March 1 marks the time when NHL teams can sign prospects to entry-level contracts for the following season. The deadline for the Hurricanes to sign a number of their prospects is fast approaching, and it’s likely that this next month or so will be indicative of the future of a lot of prospects in the system. Teams can also sign players to tryouts in addition to ELCs, which has been the case for players such as Jake Bean and Jesper Sellgren in years past. Let’s break down which of our prospects need to be signed, how likely a signing is, and which prospects could join the Checkers this month!
Max Zimmer has signed an amateur tryout contract with the Charlotte Checkers. It’s a small step towards receiving an NHL contract, but it was a necessary step. Zimmer’s numbers with Wisconsin in the NCAA have been modest to say the least, but his skill set is something that the Checkers could use. He’s easily one of the fastest prospects not named Martin Necas in the organization, and if you pair that speed with his strength, you have a prospect with the potential to turn heads.
Zimmer was drafted by the Hurricanes in the fourth round, 104th overall, in 2016 and has spent the past four years playing for Wisconsin in the NCAA. Zimmer found his goal scoring touch this season despite missing time due to injury, and while his 11 points in 21 games isn’t that impressive, he set a career high in goals. Had Zimmer played in the full season, it’s possible that he could have made an impact on a very young team.
At this point, I don’t believe that it’s likely that Zimmer will sign an ELC with the Hurricanes, but with how weak the Checkers’ depth is right now, he’ll get a legitimate shot in the AHL. This is the perfect opportunity for Zimmer to show that he has what it takes to compete in the pros. With about a month left in the AHL season, that should be plenty of time for head coach Ryan Warsofsky and the rest of the Hurricanes and Checkers’ staff to see what they have in Zimmer.
Slepets and Kochetkov
We’ll talk about our two prospects playing in Russia since I’ve been getting questions about each of them. It doesn’t look like either player is able to play for Charlotte until their KHL contracts end. For Kochetkov, that’s not until the spring of 2021. For Slepets, that’s not until at least the spring of 2022. That might be for the best, at least as of right now. Kochetkov never started on a consistent basis and bounced around the MHL, VHL, and KHL all season long. He’ll have a better opportunity next season in the KHL with Vityaz once again poised for a good season. Slepets saw consistent playing time in the KHL for his 33 games with Dinamo Riga this year. His problem is that his point totals were modest on one of the KHL’s worst teams. After a hot start with his new team, Slepets had just a handful of points in his final 20 games with Riga. He’ll need these next two seasons to work on establishing consistency.
David Cotton’s season is still underway, and the Boston College Eagles face Providence on Friday to begin their playoff series. Boston College is looking like one of the favorites for the Hockey East Championship and could contend for a national championship this year as well. That said, it’s likely that we won’t hear about Cotton’s future until the national championship is over. Things could change and Boston College could be out earlier than expected, but it’s not likely. The only knock that people have on Cotton is his skating. He’s never been a strong skater, although he’s shown consistent growth in that regard. There haven’t been any rumors that Cotton will not be signing with the Hurricanes, and he’s been vocal about his decision to return for his senior year, so that leads me to believe that he’ll sign with the Hurricanes.
NOTE: If you’re not aware, Cotton returned for his senior year and caused a bit of a panic on Canes twitter. Many thought that this meant that he wouldn’t sign with the Hurricanes. The reality is that Cotton wanted to return and lead the Eagles to a national championship. Boston College has struggled while Cotton has attended, and so captaining the team in a successful season makes sense for Cotton.
Matt Filipe is a player whose season could end as early as this weekend, as Northeastern takes on UMass in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs. Filipe has set a new career high in points this season with 22 in 30 games and has tied his career high in goals with nine. Filipe has become an all situations type of player for Northeastern as the season has gone along. He’s seen time on the penalty kill, the power play, with the net empty, and more all season long. He has the size, strength, skill, and skating ability that you want in a power forward, so there’s obviously going to be some interest from the Hurricanes. Filipe, like Cotton, is more of a power forward with a good shot and above average hockey sense.
Sergei Samsonov, the Director of Forward Development for the Carolina Hurricanes, was impressed with Filipe’s growth that he showed during development camp in the summer, noting that his skating was something that stood out. Filipe has the potential to fit in nicely in the Hurricanes’ bottom six in the future and will likely sign his ELC and a tryout with the Checkers once his season is over.
Stevens was Carolina’s fifth round pick, 126th overall, in 2015. The 6’5″ winger showed promise in high school as a player who could fit into the bottom six and play in a checking role, but he’s had a few bumps along the way. His career with Yale has been underwhelming, hitting double digits in points only twice. Stevens’ twelve points in 31 games this season is a career high, and while his season isn’t over just yet, I don’t believe that he’ll be signing an NHL contract. He’s not the quickest skater and his play with Yale has been inconsistent. Stevens could wind up in the ECHL once the season is over, but I can’t see him signing at a level above that right now.
According to CapFriendly, the Hurricanes have until August 15 of 2020 to sign LaFontaine. At the start of the season, I was unclear as to whether or not the Hurricanes’ window was extended due to LaFontaine spending a year in the BCHL in order to transfer, but apparently not. His collegiate career started off poorly with two years as the backup at the University of Michigan, and it looked as if he would never see time at the NHL level. LaFontaine had a phenomenal year with Penticton in the BCHL while waiting to transfer to the University of Minnesota and was named the league’s top goaltender. Yes, he was older than most of the players in the league, but this was exactly what he needed to get his confidence back. This year’s Gophers team has been up and down and not all that impressive, but LaFontaine has stood out. He was a driving force behind Minnesota’s upset of Notre Dame in the Big Ten playoffs as well. This year, LaFontaine has posted a solid .919 save percentage in 25 games.
If the deadline is, in fact, August 15 of this year, I would imagine that the Hurricanes would try and sign LaFontaine. Callum Booth may look elsewhere for a better opportunity in the off-season, Nedeljkovic is likely headed for the NHL, and Forsberg may not be re-signed for next season. There’s also the Jeremy Helvig situation. It’s not clear whether or not he’ll play for the Checkers or Swamp Rabbits again, but I’d imagine that he would not. That leaves a spot open for LaFontaine, who has been trending upwards for two years. If Capfriendly hasn’t updated (which is highly unlikely) and LaFontaine has one more year of eligibility, I’d imagine that the Hurricanes will wait it out and let him play for Minnesota for another year.
The Hurricanes’ second round pick in 2017 has had a very underwhelming stat line for the past three years, even for a player labeled as a shutdown defenseman. Martin has a career high nine points in 36 games this season and will play in at least two more games this year. He’s great in his own end and can shut opponents down, but his skating is average and he’s not a factor offensively. Martin is probably the biggest question mark on this list. On one hand, he’s strong defensively and is right handed, a bit of a commodity in the NHL. Plus, you’d look silly if you didn’t sign one of your second round picks. On the other hand, there’s little to no upside offensively. To succeed at the NHL level, you have to be able to move the puck effectively, and I don’t believe that Martin is able to do that. I do think that it’s possible that Martin has plateaued in college and needs more of a challenge in order to grow. But if that’s not the case, it’s tough to warrant giving him a three year contract.
Henman’s growth this season has been noticeable, especially in terms of his strength on the puck. He’s added about 20-25 pounds since his draft year, and while he still needs to add some muscle, he’s come a long way. Henman has always been able to read the play at a high level and see the ice better than most, but this season he’s really coming into his own. Henman deserves an ELC because of his development and ability to make plays at a high level. He may start off in the ECHL in order to see more ice time, but we’ve seen that path work for a handful of our prospects in the past. The Hurricanes trading Janne Kuokkanen and Eetu Luostarinen also helps clear up a few spots down the middle for Henman next season. He’s also the only center that has to sign for next season, so I believe that he’ll sign.
Sellgren and Bokk
The SHL regular season ends on Thursday, and as it stands right now, both Sellgren and Bokk’s teams are poised for deep playoff runs. Lulea (Sellgren) sits in the top spot in the SHL, while Rogle (Bokk) sits at fourth. Both players are under contract for next season, and so I would imagine that both players sign tryouts if their seasons end before Charlotte’s does. Charlotte would need to make it to the playoffs in order for that to be likely, though.
The CHL Prospects
Even though he has not signed his ELC, the Checkers could still sign Jamieson Rees to a tryout and get him in the lineup for a few AHL games this season. Sarnia is out of playoff contention in the OHL and their season will come to an end on March 21. If he signs his tryout right away, it’s possible that Rees could be in Charlotte’s lineup against Hartford on March 25. He’s clearly doing well enough in the OHL to warrant an early look in the AHL, although he will have to return to Sarnia next season.
Ryan Suzuki and Blake Murray both play on playoff teams in the OHL and will likely make it pretty far in the playoffs. I’d be amazed if Charlotte is still in the playoffs when either player’s OHL season ends, but both could be welcome additions. Even if they don’t see game action, I could see the Checkers adding both players for depth.
And that’s all! Every other player either cannot sign a tryout or isn’t quite ready to make the jump to the AHL. These next few weeks will be a whirlwind, and I’ll do my best to keep you all updated on our prospect signings.