tough roster to crack, but if there’s any player that can muscle his way into the group, it’s Julien Gauthier. His size, strength, speed, and shooting have been on full display in this camp. I’m also noticing more tenacity on the forecheck, some better passes, and less turnovers. This is a player that desperately wants an NHL job, and he might get one with the way that he’s been playing. He’s a good power forward and having another player able to lower the shoulder coming down the wing is valuable.
Webber Settling In
Cade Webber flew under the radar when the Hurricanes drafted him because of how good the Hurricanes’ draft was before and after he was picked. Webber might not be the most impressive defenseman on the score sheet, but he does a lot of things well. His 6’6″ frame and impressive reach make him an imposing force in the defensive zone, and paired with his skating, you get a player that’s an almost perfect shutdown defenseman. There’s not a lot of offensive potential in his game, especially when it comes to passing, but his shot isn’t awful. Webber’s season in Penticton has been great on the defensive side of things and quiet everywhere else. A goal and two assists in six games is all that Webber has to show in terms of points, but Penticton is undefeated largely in part to their strong defensive play. Webber is a big part of their defense and penalty kill. This season provides Cade Webber with some valuable experience before he heads off to Boston University in the Fall of 2020. It hasn’t been an impressive start stats-wise, but there has been a lot to like about Webber’s defensive game.
Speaking of defensemen committed to BU, how about Domenick Fensore? He’s probably the most fun prospect that the Hurricanes have drafted since they took that other fun player…17 picks earlier. I was talking with a follower this afternoon about Fensore, (which by the way, DMs are always open if you have a prospects question!) and they brought up that Boston University’s defense looks great this year. It’s true, BU has a solid defense lined up for this season, and it’s possible that Fensore sees third pairing minutes for the most part this season. Don’t expect Fensore to come out of the gate hot and get a whole lot of points right away. The NCAA is a very different league than the USHL and plays a different style. Luckily, Fensore is a player that utilizes his teammates effectively rather than relying on individual skill. I think he’ll have a great year and will need a few games before he gets settled in.
Kochetkov in the KHL
Pyotr Kochetkov has started in six games for SKA this season, which is about six more than I thought he would appear in at this point in the year. SKA’s injury issues at the goaltending position have provided Kochetkov with the perfect opportunity to gain some valuable experience in the second best league in the world. He’s struggled so far, largely in part to the strength of competition and lack of shots from his opponents. Still, I’m seeing some kinks in Kochetkov’s game slowly start to work themselves out. He will have one more year in Russia before hopefully transitioning to play hockey in North America.
Mattheos Returns to Camp
One of the sadder stories from this offseason was the news that Stelio Mattheos was diagnosed with testicular cancer and would miss camp to recover from his treatments. Mattheos returned to practice this past weekend and was added to the training camp roster on Saturday, August 21. He wasn’t expected to be attending training camp but was able to practice with the Brandon Wheat Kings before heading to Raleigh to join the Hurricanes for their training camp. His return to training camp came a lot earlier than we initially thought, which is an amazing sign for the young forward. After a summer like his, it’s hard not to root for Mattheos. He’s coming off of a 96-point WHL season and an impressive playoff run with the Charlotte Checkers. I expect Mattheos to be a big part of the Checkers this season in all situations.
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