Post-World Juniors Mailbag

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Well, that was sure fun until it wasn’t for Canes prospects. Germany saved themselves from relegation, Team USA finished in sixth place, and Finland lost in the bronze medal game, which meant that none of the Hurricanes’ prospects playing at the tournament left with a medal. Out of all five prospects, I’m the most surprised that Jack Drury didn’t medal at the tournament. The United States won silver last season and had a roster that, on paper, looked to be much more talented than the year before. Sadly, that was not the case in any of the games that mattered. Sure, the USA looked great against the teams that they probably should have looked great against, but they fell flat against Canada and Finland when it counted. I’m answering questions that people had after the world juniors, so let’s get started!

And as I’m working on writing this, Ryan Suzuki has been traded to the Saginaw Spirit in a trade that sends five picks and two players back to Barrie. We’ll get to see Suzuki play alongside Cole Perfetti, a potential top ten pick in this year’s draft and one of the best goal scorers in the draft.

The World Juniors isn’t gospel in terms of judging a prospect’s development, but it does offer a window into how your prospects can play against elite competition. They’re playing against the best prospects in hockey, and so you obviously want to see how your players fare against future NHLers. I always try to look for little improvements in players that I may not have seen in development camp or at some point in their league this season. My opinion on Patrik Puistola changed a bit. I knew he was a talented goal scorer but his play in transition and his passing game left much to be desired every time I watched him last season. That isn’t as much of an issue anymore. He was assessing each play, getting to the front of the net, and skating hard. Puistola didn’t look like he was a baby giraffe on the ice during the tournament, and that’s a great sign for development. I’d say that he’s a little closer to NHL ready than I initially thought, but not by too much.

I didn’t like Lenni Killinen in this tournament. It’s not that he was bad, he just wasn’t up to par with his linemates. Finland seemed committed to pairing him with Matias Maccelli on the first line, and the two never seemed to click. Killinen doesn’t process the game at a high enough level yet, and so he’s always a little behind on his decision making. It leads to some inconsistencies in his passing, shooting, and decisions with the puck, which can put a damper on almost any offensive opportunity. From what I saw at the World Juniors, it’s clear that Killinen needs to spend one more year in the Liiga after this one in order to continue to grow on the mental side of the game. Strangely enough, I didn’t see enough of Honka to have much of an opinion. He made a few good offensive plays and had a few terrible turnovers, but overall he wasn’t that noticeable. Since he’s a player known to make some horrible mistakes, I’ll take Honka not being all that noticeable.

Rees is currently out with a rolled ankle, I believe. Sarnia is understandably struggling and has dropped to last in the OHL’s Western Conference in his absence. It’s highly unlikely that Rees will be moved at the OHL’s trade deadline, although I’d love to see him playing on a contender. Rees has still done well this season and I’d expect him to build on his career year once he returns. He currently has 46 points in 25 games.

The World Juniors doesn’t really affect a player’s NHL ETA, in my opinion. I think that Puistola will still take another 2-3 years to reach the NHL, as will someone like Dominik Bokk. While it’s true that both players had outstanding tournaments, I can’t make any assumptions about a player’s development based on a seven game sample. Both players look like they’ve improved, though, which is what you want to see with your prospects. As for whose stock rose the most in this tournament, I’d have to say Puistola’s. You expect Bokk, a former first round pick, to do well against U20 competition, but Puistola was a third round pick and excelled.

I’m going to have to say Julien “trending towards a bust” Gauthier. I tweeted this earlier today, but Gauthier’s 16 goals this season gives him seven more than the next best goal scorers on his team, Steven Lorentz and Max McCormick. He’s in a three-way tie for first in team scoring and has brought the Checkers back into playoff contention, which is hard to believe considering how poor their start was. I believe that Gauthier will be a force to be reckoned with on the right wing for the Hurricanes for years to come and will finally earn a permanent spot on the NHL roster soon. He could be a 20-goal scorer for the Hurricanes in three years, which has to make people excited. Most of our 2019 draft prospects will have just begun their professional careers or will be a rookie in the NHL, so it’s hard to tell how big of an impact they will have at this point in time.

I was most impressed with Puistola. He’s not the strongest player, but he can hold his own in front of the net and bang in a few greasy goals here and there. He showcased a lot of improvements in this tournament and I always came away feeling happy with his efforts. He was very consistent, which is how he stood apart from Bokk.

I was a little shocked that Jack Drury didn’t have more than two points at the World Juniors despite playing with Trevor Zegras and Arthur Kaliyev for the majority of the tournament. Drury was centering elite talent and somehow only walked away with a goal and an assist. A lot of this probably has to do with Drury not getting power play ice time at the tournament, and Team USA scored almost exclusively on the power play at the World Juniors. Drury held it down on the defensive side of things and started getting more comfortable in the faceoff circle as the tournament went on. Drury transformed into team USA’s Jordan Staal at the World Juniors, minus the power play ice time. That’s not a bad thing, but considering who Drury was playing with, I’m surprised that he didn’t find his way onto the score sheet more often.

David Cotton will most likely join the Checkers on a tryout after signing an entry-level contract once his season with Boston College ends. We’ve heard nothing about Cotton not wanting to sign *ever* during his four years at Boston College, and my understanding of the situation is that he wanted to captain Boston College to a national championship. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially since this is the first competitive team that Cotton has been on in four years. So expect him to be a full-time pro next season after signing his ELC.

Luke Henman is another player who will likely sign his ELC this year. Henman is a gifted playmaker that thinks the game at an elite level. His vision and decision making are top tier, he just hasn’t played with teammates that can finish his passes in the two years since he was drafted. With Henman, you’re going to want to look in the long term, so it’s possible that we see Henman start the year with Greenville in order to adjust to the pro game. This is a career year for Henman, who is on pace to set career highs in goals, assists, and points. (He currently sits at 10 goals and 32 assists in 38 games.)

Dominik Bokk and Jesper Sellgren will both turn pro after this season and will likely stay in the AHL for next season. It’s also looking very likely that Matt Filipe will sign after this season, so I’d expect him to head to the Checkers as well.

I’ve mentioned that Puistola’s contract with Tappara ends at the end of the season. While that is true, I don’t expect Puistola to turn pro. I still believe that he needs another year of playing top six minutes in the Liiga before turning pro, simply because I don’t think that he’ll get that opportunity with the Checkers.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been slacking on my 2020 draft coverage this year. Heading into my senior year, it became clear that I couldn’t watch a whole lot of hockey and maintain good grades, so I had to take a step back. I’ve watched a few games here and there, and have had more time this break to watch players, so here are a few players to watch.

Jacob Perreault – Goal scoring forward that’s playing on one of the worst teams in the OHL this year. Hell of a shot and a good motor, so he can push the pace when he’s on the ice. Not sold on his two way play or his vision just yet though. Definitely more of a shoot first player.

Roni Hirvonen – Finnish center that has played on Canes prospect Lenni Killinen’s wing as of late. Love his hockey sense and speed. He fits the system well, in my opinion.

I also love watching Emil Andrae man the point on a power play. He’s an elite puck mover with great hands and a solid offensive toolbox, which makes him a weapon in the offensive zone. He’s not terrible defensively, so there could be a fit there. If Anttoni Honka didn’t make as many horrendous mistakes, he’d probably look a bit like Andrae.

Jake (Josh) Bean is Charlotte’s All-Star this year, and there’s nobody more deserving. He’s been a consistent threat all season and has found ways to be effective in the defensive zone as well. He’s still a little too inconsistent in his own end, but he’s developing quickly and becoming more of a two way defenseman.

Chase Priskie is in the middle of a hot streak and has fought his way back into the top five in team scoring. He seems to be fully adjusted to the pro game and is making huge strides on the defensive side of the puck as well as decision making. His biggest struggle was adjusting to the pace of the AHL and making decisions at a quicker pace than he was used to, but those struggles seem to be gone right now. I’m still waiting to see him contribute more at even strength, but he’s been a tremendous player for the Checkers as of late.

He was ready for a call up in training camp but never got a fair shake, unfortunately. I’m still withholding judgment on the Hurricanes for how they’re handling Ned this season, but I would like to see him playing in the NHL at some point this season. We may have to wait until next season to see Nedeljkovic in the NHL, which is fine. Perhaps we’ll see him score a goal!

I hope everyone had a great New Year! 2020 is shaping up to be another great year for the Carolina Hurricanes organization thanks to a great NHL team and a pipeline that’s fully stocked.

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