Prospects Mailbag: Happy New Year!

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It’s almost 2020, which means that the World Juniors are still underway and the Hurricanes have finished game one of a seven game home stand. Once again, I’m answering questions from Canes fans so that everyone can get a better look at some prospects that are currently in the system. As always, you don’t have to wait for a mailbag article in order to ask a question! If you have one, feel free to message me on twitter or just mention me and I’ll answer!

As I’m finishing this up, here’s a World Juniors update: Patrik Puistola’s three points against Kazakhstan gives him seven points in three games. That’s good for the tournament lead, although Shane Pinto has six points in two games. He was also named player of the game for the Finns. Lenni Killinen also got his second assist of the tournament.

It’s still a little too early to tell if Ryan Suzuki has fully healed from his injury. He was cleared to play, which is obviously a great sign, but it’s going to take time for him to return to game speed. He’s played in three games with Barrie since returning from injury and has one assist. It’s a modest point total, but you have to remember that Suzuki missed thirteen games due to an eye injury. Those take time to heal, and we’re lucky that it didn’t affect his long-term health. I’m going to give him another week or two before I start to make any assumptions about his game.

Kaski has third pairing potential in the NHL but that’s a long shot with how deep the Hurricanes are on defense. It’s likely that he’ll return to Finland after this season is over despite finding some success with the Checkers early on. Three points in five games with a new team is great, but I just can’t see Kaski sneaking his way into this lineup over guys like Fleury or van Riemsdyk. I think that Kaski can contribute on the offensive side of the puck, but he’s been prone to mistakes in the games that I’ve watched.

Now as for sleeper prospects, I’d pay attention to Jesper Sellgren in camp next season. Sellgren came out of nowhere last season and started to play incredibly well for the Checkers during their Calder Cup run. He’s been doing well for Lulea in the SHL this season in Sweden, but the real story is his nine points in eight Champions Hockey League games as of December 29. Sellgren has been one of the driving forces in Lulea’s run in the CHL playoffs and they are currently in the semifinals for the tournament. Sellgren’s offensive performance has been noticeable in these games, and while he hasn’t played as much of an offensive role in the SHL this season, he’s still grown defensively. This is a player that could make it tough for Rod Brind’Amour to cut him next season. It’s a tough hill to climb with Bean also contending for that third pairing spot, but I think that Sellgren could surprise a lot of folks next season. If Edmundson and Fleury are re-signed, that makes it more difficult.

Another prospect to keep an eye on is Puistola. His contract with Tappara is up at the end of this season and I believe that we could see him sign with another Liiga team after that. I seriously doubt that he’ll turn pro this season despite tearing up the World Juniors and doing well in his loan to Jukurit, although there’s a small chance. As for the year after next, it’s very possible that we see Puistola turn pro and likely put on a Checkers uniform for the first time. He’s dynamic in the offensive zone and can score a lot of goals around the net, which is something that the Hurricanes have struggled to do since what feels like the beginning of time. Puistola plays well in his own end, or at least enough to not get noticed in a bad way, so that’ll ease his transition. I’d watch him closely this off-season to see where he ends up.

Bean’s biggest weakness is his play in his own end. It’s gotten a lot better since the start of last season, but you’ll still notice him making mistakes or turning the puck over in his own end. It’s frustrating, but he’s currently tied with Janne Kuokkanen for the team lead in points. I can’t argue with that!

Priskie, on the other hand, has struggled with making quick decisions at the AHL level. He’s playing at a higher pace than the NCAA and has had to work hard in order to make decisions a lot quicker and adjust to the play accordingly. As of the past five or six games, I haven’t noticed many issues in Priskie’s game. He’s playing some of his best hockey right now and had two assists against a tough Cleveland team. A lot of his points come on the power play but we’re starting to see him become more of a factor at even strength. I doubt we see him in the NHL this season but it’s likely that we see him play next season.

All of them are great and the Hurricanes will be the first team to field an all-prospects team comprised of 50 players.

In all seriousness, the players that I view as long-term Hurricanes right now are: Bean, Priskie, Rees, Suzuki, Puistola, Kochetkov, Nedeljkovic, Gauthier, and possibly Geekie and Mattheos. This list obviously has a big ol’ asterisk next to it because we’re not factoring in potential trades, prospects drafted after 2019, busts, gems, or anything else. It’s really just pure speculation and shouldn’t be treated as law because there are a *lot* of talented prospects in this system. Drury and Fensore have a lot of potential but I’m not sure where I’d slot them in the lineup at the moment. Honka is a player that comes to mind because of his pure offensive skill set, but the lack of defensive skill concerns me. For now, he’s not on the list. I’m curious to hear Canes twitter’s thoughts on this. Have any guesses as to who will be contributing for the Canes in 2025? Let me know!

Before Charlotte’s recent stretch of games, Ned was doing well while the team in front of him struggled to get any sort of offense going. So he’d play well but always get beat because the team would score two or less goals, which makes it tough for any team to win. With Charlotte scoring goals on a consistent basis now, we’ve seen both goalies pick up more wins and help their team to victory! Aside from his poor start, Ned has kept the Checkers in most of the games that he’s appeared in even if the team in front of him could barely tread water. His save percentage is below league average, although Charlotte has been one of the best teams in the league at limiting shots from their opponents. The problem is that too many high danger chances are given up and Ned gets left out to dry. Still, he’s one of the AHL’s best goalies and has kept Charlotte in the playoff picture this season!

I was a big fan of Smallman in his last year in the QMJHL and was excited to see how he’d handle the pros. Unfortunately, shoulder surgery limited his opportunities in his first year and he played in a handful of ECHL games after returning. I was still excited the next season because Smallman was going to make the Checkers out of camp, but a torn ACL ended that season prematurely. Smallman’s injuries have been tough but he’s battled through. We’re starting to see the player that we knew Smallman could be. Gritty, hard working, and surprisingly good in the offensive zone. He’s never going to be great in any particular area, but he’ll be good all-around. That sort of player has value and I believe that Smallman could be an NHL player down the line if injuries don’t get in the way.

Bokk’s speed and creativity in the offensive zone have been on full display so far at the World Juniors. He’s scored three goals for Germany and added two assists for five points in his team’s first two games at this level in quite some time. Bokk clearly has a ton of offensive skill and we’re seeing how dangerous he can be in transition. With his speed and hockey sense, Bokk can make elite plays happen quickly before other teams have a chance to react. He’s creative enough to make a nice move to get past a defender, use a cross-ice pass to split the defense and expose a weak spot, and just make your team look silly. The problem I’ve noticed with Bokk is that when he’s not in the offensive zone, he’s not all that noticeable. I haven’t seen any glaring defensive mistakes, but I also haven’t noticed him a whole lot unless he’s exiting/entering the zone or in the offensive zone. That’s not terribly problematic right now since he’s still 19, but it’s something to work on when he goes back to Sweden.

I’d like to see more from Drury in the offensive zone, but as of right now, he’s Team USA’s Jordan Staal. Very effective in the faceoff circle, great on the PK, and solid defensively. I haven’t really noticed him in the offensive zone, but his strong play defensively has helped team USA so far in this tournament. I think that he’s adjusted to the ice and style of play of his opponents, so perhaps we’ll see him making more of an impact against Russia later this afternoon. My assessment of Drury every time I’ve viewed him is that he’s a diet version of Jordan Staal, and his performance at the WJC hasn’t changed my mind.

I can’t really speak on the plan for each individual player since that’s above my pay grade. What I can do is assume what the plan is, and that plan is most likely what it’s been for a bunch of other promising prospects. Unless they’re more than capable of handling an NHL job, it’s best to let them play in the AHL where they can receive more ice time. As far as new faces in Charlotte next season, there may only be a couple. Sellgren and Bokk will likely begin next season as Checkers since they’ve already signed their ELCs. I’d imagine that Cotton and Henman will sign contracts as well, and Matt Filipe could do well enough to earn a contract. He has pro potential, we may just have to wait a bit to see it on full display. The only other person that has a chance is Puistola, and that’s such a small chance that I’m not going to hold my breath. It’d be great, but it’s best for him to play in the Liiga for another year, or at least for a team that won’t give him eight minutes of ice time per game. We may see Jamieson Rees and Ryan Suzuki sign PTOs at the end of this season and appear in a couple of games, but they’ll have to return to the OHL next year. Definitely count on Sellgren and Bokk sticking in North America along with possibly Cotton, Henman and Filipe.

Thank you to everyone who asked a question! I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday and have a happy 2020!

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