It’s no secret that the Carolina Hurricanes have a deep prospect pool and will continue to have a top ten farm system in the NHL for a number of years. The sheer volume of draft picks that the Hurricanes have had since 2014 is a major factor, as is the quality of those draft picks. Obviously there are going to be some stellar picks and some disappointing ones, but for the most part, the Hurricanes have done a fantastic job of keeping the pipeline stocked with talent.
The Ranking System and Grades
Since I’m still a student, I’ve been conditioned to believe that the only way to receive grades is to have a letter assigned to the quality of your performance. Therefore, I’m using a letter grading system (for now).
A = elite NHL prospect
B+ = Very good NHL prospect
B = Good NHL prospect
C = Average NHL prospect
D = Marginal chance of NHL success
I’ll do my best to rank each prospect in a tier. So the first prospect listed will be the closest to the next tier up, and the lowest will be the closest to the next lowest tier.
So what separates the “very good” prospects from the elite ones? Well, for starters, prospects aren’t going to be ranked solely on potential and their ceiling since there are so many other factors that go into a player and their development. Potential is occasionally what pushes a certain player into a higher tier, but it’s not the end all be all. Traits such as growth, production, hockey sense, skating, and team fit are examples of what factors into my decision making. For instance, a player that has a ceiling of a bottom six forward may be lumped in with a few players with higher ceilings. That player could be further along in his development and might fit the system better at this present moment. NHL readiness is another factor. Even if a player could reach a high ceiling, if he’s still at least three or four years away, he may be ranked a bit lower than a prospect who is closest to the NHL.
There are certain biases that I’m going to be avoiding in these rankings. First of all, I’m going to avoid recency bias, which sounds funny since there hasn’t been any hockey for over two months. Recency bias is a hell of a drug, and players like Morgan Geekie would be ranked higher than they should be because of their performance. Another bias that I’ve been guilty of is how “fun” a player is. This means that the player can make a flashy play, land a big hit, or score a big goal off of a sweet move in the offensive zone. I tend to be more partial towards the fun players, which may cause me to be a little higher on them than I should.
One final note: There are a few players that I struggled with placing into tiers due to a variety of factors. There are a few players who are in between the “C” and “B” tiers, but I’m not trying to make a tier that’s called “above average.” I’ll be sure to let you know of the players that fall into this category when we get to them!
A – Elite NHL Prospect
It is my belief that, at this present moment, the Hurricanes do not have an elite NHL prospect in their pipeline. Andrei Svechnikov was an elite NHL prospect in his draft year and has been a full-time NHL player ever since. Martin Necas was also an elite NHL prospect but has also become a full-time NHLer. It’s not damning that the Hurricanes don’t have a premier prospect in their system. In fact, it’s better that two of the team’s premier prospects in recent years are already contributing towards the NHL club’s success. Svechnikov was on pace for nearly 74 points when the season was put on hold and he just turned 20 in March. As a rookie skater, Necas was on pace for 40 points and is proving to be one of the team’s quickest and most dynamic threats.
The fact that the Hurricanes lack an elite prospect in their pipeline keeps them from having a top five farm system, in my opinion. While it may be one of the deepest farm systems in the league, the lack of a true top prospect keeps the Hurricanes out of the top five. It’s not a cause for concern, however. The Hurricanes’ scouting department has found a fantastic balance between quality and quantity when it comes to prospects. While the upper tier of my rankings is bare, so is the lower tier for the most part. The middle is full of talented prospects, most of which have a chance at seeing NHL ice time in their careers. With the Hurricanes’ first round draft choice remaining uncertain, it’s entirely possible that the Canes receive a lottery pick. If either the Hurricanes or Maple Leafs lose in the (incredibly stupid design to give big market non-playoff teams a chance) play-in round, then they’re entered into the lottery. The Hurricanes keep the better of their two first round picks, so they’ll have a better chance at drafting a top prospect provided that Toronto’s pick isn’t in the top three. It’s unlikely, but entirely possible that the Hurricanes will have a prospect in this tier after the draft takes place. For now, this tier remains unoccupied.
B+ – Very Good NHL Prospect
Ryan Suzuki – Coming in at the number one spot is Ryan Suzuki. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I believe that Ryan Suzuki is the Hurricanes’ top prospect at this present moment. Sure, he’s not the flashiest prospect that the Hurricanes have, but he’s the best. Suzuki has a high ceiling, that of a good second line forward or better, which is one reason why he’s ranked up here. His hockey sense and playmaking ability are elite, his skating is good, and his shot is an underrated asset in his toolbox. Suzuki does a lot of things really well and doesn’t struggle in any particular area, making him a well-rounded prospect poised for NHL success. Sure, he hasn’t been as dynamic as he was projected to be when he was drafted into the OHL, but his teams haven’t been that great either. We saw how great Suzuki could be with players that could actually finish on his wing, and he grew more confident after the trade to Saginaw. Suzuki is still two or three years away from the NHL, but his potential, skill set, and overall style of play make him an easy choice for the first spot. Some things to watch out for next season regarding Suzuki include his willingness to get to the middle of the ice, his willingness to shoot the puck, and his ability to dominate the OHL. He was getting to that point when his season was cancelled, so I’m expecting big things from Suzuki next season. So why is he not in the highest tier? I debated putting Suzuki there due to his upside as a player but felt that I hadn’t seen enough elite skill to justify that ranking. He’s a very good NHL prospect and could rise to a higher level than expected due to his offensive skills and strong hockey sense. It wouldn’t be outlandish to put Suzuki in the top tier in a few years, in my opinion.
Dominik Bokk – Bokk is another player where I have to be cautious about recency bias. He had a phenomenal second half and it’s clear that he has top six potential once he reaches the NHL. Bokk’s ability to drive offensive production, score goals, make plays, and play at a high pace makes him a top prospect. His skating is great and arguably his best asset after his shot. Bokk has a few advantages over Suzuki, but ultimately, I felt that these advantages weren’t enough for me to put him ahead of Suzuki. First of all, Bokk has the advantage of playing against men in the SHL for a few years now. The SHL is one of the world’s best leagues, so Bokk has the advantage of playing in a top league before Suzuki. His age is also a factor, along with the fact that he’s appeared at the World Juniors and seen top line ice time for his team. Bokk may be more creative and flashy, but those traits don’t always mean that a player is better. It’s a close race for the top spot, but Suzuki holds a narrow lead. Does Bokk make it in the top tier if he was consistently good all season? It’s entirely possible. We saw elite performance after elite performance after the World Juniors, and if Bokk can churn out those types of performances on a consistent basis, I don’t see any reason to keep him out of the elite tier. He’ll receive consistent ice time and great coaching in the AHL, which will help him establish some consistency of his own.
As of right now, Ryan Suzuki and Dominik Bokk are the only two prospects that I would put into this tier. Certain players were close to making the cut, but in the end, I determined that Bokk and Suzuki were the only prospects to make the cut.
B – Good NHL Prospects
Jake Bean – I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t like the Bean pick at the time. The Hurricanes already had plenty of defensemen in the system, and it didn’t fill an immediate need on the roster. Bean has since proved me wrong and has shown that he can be a top offensive defenseman in the pros. I’m not sure when or if he’ll get his chance with the Hurricanes, but Bean is more than capable of handling an NHL role for a full season. His ability to control a power play, move the puck, and assess each individual play makes him an asset for this organization. Bean was the AHL’s highest scoring defenseman during the regular season and has proven that he’s ready for an NHL role. The only problem? There isn’t enough room on the roster for Bean for the foreseeable future. Jaccob Slavin is the Hurricanes’ top defenseman on the left side and you have Haydn Fleury, Jake Gardiner, Joel Edmundson, and Brady Skjei tossed into the mix as well. The Hurricanes have Dougie Hamilton, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and Brett Pesce on the right side, so there isn’t an option for Bean to play on his off side either. There’s also Hurricanes Legend Sami Vatanen on the right side, although I can’t see him signing an extension with the Canes. In order for Bean to see NHL ice time, there are going to have to be trades. Bean might be one of those players traded, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Morgan Geekie – It’s easy to look at Geekie’s performance in his call up and put him as the Hurricanes’ top prospect, but I can’t do that. Geekie is a great prospect that fills a lot of needs that the Hurricanes have, but he’s not the best prospect in the system. What he is, however, is an excellent middle six center that can get to the dirty areas and score goals. Geekie can play in any situation and improve the team in those areas, which is a rare trait for a player to have. He’s a talented scorer, smart, gritty, strong on the puck, and a great net front presence. Geekie has been the net front piece the Hurricanes have been missing for…well, forever. His ability to get a stick on a shot from the point, to tap in a rebound, and to screen the goalie is unmatched when compared to the Hurricanes’ other prospects. What puts Geekie ahead of a player such as Jamieson Rees is his NHL readiness and fit for the system. Geekie fits the system perfectly and will more than likely be a full-time NHL player next season. He may not have as high of a ceiling, but that won’t matter since he’ll be helping the NHL team succeed much sooner.
Jamieson Rees – Rees is one of our more entertaining prospects, but also one of the most controversial. He’s a shifty skater, meaning that he can find unique ways to escape coverage and split the defense in order to create offensive chances. He may not be the fastest player on a consistent basis, but that sort of shiftiness makes up for it. Rees’ hands are elite and often contributes to his shiftiness. He can stickhandle in a phone booth and turn opposing defenders inside out with his creativity with the puck. Rees plays like a more offensively gifted Chad LaRose and always gives a consistent effort, making him one of the team’s most intriguing prospects. There’s no denying that Rees plays a gritty, in your face game to go along with his offensive flair. That sort of physical presence is still important in the NHL, but what sets Rees apart from the rest is that he’s also great in the offensive zone. There are times when Rees’ gritty, sandpaper style of play can lead to some poor decision making, which is one of the reasons why he’s in this tier as opposed to one higher than this. His discipline can be an issue as we’ve seen a few times with Rees getting suspended for high hits. This brings me to the next reason as to why I put him down here. Rees has yet to play in a full OHL season due to injuries, suspensions, or a mixture of both. This season, Rees missed twelve games due to two separate suspensions as well as some time due to a sprained ankle. It’s not good for his development, so hopefully he can work this out.
Pyotr Kochetkov – I struggled a lot over whether or not to put Kochetkov here and, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure if I’ve made the right decision. You can’t deny his athleticism, quickness, and potential to become a starting goalie at the NHL level. At the same time, I’m struggling with a lot of other factors with regards to Kochetkov’s development. As of right now, he’s my favorite goalie in the system and could have a bright future with the franchise if developed properly. The problem is Kochetkov’s lack of consistent starts this past season and his injury history. His age is also a factor since he was drafted as a double overage player, which puts him in the B tier. If Kochetkov was two years younger when the Canes drafted him, I’d feel fairly confident about putting him in this position, perhaps a little higher. Kochetkov will have a better opportunity to succeed next season and will likely be the backup goalie for Vityaz in the KHL. He may not see as many starts as we would like, but he’ll play for one team consistently. A trade and a few moves to lower leagues meant that Kochetkov never saw consistent starts with the same team last season, which can be hard for a young goaltender. If he stays with Vityaz all season long, I see no reason why he could take over as the team’s starter at some point in the season. Kochetkov’s next season will be crucial in his development. He’ll be a 21-year-old goalie in one of the best leagues in the world and getting ready to make the transition to North America the following season. If Kochetkov can continue to perform well in the KHL and see some semblance of consistency in his playing time, I’ll feel more comfortable about him as a player. There’s no shortage of talent and upside with Kochetkov and there’s no denying that he’ll have a bright future if everything goes according to plan.
David Cotton – Cotton will start his professional career next season and could contend for a roster spot due to his experience and style of play. He’s a gritty power forward with a knack for scoring goals, so the Hurricanes could start him on the bottom six if they feel that he’s ready for that position. He’ll likely start in the AHL, though, which puts him a little lower than you might think. Cotton has shown that he can be a leader and a contributor on the ice, all valuable for the future success of the team. Like Kochetkov, I struggled with putting Cotton in this position. I think that Cotton is close to being NHL ready and that he could be a good bottom six forward for the Canes. The problem is that I don’t believe that his ceiling is much higher than that and, with Cotton turning 23 soon, he’s close to reaching his prime. Cotton’s NHL readiness puts him above some players with higher upside such as Patrik Puistola. The fact that he could play in the NHL as early as the upcoming season makes him a better prospect for the Hurricanes right now.
Patrik Puistola – Puistola has top six potential at the NHL level, especially if he can continue his trajectory. Playing time was an issue this past season, but despite that, there were flashes of brilliance in his game that showed his continued development as a player. Puistola made the right decision to leave Tappara and sign with JYP, so we’ll see more of the type of player he can be next year. Puistola’s skating is inconsistent and can limit his offensive contribution, but those problems are nowhere near as glaring as they were during his draft year. Some of the things that stand out in his game are his shooting, net front presence, offensive creativity, and two-way play. Puistola can dazzle you with his puck skills and shooting, but he knows when to make the simple play. His game may not be as well-rounded as some other players, but Puistola does a lot of things right and I don’t buy into the “one trick pony” narrative. His upside is substantial and I could see Puistola showing the world just how dynamic he can be next season. He’ll be a big part of JYP’s team next season as well as Finland’s World Juniors team, assuming the tournament will still take place.
Anttoni Honka – This is a surprising ranking, but I’m sticking to my guns here. When Honka is on his game, he’s one of the best offensive defensemen in his league. He’s incredibly smart, a gifted passer, a good skater, and a dynamic power play quarterback. Honka possesses the ability to change a game with his skills and makes the offensive side of the game look like child’s play. The problem is that when he’s off his game, everyone notices it. Honka can act like a deer in headlights when he’s confronted with a challenge in the defensive zone, is prone to turnovers, and loses his man frequently. As frustrating as this is, I don’t believe that it’s because Honka is incompetent or anything. I actually believe that Honka processes the offensive game at a high level and he hasn’t gotten comfortable with processing the defensive side of the game. He can overthink things and try to overcompensate for his poor decisions, which causes him to look terrible in the defensive zone. Regardless, Honka has the potential to be a top four defenseman and power play quarterback at the NHL level. It’s boom or bust with Honka, but the potential and skills are too enticing to deny him a lower spot in these rankings.
Alex Nedeljkovic – Nedeljkovic looked shaky in his NHL starts this season, but you’ll have to remember that the Hurricanes were without two top four defensemen and were giving Joel Edmundson more ice time than I’d care to admit. Nedeljkovic looks like a solid NHL goaltender, although I’m not certain if he’s a starting goalie at the NHL level. There’s no denying that he’s capable of stealing games for your team and facing a high volume of shots, but can the Hurricanes rely on him as a starter? That question hasn’t been answered just yet. If Nedeljkovic was starting to see NHL starts as a backup with the Hurricanes, he’d be higher on this list than he already is. It’s been six years now and Nedeljkovic still isn’t an NHL goalie, which is more the Hurricanes’ fault than his own. I still believe in Ned as a goalie, but time is running out for the Hurricanes if they hope to make Nedeljkovic a part of the team’s future.
Jack Drury – Drury is a player that I’m ranking higher than two other players in this tier because of how well his style of play fits with Rod Brind’Amour’s system. I’ve compared Drury to Jordan Staal on a few occasions and I stand by that statement. He’s strong in the faceoff circle, great in his own end, a good penalty killer, and a leader. Drury’s weakness is his average foot speed, but he makes up for it with his offensive skills and strong play in front of the net. Drury is a smart player that always makes the smart play, rarely the flashy play. I’m not convinced that Drury has more than a third line ceiling unless his skating improves before he makes it to the NHL. He’s the type of player where you’ll hear about his intangibles as much as his offensive or defensive plays, which could also be said about Jordan Staal. Overall, Drury is a talented player with a good chance at becoming a future player for the Hurricanes. The biggest questions are his skating and his ceiling. Do they limit him as a prospect? As of right now, yes. If Drury was a step faster, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We’d talk about his ability to keep pace and drive offense at a high level. I’d feel comfortable labeling him as a potential second line forward in the future. If this was the case, I’d consider bumping Drury up a few spots. He has plenty of skill in the offensive zone and is a great defensive forward as well. You can plug Drury in any role and he’ll succeed. If he can get faster, it’ll allow Drury to elevate his game and take control of games.
Tuukka Tieksola – I’m a big fan of Tuukka Tieksola’s style of play and I see a bit of Teuvo Teravainen in his game. He’s a talented playmaker with a good shot, great skating skills, and elite hockey sense. Tieksola needs to bulk up and play in the men’s league for a full season before I get a good read on where he’s at as a prospect, but he could be a sleeper prospect in the Hurricanes’ system. His skills translate to the NHL and his style of play would fit in perfectly on a line with some of the Hurricanes’ Finns. Tieksola is a ways away from that point in his career, but he’s a prospect to keep an eye on in the future. At this point in his development, Tieksola is still a project. Sure, there’s the fact that he was arguably the U20 league’s best forward this season. His ceiling is higher than most fourth round picks as well, which is an added bonus. The fact of the matter is that despite all of the skill and upside, Tieksola hasn’t been tested for about a year now. He was allowed to coast in the U20 league while making minor improvements along the way. Tieksola is a long way away from reaching his full potential, which is why he’s a little lower than some might expect.
Jesper Sellgren – The final player in this tier is Jesper Sellgren, a 2018 sixth round pick that came out of nowhere. Sellgren wasn’t a household name in the year he was drafted as he had been passed over in two previous drafts before the Hurricanes finally selected him in 2018. I’ll admit that I wasn’t high on Sellgren until I saw him play in a few SHL games during the 2018-2019 season. I saw a smart two way defenseman that wasn’t afraid to chip in offensively. He’s not a pure offensive defenseman, nor is he a shutdown defenseman. I would have to say that Sellgren leans a little more on the offensive side of things, but he’s capable of handling any challenge that he’s faced with. It wasn’t until he earned a tryout with the Checkers that I started to realize Sellgren’s potential. Sellgren makes skating look effortless, at least skating forwards, and can sneak in behind the play unnoticed to catch opposing defenses by surprise. Sellgren uses his stick to his advantage in the defensive zone and can make up for his lack of physicality by doing so. The biggest area in need of improvement for Sellgren is his backwards skating. It’s not nearly as strong as his forward skating and can lead to opposing forwards beating him down the wing and powering towards the front of the net. If he was just a half step faster or added about 10-20 pounds of muscle, it wouldn’t be an issue. Sellgren has third pairing potential as an NHL defenseman and runs into the same issue that Jake Bean does: not enough roster spots.
C – Average NHL Prospect
Joey Keane – Keane headlines this list as the top prospect in the “average” division and this requires some explaining. Everything that I’ve heard about Keane makes me feel that he has NHL potential and could see NHL ice time soon. He’s likely a third pairing two way defenseman that plays a responsible game with some offensive flair. So why is he ranked in this tier as opposed to the one above it? Two big reasons. The first is that I have yet to watch more than a couple of Keane’s games with Charlotte, so I’m not as informed as to the type of player that he is. The second reason is the Hurricanes’ depth on defense. Sure, if the Canes don’t bring back TVR, it’ll be a lot easier (and cheaper) for the Hurricanes to put Keane on the roster. But that all depends on whether or not he’s ready. Don Waddell seems confident that Keane will be on the taxi squad for the playoffs, so it’s clear that the team is high on Keane as a player. It’s very possible that I revisit this in a few months and realize that he’s a better player than I thought. For now, I’m going to chalk this one up to my lack of viewings.
Stelio Mattheos – Mattheos has always been one of my favorites, but for obvious reasons, this season set him back. Stelio had a cancer diagnosis keep him out of the first part of the season and a lower body injury limit him to just 16 AHL games this year. Mattheos has a lot of NHL skills in his tool box including speed, power, physicality, creativity, and hockey sense. He’s the type of player that dictates the pace and forces opponents to make mistakes due to his speed and tenacity. Mattheos will bounce back next season and will likely work his way up the list. This year may have tacked another year onto the end of his NHL timeline, but it’s no cause for concern. We’ve seen how potent of a player Stelio Mattheos can be.
Domenick Fensore – Fensore is an exciting prospect that has more potential than some people give him credit for. His dynamic style of offensive play, speed, and hard work make him a strong prospect with NHL potential. Fensore was Boston University’s second highest scorer among defenseman this past season as a freshman, behind Nashville prospect David Farrance. This is the type of prospect that is immediately given a “do not draft” label by a lot of the old guard in hockey due to his size. Fensore is just 5’7″ and barely able to hit 150 pounds, but he plays like a player that is 6’1″ and 200 pounds. Remember when I compared Rees to Chad LaRose? Now imagine if LaRose was a defenseman. Boom, you get Domenick Fensore. He may not be the biggest player on the ice, but Fensore will never quit on a play and often force his opponents to make mistakes. He’s an aggressive defenseman that doesn’t know the meaning of the word passive. Sometimes that aggression gets in the way of his defensive positioning, but the effort is a great sign of what could happen in the NHL. I love Fensore as a player. I’d put him higher, but as is the case with all of our defensive prospects, the odds are against him. He’ll likely finish his career with Boston University and sign with the Hurricanes afterwards to begin his pro career. I can’t see Fensore starting his professional career any earlier and it’s not like the NCAA is a bad place to develop. His role will continue to grow as he gets older and develops more. Fensore is a bubble player in these rankings. He’s not quite good enough just yet to be a “B” prospect and I believe that he’s too good to be average. Right now, Fensore is somewhere in between. I was impressed with his performance this past season and will be keeping a close eye on him next year.
Steven Lorentz – Lorentz had his coming out party this year in the AHL, finishing second in team scoring with 46 points. Lorentz is a player that can fill in on your fourth line and provide some secondary scoring, penalty killing, and grit. Does he have a future in the NHL? I’d say so. Sure, he may not have the highest ceiling in terms of points, but he, Foegele, Martinook, McGinn, Aho, and Teravainen would give the Hurricanes six forwards that are dangerous on the penalty kill. His style of play fits Rod Brind’Amour’s system and I’m hoping that he sticks around for another couple of years. With this ranking, it’s not about the player’s ceiling. It’s about his development and fit for the team. We all know that Lorentz might not be more than a fourth line NHL player. We also know that he fits Brind’Amour’s system because of his hard work and defensive play, so I could see Lorentz pushing for the roster next year assuming that he receives a contract extension.
Eetu Makiniemi – I knew nothing about Makiniemi when the Hurricanes drafted him but I’ve liked everything that I’ve seen from him ever since. His post-draft season was spent with Jokerit’s U20 team once again, where he kept a horrible team above water for the whole year. The following season, a lower body injury kept Makiniemi from appearing in more than a handful of games in Finland’s second league. The skill was always there, but the opportunities often weren’t as Makiniemi was down on the depth chart in a KHL organization. This past season, Makiniemi spent most of his time in Mestis once again but was given more starts and a larger role on his team. As a result, he was named a second team All-Star and the league’s best goaltender for the season. Makiniemi had a .936 save percentage in seven Liiga appearances and put forth some fantastic performances in goal. Next season, he’ll likely be the team’s starter and showcase all of the skills that made him an NHL draft pick. It’s been a bit of a winding road, but I really like this prospect. He’s a solid goaltender that exhibits athleticism, fluid movements, and a big frame. Makiniemi may not have shown me that he has starter potential just yet, but I believe that next season will be indicative of the type of player that he could be. Goalies always take a little longer to develop.
Jack LaFontaine – LaFontaine has revived his career these past two seasons after I had, admittedly, given up on him as a player. He spent two seasons as the third goalie for the University of Michigan and couldn’t seem to get a start if he tried. When it was announced that he’d be spending a season in the BCHL, I was worried that he wouldn’t be able to find his way back into the NCAA. Then, LaFontaine tore up the BCHL and was named the league’s top goaltender and a first team All-Star while finding his confidence as a player. This past season, LaFontaine was the starter for a younger Minnesota team, putting up a respectable .919 save percentage in 25 starts. LaFontaine is another big goalie with great athleticism and skill who could find his way into the pros next season. He’ll need a great senior season in order to earn an NHL contract, but I could see that happening based on how much he’s developed over the past few seasons. His upside is still in question, but there’s definitely NHL potential there. This next season, assuming it happens, will be very telling for LaFontaine’s future. I’m putting him a spot below Makiniemi primarily due to his age and the strength of competition in the Liiga compared to the NCAA. LaFontaine still has a future with this organization and could be an NHL goaltender a few years down the road.
Blake Murray – I feel like I talk about how I’ve come around on Murray as a player every time I get the chance to talk about him. It’s true, though. I didn’t like Murray at all until the second half of his draft year and I was struggling to place where he’d fit into a team’s system. This season, Murray showed the scoring potential that he’s always been touted for but also showed his improvements in the offensive zone. Murray doesn’t have tunnel vision but wasn’t as gifted of a playmaker as you’d have hoped. This year, Murray started to be more of a factor in the offensive zone outside of his goal scoring, and his team was better for it. His biggest test will be next season, however. I’m still not convinced that Murray is more than a complementary player on his line. When he played with Quinton Byfield, Murray was outstanding and showed NHL promise. When he was off of Byfield’s line, it was harder for Murray to make an impact. That may be a coincidence due to his struggles with consistency, or it may be indicative of his status as a player. Either way, I’ll need to see more from Murray next year. There’s a lot of promise there. He has the size and skill to make it in the NHL as a goal scorer. I’m ranking him here because of his potential as a player, but his lack of consistency keeps him from going any higher. I’m very unsure of Murray as a player but he was easily one of the most improved prospects in the Hurricanes’ system this year. Murray showed flashes of what made him a top OHL prospect this past season, but his lack of consistency is a big reason as to why he’s down here. When Murray was on his game, he was one of the best players on his team and looked like a true NHL prospect. If he can be that type of player consistently, I’ll have to rethink my position on Murray being a complementary player.
Clark Bishop – Remember everything I said about Steven Lorentz? It’s basically the same deal for Bishop. We’ve already seen Bishop at the NHL level on a few occasions, and he has fit in well on the fourth line in a depth role. I don’t believe that Bishop will be a career NHL player, but he’s the type of player that can come in if there’s an injury and play on your fourth line. Those types of players are valuable, and he’s a great defensive player in the AHL.
Lenni Killinen – The rest of the players in this tier are harder to group together due to the uncertainty about their futures, their current performances, their development, or other factors. Killinen has potential as a decent bottom six NHL player, but he’s still at least three or four years away from reaching that potential. He’s done well enough at the Liiga level despite some slow starts for the past two seasons and even represented Finland at the World Juniors. It’s clear that Killinen’s value to his team is more on the defensive side of the puck than the offensive side, which brings up some concern about his upside. Killinen has a good shot and is great in front of the net, but his inability to think the game at a high level limits him to just that. He’s not going to be a gifted playmaker, he won’t make great decisions with the puck on his stick, and he can’t always keep up in transition because he struggles to read the play. I’ve seen improvements in Killinen’s game but I’m not sure if he grows enough in his next season in the Liiga to really make a difference.
Massimo Rizzo – Rizzo is a fun prospect with an interesting tool kit in the offensive zone. He’s quick, a good playmaker, possesses a good shot, and can stickhandle in a phone booth. With these skills, he can dominate the BCHL and be a big-game player for any team that he’s on. His consistency can be an issue and there are times where I’d like to see him take control of a game, but there’s still a lot of potential in Rizzo’s game. Taking the NCAA route is the best possible scenario for Rizzo so that he can develop over the course of four years at his own pace. The team will be able to help him along the way and he’ll continue to grow. There are skills of his that translate directly to the NHL, such as his creativity, skating, and hockey sense. If he can take control of games and improve his overall level of play over the course of four years, then I believe that Rizzo will be an NHL player. The reason I put him down here is because he’s a long way away from the NHL and we’re still not 100% certain about his ceiling.
Kevin Wall – Wall was a player that I was unaware of when the Hurricanes drafted him, but I liked what I saw at development camp and in his freshman season at Penn State. Wall has a great shot and can be dangerous in the offensive zone while playing a fairly responsible game in his own end. He plays a simple, yet effective, game that allows for him to contribute offensively and maintain strong defensive play at the same time. Wall’s ice time was limited this year but I thought that he looked great when he was in the lineup. With Penn State losing a lot of forwards to the NHL, next season will present more opportunities for Wall to succeed and develop. His ice time will increase and he’ll be in the lineup on a consistent basis, which will help establish consistency in his game that he may not have been able to develop last season. Wall has NHL potential, although I don’t see more than bottom six potential at this point in time. I could be proved wrong in the next few years since Penn State has done a fantastic job of producing NHL talent in recent years. Wall fills a need in the system since he’s a right-handed shot that can score goals, so I like his odds.
Kirill Slepets – Slepets, like Kochetkov, was selected in his third go-around in the draft. He’s a speedy winger that can score goals and make an impact in the offensive zone. Other than that, I’m still not that familiar with Slepets. He played on one of the KHL’s worst teams this past season and was largely unnoticeable despite decent ice time throughout the season. Next season, Slepets will play with Lokomotiv in the KHL and continue his development with one of the league’s best teams. The Hurricanes hold his rights for at least another five or six years, so there’s no rush when it comes to Slepets’ development. He was a low-risk pick that could turn into a decent NHL player if he’s given enough time to develop.
Cade Webber – Webber would likely have been a few spots higher on this list if he hadn’t been injured for over half of this past season. He was starting to become one of Penticton’s best and most consistent defensemen in his own end and I believe that he was beginning to find his confidence in the offensive zone. Webber is almost strictly a stay at home defenseman, and a big one at that, but I’m not convinced that that’s all he’s capable of. He’s a tremendous skater with high-end speed for a kid that’s close to 6’7″ and his hockey sense is impressive. Webber can read the play at a high level and get in the way of any sort of offense before the play can develop. Continued development and a few other improvements in his game could push Webber to the next level, and one factor could be his play in transition. According to some scouts, Webber is limited to simple passes and not all that effective in transition. He’ll need to focus on analyzing a breakout and how to use his hockey sense to his advantage both in transition and in the offensive zone. If Webber can do that, he’ll be a threat in all three zones. This is another player with decent NHL potential but a long way to go in terms of development, which is why I didn’t feel comfortable putting him higher. There are some scouts that are high on Webber but I’ll need to see how he fares with Boston University before making any judgments.
Roland McKeown – It pains me to put Prince Pretty down here, but the acquisition of Joey Keane makes it tough for me to find a way for McKeown to become a Hurricane. He’s a great defender with good speed and hockey sense. His offensive upside is limited, and he can be a bit of a void of offense at times, but his responsibility in his own end combined with his leadership could make him an NHL defenseman for some team. There are a few teams that could give McKeown a chance but I’m not entirely sure if that team will be the Hurricanes. At 24 years old, McKeown only has a couple of years before he hits his prime. With McKeown’s contract expiring soon, I’m worried that he’ll want to sign with a team that will give him a chance at the NHL level.
D – Marginal Chance of NHL Success
Spencer Smallman – Smallman has had a rough go of things since he turned pro, what with shoulder surgery and an ACL injury in back to back seasons and whatnot. This season, Smallman started a little later and was finding his groove in a depth role in Charlotte, but it’s a role that he should have filled two years ago had he not been injured. We’re in year three of Smallman’s ELC and I can’t see him working his way up to the NHL unless the Hurricanes give him another year or two on his contract. It’s a shame because I think that Smallman is a player that’s easy to coach and one that does a lot of things well. He’s not an elite player in any area, but he’s good in every area.
Callum Booth – Booth has promise as a goaltender but has been given the short end of the stick during his tenure in the Hurricanes organization. For three years, Booth has been in the ECHL and has seen the occasional AHL start, but never on a consistent basis. He’s a talented, athletic goalie that tends to dazzle you with his saves, but I can’t see the Hurricanes giving him a fair opportunity anytime soon.
Jake Kucharski – Kucharski has plenty of time to develop into an NHL goaltender, but he’ll need some outstanding seasons with his new NCAA team before that happens. Kucharski transferring to American International College is a downgrade in terms of quality of competition but will lead to an increase in starts for the young goaltender. I could see him turning into a decent goaltender with this program since he’ll finally get the playing time that he hasn’t been able to get for two years now. He has the size that teams look for in a goalie, and there’s a fair amount of other things to like about him. The fact is that he’s a raw prospect that will need many years of development.
Jacob Pritchard – Pritchard was always going to be a long shot to make the NHL since he signed as an undrafted free agent at age 24. His role with the Checkers was limited despite having a fair amount of offensive talent and strong skating. It seemed that Pritchard took a little bit of time to adjust to the pace of the pro game, and as a result, it limited his ice time. It’s a shame because I felt that he was starting to turn a corner when the season ended. I can’t see the Hurricanes signing him to an extension, but I’ve been wrong before.
Ville Rasanen – Finally, we get to Ville Rasanen. I was skeptical about the pick at the time but shrugged at it since it was a seventh round pick. Now, the pick still doesn’t make sense but it’s still just a seventh round pick in a draft that was weaker than most. Rasanen has struggled to find ice time everywhere he’s gone, whether it’s Mestis, U20 hockey, or the USHL. Part of the reason for this is because he’s just not all that great. Sure, he can contribute in the offensive zone at a decent rate in Mestis, but that’s probably as high as his ceiling is going to get. The Hurricanes hold his rights for one more season, but despite that, I’ve all but written off Rasanen as a prospect.
Alex Ohari’s (FutureCanes) Rankings
Alex writes about Hurricanes prospects as well as anything else you can think of that’s Hurricanes-related. I asked him how he would rank the prospects in our system so that we could compare our lists, and as a result, it turned into nearly a month-long project. It’s been a lot of fun discussing our stances on certain prospects and figuring out where to rank them. Be sure to follow Alex on twitter @futurecanes!
Tier 1 – Elite Prospects: None
Tier 2 – High-End Prospects:
1 – C Ryan Suzuki
The Canes’ first-round pick in 2019, Ryan Suzuki, for me, is currently the top prospect in the organization. His combination of slick puck skills, vision and hockey sense make him a threat whenever he’s on the ice. A mid-season trade in the OHL saw him score at a 100+ point pace with Saginaw, and he looks primed to dominate that league next year in his final junior season. He’s sure to be a fixture on the Hurricanes’ powerplay in the future, and, should his development stay on track, has all the tools to blossom into a top-6 center.
2 – F Dominik Bokk
The first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2018, Bokk was acquired as the main prospect in the Justin Faulk trade. With Joel Edmundson’s time in Raleigh likely coming to an end after the playoffs, Bokk’s progression will be a major key in determining the outcome of the Faulk deal. After struggling with his new Swedish club, Rogle, to start the season, Bokk caught fire for Germany at the World Junior Championships, where he finished 2nd amongst all skaters with 6 goals. He finished his season in Rogle brilliantly, and showed his ability to be a feared sniper at top levels of hockey. A much-coveted right shot forward, Bokk fills a huge need on the Canes’ organizational depth chart. He’s a dangerous, diverse offensive threat who can beat defenders in multiple ways with his hands, skating ability and strength. Should he reach his ceiling, the Canes are looking at a top-6 RW and powerplay target-man.
3 – D Anttoni Honka
People may be surprised by this, but based strictly on upside, Anttoni Honka is my top defensive prospect in the Canes’ system. An absolute weapon offensively, Honka’s top tier skating ability makes him a dynamic threat. Really – his edgework is reminiscent of Jeff Skinner. He’s got great vision, puck skills and he’s a great puck distributor. Offensively, he’s got the compete package. The downside here is that he’s undersized (5-9, 170), his defending needs work and he lacks jam in his game. If he can improve those areas, he’s got sky-high potential as a blueliner, and, he models his game after Erik Karlsson. This was larceny of a third-round pick by Carolina.
Tier 3 – Good Prospects
4 – C Jamieson Rees
As far as a junior hockey player goes, Jamieson Rees is mature far beyond his years. His game is extremely well rounded – on top of scoring 61 points in just 39 games with a terrible Sarnia Sting team this season, he plays a hard, 200-foot game and can play all situations. Though not a large kid – 5’10, 171lbs – Rees plays a fiery style of hockey. His discipline has been questioned as he’s had 3 long-term suspensions since 2018, but he’s likely to clean up that part of his game. He’s primed for a big season in 2020 – he’ll be a leader for his Sarnia team and could play with Team Canada at the 2020 WJC. His NHL arrival is still a ways away, but he’ll be a nice option as a middle-six center who can play all situations, and a guy that Rod Brind’Amour will absolutely love.
5 – D Jake Bean
Rounding out the top-5 is Jake Bean, who, despite seemingly being in the organization forever, just turned 22. The positives for Bean are that he’s still the superb creator that he was when he was drafted by the Ron Francis-led Hurricanes in 2016, and his defensive game has come along better than expected. He looks to have a future as a solid, two-way defenseman in the NHL. Unfortunately for Bean, the depth chart in front of him is crowded, and as of today, the Canes’ blueline next season projects to be full. Plus, despite winning the AHL Defenseman of the Year Award, he didn’t suit up for a single game with the Canes. His skillset isn’t nearly as dynamic as once thought, and I’m not sure the Canes’ brass will be comfortable with trading a defenseman to facilitate a spot on next year’s roster for Bean. He does have upside, and is probably NHL ready at this point, but his future in the Hurricanes organization is definitely surrounded with question marks.
6 – F Patrik Puistola
After a lot of experts suggested Puistola as a target for the Canes with their 28th overall pick in 2019, it was unanimously praised when the Canes plucked him in the 3rd round. He was considered one of the best goal scorers in last year’s draft class. He’s not an overly great skater, but he offsets that with his skill as a puck carrier and his strong one-on-one ability. He’s been described as a one-trick pony which is a bit unfair, but admittedly his game away from the puck is a still work in progress. However, in the offensive zone he excels. His touch and spacing around the goal is brilliant, and he willingly drives the middle lane of the ice. NHL teams are always searching for goal scorers, and Puistola fits the bill. He’ll fit in nicely with the Canes’ young Finnish core one day.
7 – D Joey Keane
A lot of fans were surprised when the Canes shipped off Julien Gauthier for another defensive prospect, but make no mistake, the Canes did great here. Gauthier’s time in the organization had passed him by, so to add a 20-year old right-shot defenseman, who had a fantastic rookie season in the AHL, in exchange for Goat was some good work. Keane has a ton of qualities about him that NHL teams covet in their defenders. He’s a fluid skater, he moves the puck well, he’s direct, he defends well. It’s hard to find holes in his game. My viewings of him have been very limited, but I’ve came away impressed by him each time – enough so that I see a real NHL future here. I don’t think he’ll be overly dynamic or a real gamechanger in any way, but as a potential 4/5 D he’ll be solid, and he’s almost NHL ready.
8 – G Eetu Mäkiniemi
The first one to appear in my rankings, and also the lone goaltender in the top-10, you’re probably thinking “Huh?”. Eetu Makiniemi? For me, his qualities give him the highest probable chance in the Canes’ system to develop into an NHL goaltender. At 6’2, he’s got good size for the position. He plays a confident, aggressive style. His lateral movement and sharp reflexes make him tough to read around goal, and his athletic ability really is high-end. All that said, he’s raw, but he just turned 21 and time is on his side. After a fantastic season in the Finnish second division, he looks primed to make a full-time leap to Ilves Tampere in Liiga, where he should start a good amount of games. This coming season will be make or break for him in the Canes organization – as the team is set to lose his rights on June 1, 2021 should they not sign him. He’s not a sure thing by any means, but his play style has seen him compared to Tuukka Rask and he has legitimate untapped upside.
9 – C David Cotton
The cream of the crop in terms of the Canes’ college free agent group this summer, the Canes did well to sign Cotton back in March amidst rumours that he would test free agency in August. Cotton is a big, two-way center who broke out offensively and really became a leader over his last 2 seasons at Boston College. I don’t see any truly dynamic specialties in his game, but he has traits that are translatable to the NHL level. He’s not afraid to play a power game, he’s got nice touch in the offensive zone, and he can be counted on in all situations. I see some Jordan Staal in him. And while there’s definitely some good potential here, I’m skeptical his ceiling is any higher than a great 3C (which would be fantastic).
10 – F Tuukka Tieksola
Rounding out the top-10 is Finnish forward Tuukka Tieksola, who’s also my personal favourite Canes prospect. His size (or lack thereof) led him to slide down in the 2019 draft, where the Hurricanes pounced on him in the fourth round. Hailed as one of the potential steals of the draft, it’s not hard to understand why. Though undersized, Tieksola’s combination of speed and agility make him tough to contain. He’s a rapid skater, he’s light on his skates and his phenomenal puck skills allow him to dance through the opposition with ease. He spent this past season absolutely dominating the Finnish junior league – literally skating circles around players for fun (seriously, there’s video on twitter). He’ll need to add some serious weight and muscle to make the NHL (he’s listed at 154lbs) but his skillset makes him look like an absolute gem of a pick in the 4th round. His game really reminds me of Elias Lindholm, who was severely misused and under-appreciated in Carolina. He’s a bit of a long-term project, but I see legit top-six upside there.
4th Tier – Solid Prospects
11 – C Morgan Geekie
After his historic NHL debut before the NHL season was suspended, I’m hoping fan expectations haven’t run unrealistically high for Morgan Geekie. He’s a nice prospect, and his development is promising. He’s been a force in Charlotte, and his career progression at this point has been quite honestly eerily similar to Warren Foegele. Geekie works hard and has few flaws in his game. But that said, he’s best cast as a bottom-6 center. He lacks the high-end skill necessary to create offense for his linemates at the top level. He does have enough skill to carve out an NHL role though. He grinds, gets to the dirty areas and he can finish. I can see the Canes turning to him as their 4C in the near future.
12 – C Jack Drury
This may seem like a low ranking for Drury – and it probably is – but my viewings of him haven’t left me as impressed with him as the guys above him. He has enough talent to get to the NHL one day – and obviously his uncle Chris was a fantastic hockey player. His offensive game has actually come along nicer than I’d expected at Harvard – and he scored 20 goals in 28 games there last season. However, against top competition at the World Juniors, he wasn’t nearly as noticeable (but I try not to put too much stock into that). Drury also fits the common theme in which he lacks a truly dynamic element, but his game is well-rounded enough that he has a lot of qualities you’d look for in a 3C.
13 – D Jesper Sellgren
Due to the Canes’ logjam on D, I’m not sure what the future holds for Jesper Sellgren. What I do know is that I’m really intrigued by him. It was hard for me to hold him out of the top-10. He has a lot to like about him – he skates very well, he’s a very good puck-mover, and he can rip it from the blueline. He’s undersized (5-10, 180) but his high hockey IQ helps him read plays quickly on the rush and he always seems to be in the right positions. At just 21, he’s already become a key player for Lulea in Sweden, and he played a pivotal role for Charlotte in their Calder Cup playoff run. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Sellgren, because I really believe he’s knocking on the NHL’s door. He’ll be an interesting prospect to follow this coming season.
14 – G Pyotr Kochetkov
I like Pyotr Kochetkov quite a lot, just maybe not as much as Canes fans seemingly do. His whirlwind season in Russia left me with more questions than answers regarding his future. At 6-0, 175lbs, he’s on the smaller side for goaltenders, but he relies on his elite athletic ability in the crease. He tracks the puck well, and you can never count him out of a play with his superb desperation ability. To have Mäkiniemi ranked above him isn’t as crazy as it sounds – remember, Kochetkov went undrafted in 2017, when Carolina took Mäkiniemi in the fourth round. At this point, they’re kind of in the same place in their developments – but Mäkiniemi’s overall package leaves me with a bit more hope for his future. However, I do feel like both guys have NHL futures.
15 – D Domenick Fensore
This guy is the definition of intriguing. He’s also one of the most fun players I’ve had the pleasure of watching. A 5-7, 151lb defenseman, Fensore is the exact opposite of prototype. He’s an excellent skater. He’s rapid, he’s agile, he’s lightning quick on pivots. Offensively, he’s dynamic. He’s a brilliant puck-carrier with top-tier vision. He’s a defensive zone-exit specialist. The problem with Fensore is obviously that his size severely limits him as a defender in the NHL. His defensive play isn’t actually bad at all, but whether he can hold up at the NHL level is a huge question mark – and Fensore is surrounded by them. Can he make the NHL as a D? Can he play forward? Is he just too small? Only time will tell – he’s a real project – but the raw skillset is there. I’m really rooting for him.
16 – G Alex Nedeljkovic
I thought long and hard about whether to include Nedeljkovic on here or not. At 24 years old, he’s on the cusp of losing his prospect status, and I’m just not sold on the organization’s belief in him. He showed me enough in his 4-game stint this year to still have hope in him, but his time is really running out. He’s entering the final year of his contract – a one-way deal – and should he not lockdown a full-time NHL job, I think it’ll be time to close the book on his future in Raleigh. It’s been a long journey for Ned, but he might not get the picture perfect ending we’d long thought.
17 – G Jack LaFontaine
4 goalies in the top-17 is a big win for the Canes organization. Although none of them are sure-things at all, goalie development is wildly unpredictable so it’s good to have multiple options. For me, having Jack LaFontaine on this list is huge as I’d completely written him off just a couple years ago. Drafted in 2016, his post-draft career started with a failed two-year stint at Michigan, after which he moved to the BCHL (low competition), which looked dire for his future. Shockingly, a great year in that league revived his career, and he moved on to the University of Minnesota where had a fantastic season this past year. He had a .919 save percentage and took over the starting job there. At 6-3, 200lbs, he’s got prototypical size. This next season will be massive for him; the Canes have until August 15, 2021 to sign him, so he’ll need another good season at Minnesota to prove he’s worthy of an entry-level contract. I have restored faith in him and I believe he can do it, which is crazy considering I’d completely closed the book on him just two years ago.
18 – F Kirill Slepets
Slepets is very interesting to me. Scouting bureaus have annually ranked him quite highly since his draft year in 2018, but he’s always managed to slip through the cracks. Maybe it’s because the lack of viewings on him due to him playing in the Russian minor leagues. I’m not sure. But I like him. He plays hard. For a small guy (5-10, 154) he’s quite aggressive. He forechecks hard and he’s got a pesky element to his game. He’s got a deceptively good shot, and his puck skills are fantastic. I’m just not sure he’s creative enough to be a top-6 guy at the NHL level, and I’m not sure how well his game suits the bottom-6, although teams are constantly adapting to add more skill to their lineup. Because of that, I do think Slepets has a shot at the NHL, but he’s still a ways down the road. He’s seemingly a regular KHLer now, which is quite solid at 21. He definitely has some potential to work with.
19 – C Blake Murray
For me, Blake Murray is the most divisive prospect in the organization. I’m just so unsure about him. He’s got great size. He’s big, he’s strong, he can score. But he leaves a lot to be desired. He’s more of a beneficiary than a play-driver, and his consistency as well as his effort level has been repeatedly questioned by scouts. It seems to be all mental issues with Murray’s game, so if he can sort that out he has a chance to be a factor in the NHL. Whether or not he can remains to be seen, but he’s the perfect type of player to take a flier on in the 6th round.
20 – F Lenni Killinen
Sticking with the theme, Killinen is another guy without real dynamic elements to his game, but has enough qualities that could make him a pro player. Having watched him quite often over the past couple years, he reminds me a bit of Jordan Martinook. He’s got good size and skating ability, he gets to the dirty areas and doesn’t back down. He doesn’t stand out offensively but his work ethic creates chances and he can make the odd pass that makes you take notice. He’ll probably be a fourth-line energy guy in the NHL if he ever makes it.
5th Tier – Longshots
F Steven Lorentz – Nearly made my top-20. Has really come along nicely the last couple of years. Big time energy player. Could become a good fourth liner.
F Stelio Mattheos – Has unfortunately missed a lot of time, but thankfully he’s made a full recovery. Need to see more in the AHL from him.
D Roland McKeown – He really deserves a chance on an NHL roster somewhere and I hope he gets it. But it won’t be in Raleigh.
C Massimo Rizzo – Has some decent qualities but didn’t take a big step forward in the BCHL this past year. A true longshot.
F Matt Filipe – The Canes have until August 15th to sign him. He’s a well-rounded player but I’m not sure how he projects in the pros. He might have a chance.
C Clark Bishop – He skates fast and works hard but he’ll never be more than a 4C, which are a dime a dozen.
D Ville Rasanen – Nothing to see here. He did have an OK season in the Finnish minors though.
F Spencer Smallman – Character player but I don’t see any qualities that’ll make him anything more than an AHL player at this point.
F Max Zimmer – Skates like the wind but doesn’t do much else at an NHL level. His rights expire on August 15th and I think it’s doubtful that Carolina will sign him.
F Luke Stevens – Another guy set to be a free agent on August 15. Never scored more than 12 points in a season at Yale. Unfortunately, he’s not a pro player.
F Kevin Wall – He’s got a really, really good shot. His release is exceptional. Didn’t play much as a freshman at Penn, but has 3 more years to develop there. Long-term project but has some upside.
D Cade Webber – He’s a very large kid (6-7, 200) but lost most of his season due to injury. He’s very raw, but his size makes him interesting.
G Jake Kucharski – As far as I can tell, he’s played 9 games in 2 years since being drafted – and had a .830 save percentage in those games. He also didn’t play a single game this past season. 🤷♂️
G Callum Booth – He’s never graduated past the ECHL ranks and with his contract set to expire this summer, I think this is the end of the road to Raleigh for him.
G Jeremy Helvig – His domestic abuse arrest all but sealed his fate.
Bonus: F Luke Henman – He likely would’ve been in the mix of my top-20 had Carolina signed him last month. He’s undersized but has good playmaking skills and really came along last season in the QMJHL. But Carolina opted against signing him last month, and I wish him well in his hockey journey – wherever he ends up.
You’ll notice that I didn’t include Jason Cotton in these rankings. It’s because I didn’t feel like I was informed enough on the type of player he was. Everything that I’ve heard about Cotton has been from people who watch the NCAA more than I do, and I didn’t pay attention to Sacred Heart this year. We’ll get more of an idea as to his ceiling and potential once he starts his professional career.
Other omissions include Luke Henman, Luke Stevens, Luke Martin, Max Zimmer, and Matt Filipe. Henman is no longer a Hurricanes prospect as of June 1 since the Hurricanes did not sign him before the deadline. He’s currently an unrestricted free agent and will likely return to the QMJHL for his overage season. The four NCAA prospects listed all have to be signed by August 15, otherwise the Hurricanes lose their rights.
St. Louis Blues rinkside reporter Andy Strickland has reported that the Hurricanes will not be signing Luke Martin and, to be honest, I’m not surprised. Martin looked like a solid prospect before his draft year but his issues in the offensive zone brought up some serious red flags about his game. He’s always been a leader and a strong defender, but there’s not much else to like about his game. Stevens doesn’t have a future in the NHL and may not make it to the AHL level either. Zimmer was given an amateur tryout contract by the Checkers before the season was cancelled but only managed to appear in one game before his season ended. Had he been able to play in a few more games, it’s possible that he could have earned an ELC. Matt Filipe was likely going to finish his senior season with Northeastern a few weeks after his season was also cancelled, but I’m still not sure if he would have signed then. At this point, I’m not considering any of these players prospects until they sign. It’s been nearly three months since leagues started to cancel, and if the Hurricanes haven’t signed these players yet, it’s unlikely that they will.
Alex and I think alike on quite a few players, and there aren’t any major disagreements between us. Putting Honka at number three is bold but in all honesty, it may not be that outlandish. There’s enough talent in his game to warrant a place that high in any ranking of the system, provided that he can sort out his issues on the defensive side of the puck. We were one spot apart on Jack Drury, but only because I felt that Tuukka Tieksola was too much of a project to rank any higher. His concerns about Drury’s game are valid, though. His performance at the World Juniors was lackluster, and we’ve seen him struggle against tougher competition in the NCAA as well. That’s not a knock on Drury as a player, just something that he’ll need to improve upon. He’s only 20 years old and playing in a league with people ages 18-24, so there’s going to be a significant skill gap between certain teams.
In both of our opinions, the Hurricanes don’t have a true number one prospect in the system. In fact, you could argue that Ryan Suzuki isn’t the best prospect that the Hurricanes have at this point in time. There aren’t any elite prospects in the pipeline, but the good news is that there aren’t a lot of busts either. The Hurricanes have a deep system with plenty of good prospects at each position. There will be some difficult decisions in the near future due to our depth and, as we saw with Henman, the Hurricanes may have to say goodbye to a few decent prospects.
As we saw in the 2019 draft, the Hurricanes took a few risks and picked players with high ceilings and low floors. These boom or bust players would never have been drafted under Ron Francis, but the team seems committed to drafting and developing the best possible prospects. Sure, there will always be a few safer picks, such as Suzuki and Drury (2018 draft). The Hurricanes did a great job of drafting a variety of players with a wide range of potential, ensuring that the team would be successful for a long time.
Some people might wonder where I would put some of the prospects that we traded at the deadline. I’d put Julien Gauthier and Janne Kuokkanen at the lower end of my “B” tier. Both prospects have potential and could be NHL players, but I can’t see either making it higher than a team’s third line. Eetu Luostarinen would be at the high end of the “C” tier since his upside isn’t too high. Sure, he’s looking like an NHL player, but is he more than a fourth line player? I have my doubts. Chase Priskie goes in the middle of the “C” tier. The fact that the Hurricanes were willing to trade him less than a year into his tenure with the organization raises some red flags and could be indicative of his future as a player.
I hope you all enjoyed this! Have any comments or questions about the rankings? Mention either @CanesProspects, @futurecanes, or both of us and we’ll talk about it!