Top 5 First-Round Prospects for Carolina


With the NHL’s return to play now officially wrapped up, the NHL’s most exciting time of year (for prospect junkies such as myself) is now among us. It’s NHL draft season, and despite not having a first-round pick of their own (it was traded for Brady Skjei), the Hurricanes DO own Toronto’s first-rounder. Beyond just gaining the now franchise legend in Patrick Marleau from that Toronto deal in June 2019, the Hurricanes also added a first round-pick – which falls 13th overall – to potentially add another franchise legend to the mix.

One thing is for certain: the Canes won’t have any shortage of options. They’ve lucked out with a lottery pick in a very deep draft, and the uncertainty of pick projection from around pick 4 to about the top-15 will make for some very intriguing storylines on draft day. Like I said, the Canes figure to have plenty of options, but let’s dive right into 5 of my favourite (and most realistic) potential future Canes.

Yaroslav Askarov, G, SKA (KHL) – For obvious reasons, Yaroslav Askarov has become the hot commodity for the Canes fanbase, so I’ll start things off with him. Let me start off by saying that I’m growing increasingly skeptical about the prospect of Askarov still being on the board when the Canes walk to the podium to select 13th overall. He’s been long linked to Minnesota at 9 and Nashville at 11, and has recently been brought up in the discussion for Ottawa at 5. And it’s not hard to see why. Askarov is arguably the best goaltending prospect in the last decade, dating all the way back to Carey Price in 2005. His athletic ability is off the charts. His flexibility is just absolutely outstanding, which gives him the chance to make saves even when he looks down and out. 

He has legitimate NHL size (listed at 6’3) and he’s an 18-year old goaltender playing for one of the biggest teams in Russia. I haven’t had many opportunities to watch Askarov play, and I can’t say I’m qualified to scout goalies, but I see a player here who has very minimal flaws in his game – which is nearly impossible to find with young goaltenders. He’s big, he’s quick, he’s smart. He’s extremely confident in his own ability. Beyond that, the only knock I’ve seen against him is that he sometimes reacts to situations *quicker* than he should – which is something that could likely be coached out of him. 

All things considered, Askarov looks like he has all the tools required to be an elite goaltender in the NHL for the long-term future. He’s likely at least 2 years away from the show, but this kid has the potential to be a perennial Vezina candidate if his progression continues on track. Various scouts have already compared him to goaltenders like Carey Price and fellow countrymen Andrey Vasilevskiy and Sergei Bobrosvky, which is substantially high praise for a kid at this stage of his career – but also completely warranted.

Catherine Silverman of Elite Prospects summed it up perfectly: “top-tier lower body agility and fast, effective hands …. it’s easy to find one’s self mesmerized by Askarov’s game.” … I am definitely mesmerized, friends, and Askarov is my runaway choice for the Canes at 13 if he’s still available.

F Dawson Mercer, RW, Chicoutimi (QMJHL) – Mercer definitely wouldn’t come with the same hype and fanfare as Askarov would, but in my opinion, he would probably be the next best choice for the Hurricanes if Askarov isn’t there. Mercer, a Canadian-born forward, has all the tools you look for when forecasting a prospect getting to the NHL. This kid is dynamic. He’s played in the QMJHL since his 16th birthday, and has steadily progressed in that league. A 30-goal season as a 17-year old made scouts really take notice, and he followed that up with 24 goals and 60 points in just 42 games this past season. He’s got decent size at 6-0, 180 and can play both center and wing. He was good enough to make Team Canada’s 2020 U20 World Juniors roster, and played all 7 games for them (despite not appearing on the scoresheet) as an 18-year old.

The first thing you notice about Mercer when you watch him is his seemingly awkward skating stride. He looks stiff as a skater, so it’s kind of shocking to see the way he can turn on the jets and accelerate away from defenders. I wouldn’t call him a burner, but his speed is above average for sure and his feet never stop moving. He’s got exceptional lower-body strength at his age level, and he’s hard to contain along the wall. He commits to puck battles, and plays well in all areas of the ice.

Where Mercer really stands out though is what he can do offensively. His vision is extremely dynamic. I don’t use this word often when describing a player: but to me, he looks deceptive. He has the ability to fool defenders with his eyes, and can change the process of an attack quickly at top speed. Because of that ability, he has no problem creating space for himself on the rush, and his soft hands and strong wrist-shot make him a deadly weapon in those situations. He’s seemingly preferred the role of a playmaker in junior – he has fantastic vision in traffic – but I feel as he continues to develop as a player he’ll lean even more on his shot, especially when afforded the space.

The biggest knock on Mercer has been the fact that he kind of lacks a game-changing or “defining” skill/trait, so some scouts have labeled him a type of good-at-everything, great-at-nothing type player. But, that kind of a skillset has also led some scouts to compare him to players like Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews – as well as Nick Suzuki. And while Mercer might not have the sky-high upside that some players in this draft may have, he’s almost as sure of a bet as you’ll find to be a legitimate, contributing NHL forward down the road. Here’s a glimpse at what he’s capable of:

F Jack Quinn, RW, Ottawa 67s (OHL) – If you follow me closely on Twitter (@FutureCanes) you’d know that, despite being a Hurricanes fan first and foremost, I’m a huge supporter of my hometown Ottawa teams – which includes the OHL’s Ottawa 67s. Because of my local ties, I’ve closely watched the development of both projected lottery forwards Marco Rossi and Jack Quinn, so I feel pretty strongly about my scouting report on both these guys. Rossi will undoubtedly be selected before Carolina steps up to the podium, but could Quinn possibly entice the team?

Jack Quinn is the definition of a late-riser. As an OHL rookie in 2018-19, he showed some flashes of high-end skill but overall his game was marred with inconsistencies that didn’t lead me to believe that he had the makings of a top-tier NHL prospect. He was merely a depth forward on a team that had Memorial Cup aspirations, and overshadowed by the likes of Tye Felhaber, Sasha Chmelevski and the aforementioned Rossi. I expected Quinn to take a step forward to establish himself before the 2020 Draft, but just 4 goals in his first 11 games of the regular season left much to be desired. 

…..And then he exploded. He went on to score 48 goals in the following 51 games, and his 52 goals on the season were the 2nd most in the OHL. What’s more impressive though, is how his overall game developed. It seemed that in almost every category that makes a player dynamic, he improved in. Within a year, he added an element of power to his game that he lacked. His speed went from a negative to a strength. He became more patient and diverse as a distributor, and the strength he added really helped him become more effective around the net. Add that to an absolute lethal release, and a laser-accurate wrist shot, and you’re looking at a potential very potent offensive threat at the NHL level.

There isn’t many knocks on Quinn. Some scouts use his late birthday (if he was born 4 days earlier, he would have been a 2019 draft prospect) as a detractor, but the ability he’s shown to create offense for himself and play at an NHL pace should nullify any doubts about him translating his game to the next level. He’s also evolved as a two-way player. His defensive IQ and positioning is quite solid, he doesn’t stop hustling and he’s a big part of what the 67s do on the penalty kill. If I can find any flaws in his game watching him this past year, I would say that he does lack an element of consistency (he can go quiet for a stretch of games), and I suppose his physical play could use a little work.

Because of any potential bias with myself pertaining to Ottawa prospects, I asked Matt Somma (@CanesProspects) for his insight on Quinn: “Oh gosh. To me, Quinn seems like a guy that is a reliable goal scorer. His shot is an asset and he has a knack for finding ways to score goals. He combines elite hockey sense and slick hands into an offensive package that made him one of the top goal scorers in the OHL. There’s a lot to like about Quinn and you can plug him in anywhere in your lineup. If his skating can improve just a tad, I see him becoming a potential 30-40 goal scorer at the NHL level.”

All things considered, this is a player who has the skills to be a legitimate goal-scoring threat at the NHL level. My NHL comparable for him would probably be Brock Boeser, but I think Quinn has the smarts and potential to be a bit more polished overall. I do think that he’ll need to be embraced by a coach that will look past his minor deficiencies and still deploy him in the proper situations in order for him to be truly successful and reach his ceiling, but this is a kid who could be a 30+ goal guy in the league, and maybe more, so he should definitely be on the Canes’ radar.

F Rodion Amirov, LW, Salavat Yulaev (KHL) : The Hurricanes have drafted Russian forwards in 2 consecutive years (Andrei Svechnikov in 2018, Kirill Slepets in 2019), after not drafting a single Russian-born forward since moving to Carolina in 1997. Hurricanes GM Don Waddell has never been shy about drafting Russian forwards, so Rodion Amirov could add to the newly-developed trend for the Hurricanes.

Unfortunately, Amirov plays in the Russian junior leagues and had a very minor role in the KHL last year, so my viewings of him have been extremely limited. I caught a few of his games with the Russian junior team at the U18 World Championship, where he was an absolute force to be reckoned with. The word I see scouts use a lot when describing him is “smart”, which is shown by his ability to play on both the left and the right wing. He isn’t large (6-0, 168) but he’s aggressive, and he can impact a game all over the ice with and without the puck. As a skater, he looks very shifty out there. He might not have dynamic straight-line speed, but his first step is quite impressive and he’s rapid in and out of his breaks, cutting through opponents like a knife. He also looks very elusive with the puck, and watching him you can see that he knows what he wants to do with the puck well before he actually does it. Mind you, I’ve only seen him play against teenagers, but it’s a treat to watch a guy who’s seemingly already made a play before it has even developed.

As of this writing, he’s scored 4 points in 7 KHL this season as an 18-year old, and it’s quite likely he’ll play a full season in the KHL as he’s seemingly outgrown the junior and minor ranks. I would be stunned if he isn’t a main contributor for the Russian U20 team at this year’s World Juniors, where he should be among the top scorers at the tournament. 

As far as the draft goes, I’ve seen Amirov ranked as high as 7th and as low as the early 20s, so it really depends on how the Hurricanes’ scouting department feels about him. It’s entirely possibly a team ahead of Carolina absolutely loves him and pounces on him as well, but overall I think he’d be a fine selection for the team at 13. He’s sound defensively, and while I’m not sure he has a true “wow” factor to his game offensively, he has a complete package that makes him a serious bet for NHL success. Limited viewings, but I kind of a see a player in the similar mould of Elias Lindholm, who I’ve always been extremely high on as a hockey player. For me, that would be a fantastic outcome at 13th overall.

Seth Jarvis, RW, Portland (WHL) – There’s no doubt in my mind that Seth Jarvis would be a fantastic fit in Raleigh. The Canes’ nucleus is built on an identity of speed and skill, and Jarvis is flooded with it. A 42-goal, 98-point season in the WHL has really cemented his stock as a top-tier offensive player, despite him lacking real size at 5-10, 172lbs. 

For Jarvis, what he brings to the table is his beautifully-rounded offensive package. His acceleration and tight-space quickness is superb. He might lack a dynamic top-end gear, but hockey is often a game of short bursts and quick cuts, and Jarvis is fantastic is that regard. He has great edgework, and his smooth hands and ability as a stick-handler make him extemely unpredictable to defend when he’s got the puck. His shot is also a serious weapon. He’s got a naturally sharp release, and the smarts to find open ice in the attacking zone. For a smaller guy, I’ve seen him go to the front of the net rather willingly, so I commend the effort level there – he just might have a harder time doing that at the NHL level unless he gets stronger. Furthermore, he’s a player who can make things happen at high speed, which makes him an absolute nightmare to defend in transition. 

There is a couple more negatives I’ve seen watching Jarvis than the other players on this list though. He does look small out there, and he lacks any real element of grit and physicality to his game at this point. Some scouts have listed him at center, but because of his size and raw defensive awareness I personally see him purely as a winger when he makes it to the pro game. He did play on the penalty kill for Portland this past season, but overall his defensive game (especially back-checking assignments) is still a bit of a work in progress.

I talked to my good friend Brandon Stanley (former prospect writer for Canes and Coffee – @bwstanley26) about Jarvis, and he had a raving review on him: “Jarvis has probably grown on me as much as any player in this draft. He has a pretty complete game, from his excellent skating ability to his fantastic vision and offensive IQ. He’s also an all-situations player, and despite being pretty small works the dirty areas and is willing to play a physical brand at times. Has great balance that allows him to go up against much bigger players, but he’s definitely going to have to get above the 170ish he’s listed at now over the next few years before he can survive in the NHL. Some scouts question how much of his offense really will translate to the NHL level, but he’s already so multi-faceted with his attack plan that I disagree. Between with great hands to carry the puck up ice, a good release on an accurate shot, and great vision and passing ability, I think he’s a pretty safe bet to play in a top-six role in the next half decade, if not a little sooner. Pretty good mix of risk and reward in the mid first round.”

To summarize, personally, I haven’t seen enough of Jarvis to give an NHL comparable, but I’ve seen him compared to the likes Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson, which would be pretty ideal for the Canes in this scenario. Jarvis has a couple kinks to work through, but has the skills necessary to become a dangerous top-six forward in the NHL down the road. He’s not my first choice personally, but I definitely wouldn’t be upset if the Hurricanes snagged him.

To conclude, there’s a bunch more options that I didn’t list that could easily fall into the Hurricanes laps, or a guy that may intrigue them too much to pass up on. If one of Alexander Holtz or Anton Lundell slip out of the top-10 and fall into their hands, it’s hard to imagine the Canes passing up on them. It’s also entirely plausible their scouts fall in love with a kid like Noel Gunler, who’s an extremely mixed-reviewed prospect but has an immensely intriguing and dynamic skillset to offer. I think that, regardless, in a draft class as deep as this one, the Canes should end up with a legitimate impact player from this pick in a few years down the road, and another exciting young piece to build around.

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