Welcome to a new five part series where I’ll assess the Hurricanes’ depth at each position, talk about their strengths and weaknesses, and provide a few implications for the upcoming draft! We’re starting with the center position, once considered one of the Hurricanes’ weakest areas in terms of depth. I won’t rank any prospect, but I’ll provide a few details on each prospect in the system.
You may notice that I omitted a few prospects from the center list: Matt Filipe, David Cotton, and Kevin Wall. While they’re all listed as centers, each player played on the wing this season. I’m considering them as prospects on the wing until they play at center next year.
Morgan Geekie – Almost certainly an NHL player, especially after his debut with the Hurricanes. He’s looking like a middle six center for the Hurricanes, and since he’s a right-handed shot, he’s an even more valuable asset to the team. Great strength, hockey sense, and shooting ability.
Clark Bishop – Gritty center that can play fourth line minutes and fill in if there’s an injury. Not a lot of offensive upside, but he plays hard.
Stelio Mattheos – Great speed, good hockey sense, lots of offensive skill. Mattheos has plenty of talent but will need another couple of years to develop due to injuries and a recovery from cancer this season.
Steven Lorentz – Another gritty forward with more offensive upside than a player like Bishop. Could be a valuable penalty killer and bottom six forward in the future. Lorentz’s stock has risen astronomically this season due to his growth in almost every facet of the game.
Ryan Suzuki – Suzuki has arguably the highest ceiling out of our center prospects and could be a second line forward or better at the NHL level. Elite vision and hockey sense are two of his best assets, but his shot shouldn’t go unnoticed. Suzuki skates well and will need about two more years to develop into an NHL player.
Jamieson Rees – His style fits what Rod Brind’Amour is trying to build in Raleigh, especially his physical game. Rees gives 100 percent every shift and plays a similar game to Brock McGinn. His hockey sense is better, he’s a better shooter, and a better passer as well. McGinn is faster, but that’s the only advantage that he could have over Rees.
Jack Drury – I describe Drury as a “diet” Jordan Staal. He’s good on faceoffs, great in his own end, a strong penalty killer, and a pest in the offensive zone. Drury likes to hover around the net and create offense. The only knock on his game is his average skating, as he could benefit from getting a step or two faster.
Luke Henman – Henman has great vision and hockey sense and is another solid playmaker in the Canes’ system. He has third line upside and could play on the second power play unit as a playmaker. Henman needs to gain some weight but is a solid prospect even if he isn’t the most physical. He needs to sign by June 1, otherwise he’ll become a free agent.
Blake Murray – Murray is a goal scoring forward that has focused on establishing some consistency this season. He’s becoming more of a playmaker, but his best assets are his shot and skating. Murray has NHL upside as well, but he’s a bit more of a long-term project.
Massimo Rizzo – Rizzo is another long term project, but he has potential as an offensive forward. Rizzo’s playmaking and hands make him a fun player to watch, especially when he gets going. We’ll need to see how Rizzo fares with the University of North Dakota before we see how high his ceiling really is.
Jason Cotton – Cotton is a Hobey Baker finalist at the time this article is being written and is coming off of a great senior year at Sacred Hart University. Cotton is primarily a goal scorer with good size and strength, all of which could be assets in the pros. I haven’t seen much of him yet, so he’s another player that will have to play some pro games before I get an idea as to what his ceiling is.
The Canes certainly don’t lack size with their center prospects. Only three prospects are under six feet, and the majority of their center prospects are strong on the puck in addition to their size. Lorentz, Geekie, Bishop, and Murray could fit into this category. I’d consider their goal scoring potential as a strength as well. Players such as Geekie, Cotton, Murray, and Rees are all excellent shooters, and players such as Drury and Suzuki have the potential to score at the NHL level as well. The Hurricanes also have legitimate playmakers in their prospect pool, with Suzuki, Rees, and Drury headlining this class. Offensively, it’s a strong group of center prospects. The Hurricanes have a number of playmakers and goal scorers that can play up and down in the lineup for years to come. Players such as Drury, Rees, Lorentz, and Bishop also play exceptionally well in the defensive zone.
The biggest weakness with the current crop of center prospects is skating. The Hurricanes only have a handful of prospects whose skating I’d put in the “good to elite” category: Mattheos, Suzuki, Henman, and Rizzo are the best skaters so far. I already mentioned Drury’s skating holding him back a tad, and while Rees plays at a high level, his skating also needs to improve in order for him to succeed at the NHL level. The Hurricanes have three right-handed centers in their prospect pool as of right now: Geekie, Mattheos, and Cotton. With eleven center prospects outside of the NHL right now, the Hurricanes could stand to add another right-handed shot.
Upside is no longer an issue for the Hurricanes’ center depth. Two prospects (Rees and Suzuki) have top six upside, there are a handful with middle six upside (Drury, Geekie, Mattheos, Henman), and there are plenty others with NHL upside.
The Hurricanes have three right-handed centers in their prospect pool as of right now: Geekie, Mattheos, and Cotton. With eleven center prospects outside of the NHL right now, the Hurricanes could stand to add another right-handed shot. It’s anyone’s guess as to what the Hurricanes will decide to do at the draft, especially now that it’s been delayed, but I would imagine that they will try and draft another right-handed center.
As things stand right now, the Hurricanes’ center depth is impressive and will continue to impress for quite some time. The Hurricanes have turned one of their organization’s weaknesses into an area of strength, something that seemed unlikely just three or four years ago. Morgan Geekie is looking like another success for the Hurricanes, and with their current group of prospects at the center position, I don’t believe that he’ll be the only one.