Canes Prospects Mailbag: World Juniors, First Rounders, and More

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We’re less than a week away from the World Juniors, and it looks like the Carolina Hurricanes will have five prospects at this year’s tournament. Anttoni Honka, Patrik Puistola, Lenni Killinen, Dominik Bokk, and Jack Drury will be representing their countries at the tournament as well as the Hurricanes. It appears that Puistola will be ready for the tournament, which is surprising since he was the victim of a really nasty hit against Ilves a few weeks ago. You all asked questions, and I have answers for you!

Return of the Mack (come on)

Return of the Mack (oh my god)

Return of the Mack

You know that I’ll be back

Ryan Suzuki returned to Barrie’s lineup Thursday night and the Colts haven’t looked great. It’s very clear that Barrie’s lineup is depleted right now and they’ve given up eight goals in each of the two games that Suzuki has appeared in since returning from injury. The good news is that Suzuki has played in his first two games after missing thirteen due to an eye injury from a high stick earlier in the season. It’s been a tough road for Suzuki but from what I’ve heard, he hasn’t missed a step. Suzuki recorded a primary assist in an 8-2 loss to Missisauga on Friday night. It’ll probably take a few games for Suzuki to return to form, but it’s good to see him back on the score sheet.

Josh Bean (remember this bit?) had two great games against Hartford, one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference this week. Bean had three assists in two games, two of which came on the power play. He’s tied for the team lead in points with 20 points in 26 games. It’s been an impressive season for Bean and he’s on pace for nearly 50 points this season.

Julien Gauthier could easily hit 30 goals this season assuming that he plays in Charlotte for most of this season. He’s still scoring in bunches, but those goals are happening more and more frequently. Gauthier is playing at an NHL level right now in terms of pace, intensity, and production. Sure, there are still some lapses in his decision making that can lead to turnovers and some bad defensive breakdowns, but I can’t really argue with 13 goals. In his second NHL call-up, we saw Gauthier’s inability to make quick decisions come back to bite him. He took a couple of bad penalties because he got bea on a rush or wasn’t sure how to defend. Those are some aspects of his game that can be ironed out as time passes, though. I loved Gauthier’s decision on the goal that earned him his first NHL point. It’s subtle, but he wouldn’t have made that play two years ago. Gauthier gets back onside and then enters the zone to make sure that the play is legal. He sees the ice much better than he does now. His tunnel vision that he had when he was drafted has almost disappeared, and he’s finally able to assess multiple options in all three zones. All that’s left for him to work on is making those decisions a tad quicker.

Martin Necas reeeeeeeeally misses Erik Haula. Lucas Wallmark has done well in a 3c role, but Necas needs to play with another guy who can drive play. Wallmark isn’t that guy, and so Necas has seen a dip in production. Still, this is a player that’s impressed me more than I expected this season. Necas has looked comfortable with the pro game and has dazzled on more than one occasion. I’m kind of glad that the Canes don’t go to overtime that often, but we do miss out on 3 on 3 Martin Necas and that’s a damn shame.

Svech has happened and you can buy those T-shirts at the Eye! (shameless plug)

I did talk about Ryan Suzuki already, but I haven’t talked about the World Juniors. I think that if Suzuki wasn’t hurt, he would’ve been on Canada’s World Junior team. Canada has a ton of depth already, but Suzuki could have been a great fit as a depth forward on that team. He’s quick, dynamic, and one of the smartest players on the ice at any time. But right now, it’s probably for the best that he stays in the OHL.

I really like Helvig and Booth, and despite both players not getting a whole lot of playing time, both have potential to be NHL goalies in the long term. Booth has struggled with injuries this season but has found ways to be a dynamic goalie and win his teams some games. There’s value in that and I think we see him get more of an opportunity with the Checkers as the season goes on. Booth is a fun goalie. He’s calm and collected most of the time but can find ways to make an explosive save that gets the crowd going. Booth is probably the most fun out of the two goalies currently in the ECHL because of these types of saves. It’s just a lot of fun watching him play.

Jeremy Helvig also has potential. He’s a big goalie that has solid strength which allows for an explosive push to get to the opposite post quicker than some of the other goalies at his level. Helvig has some potential to be a good NHL backup in the future. Helvig’s biggest problem is his happy feet. He has a tendency to drift out of position on occasion. He’s quick enough (and tall enough too) to make this less of an issue, but I’d still like to see him stay in the crease a little more. As of right now, both goalies are in a bit of a logjam thanks to Ned and Forsberg, but it’s not a bad thing that they’re getting time in the ECHL.

As for Pritchard, it looks like he’s struggling in the pros right now. He’s up to speed and a great skater, but pacing is off and I’ve seen him hesitate to get involved physically. I need to see him playing in a top nine role with Charlotte. That would be best for him because he doesn’t fit a checking role very well and needs to be on a line that can chip in a little more offensively.

As much as I would like for Canes fans to Stay Kuokk, I’m going to say no! *ducks*

Hear me out, though. We’ve seen Gauthier fill in a fourth line role, and it’s clear that he doesn’t belong on the fourth line. He deserves a spot in the top nine, but he can play in a checking role because of his size and strength. Kuokkanen can’t do that, and so unless a spot miraculously opens up in the Hurricanes’ top nine, I think we see Kuokkanen stay with the Checkers. We haven’t seen Geekie called up for this same reason. Kuokkanen could contend for a roster spot next season, and it’s very possible that he makes things difficult for management. Kuokkanen’s ELC slid in his first AHL season since he was under 20 years old, so that’s great news for the Hurricanes. They have one more year of Kuokkanen on his entry-level deal next year and I think that’s when we could see him back in the NHL. Imagine Kuokkanen and Necas in three on three overtime. No, you’re the one drooling.

Warren Foegele has become Canes twitter’s punching bag this season despite already setting career highs in assists and points. He’s been a much better player this season and is on pace for over 30 points. That’s pretty solid for a guy that had just 15 as a rookie. Foegele may not ever be a great scorer at the NHL level, but his tenacity on the forecheck, physical play, and penalty killing make him one of the better bottom six forwards in the league. I know a lot of teams would love to have him, and we should be happy that he’s on our team. Last I checked, Foegele leads the league in penalties drawn. While he doesn’t see power play ice time, he’s still a major reason why we get power plays in the first place. That’s valuable.

As for the AHL, a guy that has made a career out of being the underdog is Steven Lorentz. He was drafted in the 12th round in the 2012 OHL priority selection as an undersized forward. Lorentz then gets passed over in 2014, his first year of NHL draft eligibility. The Hurricanes then picked Lorentz in the seventh round, 186th overall in 2015 as an overage forward. By then, Lorentz was 6’4″ and starting to show some more promise offensively. After starting his pro career in the ECHL and working his way up, Lorentz has become one of Charlotte’s biggest stories this year. He’s setting career highs left and right and is showing a lot of people that he can be more than just AHL depth. He has a future as an NHL player thanks to his speed and gritty style of play. Lorentz and Foegele are similar players, and while I think Foegele has a higher ceiling, I wouldn’t sleep on Lorentz. He’s been the underdog for a long time and he’ll keep fighting his way to the NHL. I really like his odds of seeing an NHL call-up this season. I just hope it’s for a home game so that I can see him play.

Great question! I don’t see any of our current Finnish prospects making the jump to North America next year, and I’ll break down each player’s situation.

Eetu Makiniemi has been great in Mestis this season but hasn’t gotten an opportunity in the Liiga. His strength of competition needs to be better, and so I believe that we’ll see him returning to Ilves next season and hopefully becoming their starter. Perhaps with Dostal at the World Juniors, Makiniemi could be given an opportunity.

Tuukka Tieksola needs playing time in the Liiga as well and is just a few months removed from being drafted in the fourth round by the Hurricanes. He’s a smart player that plays at a high pace, but the lack of experience against men makes me want to leave him with Karpat for at least another year. Tieksola needs to get stronger and work on the defensive aspect of the game. If he can do that, then I think the Hurricanes have a steal on their hands.

Lenni Killinen also needs another year. He plays at a high pace and can show flashes of brilliance in the offensive zone, but he’s inconsistent and can’t think the game at an elite level. His decision making is off and I think that he struggles to make plays happen as quick as they need to. He’s playing for Finland at the World Juniors, and as I’m writing this, he’s listed on their first line in a pre-tournament game. Killinen needs another year with Assat so that he can work on his decision making and hopefully establish some consistency.

Anttoni Honka has been great offensively with JYP this season but is still showing the same defensive weaknesses that caused him to fall to the third round. Honka obviously has potential as an offensive defenseman, but his biggest issue is that he can’t see the ice the same way in the defensive zone as he does in the offensive zone. He’s a completely different player in the defensive zone, and while I’ve noticed some marginal improvements in his defensive game, it’s nowhere near enough. Keep him playing top four minutes with JYP and he’ll continue to improve, though. I expect him to be a mainstay on Finland’s power play at the World Juniors.

Now here comes the most interesting one. What happens with Patrik Puistola after this season? His contract with Tappara is up after this year, and since he’s been getting fourth line minutes this season, I can’t see any reason for him to stay. My guess is that he signs with another Liiga team that’s willing to give him the top six minutes that he deserves. He showed that he can be an offensive threat in his brief stint with Jukurit, and it’s obvious that Puistola has skill. His two way game is underrated and if you give Puistola an opportunity, he can consistently produce and be a threat every shift. Tappara may not give him that opportunity. It’s unlikely that Puistola will head to North America next season because it’s better for him to see playing time in a men’s league. A CHL team may draft him in the import draft, but teams rarely draft players in the hopes of having them for just one season. I don’t think the USHL is an option either since it’s weaker than the CHL and won’t help his development at all. I think the Liiga is the best option for him at this point. Puistola needs to play against stronger competition and I don’t think we’ll see him with Tappara next season. I could be wrong, but I’m hoping he signs elsewhere that way he can play top nine minutes.

That’s all for this one! I’ll do my best to provide updates on the World Juniors as quickly as possible during the tournament! For now, have a great holiday!

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