The 2020 draft has come and gone, which means that it is now time to update the prospect ranking that I put together back in June. There won’t be too many changes to this list, though. Since we haven’t seen a whole lot of hockey played just yet, not too much should change in the rankings. Sure, some players are off to good starts in their respective leagues, but a small sample size shouldn’t affect too much in these rankings. If I do make a change, I’ll be sure to provide my thoughts as to why I decided to move a player up or down.
The ranking system will remain the same. Each letter grade will correspond to a title along the lines of “_____ NHL prospect.” I’ll be using development, player ceiling, upside, growth, hockey sense, skating, and more to evaluate each prospect. If you want more information, you should definitely check out the first ranking that I put together with Alex Ohari (@futurecanes on twitter).
A – Elite NHL Prospect
The Hurricanes walked away from the 2020 draft with a solid crop of prospects, but I don’t believe that they have an elite prospect in the system at this point in time. The Hurricanes selected some players that could make it to this level, such as Gunler or Jarvis, but neither player is at the elite level just yet. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. The Hurricanes have been able to put together a top five farm system in the NHL without an elite NHL prospect headlining their pipeline! The Hurricanes’ previous two elite NHL prospects, Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, are both stars in the NHL. There aren’t many drafted players that fit into this category anyways since most become NHL players immediately after being selected by their teams.
B+ – Very Good NHL Prospect
Ryan Suzuki – At this point in time, I’m sticking with my guns and saying that Ryan Suzuki is the best prospect in the system. I toyed with the idea of putting Jarvis here, so let me explain why I’m sticking with Suzuki. For starters, Suzuki has an extra year of development under his belt and trained with the Hurricanes during the first part of the return to play. That extra year of development could go a long way with Suzuki. I also believe that Suzuki is a much better player than his draft position would indicate. His hockey sense is elite and there are few players that can make a play happen in as many ways as Suzuki can. Suzuki’s shot, underutilized as it may be, is an asset and will allow for him to become a dual threat in the offensive zone at the NHL level. Suzuki is playing for a Saginaw team that plays with an NHL pace, making it a perfect fit for his development. After the trade to Saginaw, we were able to see the Ryan Suzuki that we’re all hoping for. He was a dominant playmaker that had started to rediscover his goal scoring abilities after a tough start with the Barrie Colts. I am confident that Suzuki will be an NHL player down the road. Currently, he projects as a top six center with a ceiling of 50-60 points.
Seth Jarvis – Jarvis moves ahead of Bokk because I believe that there is a little more NHL certainty in Jarvis’ game as opposed to Bokk. With Jarvis, you’re getting a player that can take over a shift in the offensive zone in a number of ways. Whether it’s through his shot, vision, hockey sense, creativity, hands, or skating, he’ll find ways to make teams look silly in the offensive zone. Jarvis has first line upside, in my opinion, and should have gone higher in the draft had the top ten not been filled with fantastic players. The first line projection is a best case scenario, but for a player as dynamic as Jarvis, it’s not as far-fetched as you might think. I love Jarvis’ game and think that he’s a perfect fit for the system. There’s a non-zero chance that Jarvis could see a game or two of NHL action before returning to the WHL.
Dominik Bokk – My opinions on Bokk haven’t changed since June. When he’s on, he’s one of the best players on the ice. His creativity and skill with the puck on his stick make him a treat to watch in the offensive zone. He can beat a goalie from almost any angle and his vision is deceiving. Bokk thrives in the offensive zone, and when his confidence is high, it’ll take nothing short of a miracle to shut him down. When he’s off his game, though, it’s a different story. There were times last season when he’d disappear for long stretches, causing his ice time to drop and his coaches to lose trust in him. Bokk is currently on loan to Djurgardens in the SHL, which is his third SHL team in as many years. It may not be a different league, but there’s an adjustment period when you’re playing under a new coach in a new system. Djurgardens is a good fit for him, and I’d love to see what he can do with this opportunity.
To recap this tier, I inserted Jarvis into the number two spot and bumped Bokk down to number three. In my eyes, the gap between Suzuki and Jarvis is razor thin. There’s a bit of a jump down from Jarvis to Bokk, although I’m standing firm on his ranking for now. Bokk could be an NHL prospect very soon. The only reason why I bumped him down is because there is a little more risk associated with Bokk than there is with Jarvis, in my opinion.
B – Good NHL prospect
Jake Bean – Josh Bean holds firm in his ranking here as the best prospect in the “Good” category. There are some that would argue that Bean is the number one prospect in the system, there are some that would put him in the top three, and there are probably some out there that wouldn’t put him in the top five. It’s hard to pin down exactly where he is, but I don’t feel that I can move him up right now. There were two major items that factored in on this decision. First, I believe that Bean will be a good NHL player and will hover on the bubble of being a very good NHL player. I believe that that is his peak, however. At best, you’re hoping for 30+ points from him. Second, the Hurricanes’ defensive logjam hasn’t exactly cleared up, preventing Bean from seeing NHL time. Currently, the Hurricanes have four defensemen on the left side and two on the right side. Bean plays on the left side, but even if a defenseman were to play on his off side, Bean would likely be the odd man out. This was why I ranked Bean third overall back in June. There’s no denying that he’s the most NHL ready prospect not named Morgan Geekie that the Hurricanes have, but how in the hell is he going to fit into the lineup? If the Hurricanes somehow find a way to open up a roster spot for Bean, I’m all for it. He would be a great addition to the team’s power play and has rounded out his defensive game nicely.
Morgan Geekie – I’m not going to push Geekie down in the rankings due to his bubble performance. The fact of the matter is that Geekie was great in a checking role against the Rangers and wasn’t great against the Bruins. Let’s be honest, though: the team wasn’t great either. Geekie’s ceiling is likely a third line checking forward good for 15-20 goals a year, so why is he a top five prospect in the system? The fact that he is going to be on the NHL roster next season puts him ahead of guys like Rees or Gunler, who are still at least two years away from the NHL. The fact that Geekie is able to step into the NHL lineup right now and make an immediate impact is valuable to the organization. Bean is able to do the same, but it doesn’t help that the Hurricanes have eight billion left-handed defenseman.
Jamieson Rees – That extra year of development pushes another player ahead of a 2020 draft pick! Rees and Gunler are both top prospects in the system and have the potential to be top six forwards in the NHL at some point down the road. Rees plays a gritty, in your face style with the tendency to never give up on a play. There’s creativity and offense out the wazoo, too. Rees’ major areas for improvement are his skating and his discipline. There are times when Rees can push the pace and use his speed to create a chance, but I’d like to see him get a couple of steps faster before making the jump to the NHL. He also has the tendency to deliver some questionable hits, which have led to suspensions in the past. If he can keep that physical element in his game while removing the dangerous hits, that would be huge.
Noel Gunler – Based on offensive upside alone, Noel Gunler was a top fifteen prospect in the 2020 draft class and would be on the bubble of the top five, if not in the top five. Gunler can create offense in any way, shape, or form. He’s an elite distributor, an excellent shooter, a great puck handler, and one of the smartest players on the ice at any given time. It’s his play away from the puck that concerns me, however. Gunler tends to have lapses away from the puck and it has led to some questions about his attitude and effort. I’m an optimist, so I’ll be focusing on the positives. At his peak, I could see Gunler being a great second line forward that could potentially push for first line minutes. A year or two from now, we could be talking about Gunler being the steal of the draft. If there’s one thing that I love about the Hurricanes’ last two drafts, it’s that they’re not afraid to take divisive players. This is the second year that the Hurricanes have taken the most divisive prospect in a draft class. The Hurricanes can afford to let Gunler develop on his own time and then make the transition to the NHL when he’s ready for it.
Vasily Ponomarev – I love Ponomarev as a player. He’s dependable in his own end, a good shooter, a good playmaker, a smart player, and a skilled puck handler. There isn’t a whole lot that Ponomarev doesn’t do well. Sure, his skating might only be average, but he won’t give up on a play and he’ll keep on chugging until he either causes a turnover or the play moves on. That sort of “never give up” attitude will carry him to NHL success. Ponomarev seems like he’s build for the Hurricanes’ system, which could explain why the team was so eager to sign him to his entry-level contract. I’d like to see his coach give him more offensive opportunities because I sincerely believe that he could help to carry that team to a QMJHL championship in the next two years. He just needs a chance to shine.
Pyotr Kochetkov – I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t mildly concerned about Kochetkov. He seems to be the third goalie on his team once again, which is leading to a lack of starts in the KHL. It would almost be better if Kochetkov were loaned to the VHL at this point so that he could at least see some ice time, but I digress. There’s no denying that Kochetkov has the talent, athleticism, and work ethic needed to become an NHL goaltender. The problem is the lack of consistency in his playing time. I wouldn’t hate to see the Hurricanes bring him to North America in the fall of 2021 so that he can play in the AHL. At least there he might get more than 15 starts.
David Cotton – I’m keeping Cotton behind Kochetkov in this tier because I’m still not sure what’s going to happen with him this season. The NHL season begins after the new year, and with little clarity on when the AHL will resume play, Cotton’s professional future is in limbo. I could see the Hurricanes giving Cotton an NHL shot early on in the season, especially since teams will need to keep fresh bodies for a condensed schedule. Cotton’s power forward build would help to build a nice checking line in Carolina. While his ceiling is likely a good third line checking forward, Cotton is this high on the list because he is one of the more NHL-ready prospects that the Hurricanes currently have.
Anttoni Honka – Honka is off to a fantastic start with JYP this season, with four points in six games. The defenseman has shown that when he’s on his game, he’s one of the best offensive defensemen in his league. Honka has the potential to be a top four defenseman and seems to be getting better with each passing game. I’m still a little worried about his issues in the defensive zone, but if he can find a way to continue his growth in all three zones, I’ll be one happy camper. I’m putting Honka ahead of Puistola this time around after giving it some thought. Both players have similar upsides. Honka projects as a top four defenseman, whereas Puistola projects as a middle six winger. Both players have high ceilings, but I feel that Honka is the better prospect right now. There’s a noticeable difference in his game now when you compare it to where it was when the Liiga season was cancelled.
Jack Drury – I’ve been thinking about this tweet a lot lately.
It’s true, too. Drury was asked to be an all-around impact player for Harvard. He killed penalties, was great at even strength, and was a threat on the power play as well. At the World Juniors, Drury was tasked with playing in a defensive role for the United States and killed a lot of penalties. He’s been up to the task so far, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone when I say that he has fit right in with Vaxjo in the SHL. Drury had a bit of a slow start but has heated up as of late, with five assists in three games. I’m a little surprised that it didn’t take him longer to adjust, but this goes to confirm my thoughts that Drury is an NHL-ready prospect. Or at least very close to being NHL ready. He’s a player that you can put in any situation and he’ll be able to adapt and find success. That’s the type of player that Rod Brind’Amour will love to have on his team. There may be a bit of recency bias here, but I felt that I was too low on Drury the last time around. He has done more than what has been asked of him and should be an NHL player for a long time.
Patrik Puistola – Puistola is off to a bit of a disappointing start with JYP in the Liiga this year, with just two goals to show for himself in six games. There is always going to be an adjustment period when a player is breaking into a new league, I just wish that Puistola would get over his quickly. The problem right now is that Puistola isn’t a factor in the lineup unless he’s scoring goals. There’s very little in his game that has stood out to scouts and people that have watched JYP, which is a problem. I don’t believe that it’s time to push the panic button or anything, however. These types of things take time, and a player needs to be allowed to develop at his own pace. If anything, this just goes to show me why Puistola fell into the third round in the first place. Puistola slipping in the rankings isn’t due to his performance. If anything, he’s only falling because there are two prospects who have improved their stock and have developed well. They’ve both improved and grown as players, whereas Puistola remains largely the same player.
Alex Nedeljkovic – I’m still a believer in Ned, although it would appear that the organization is not. Despite Ned’s contract turning into a one way deal next season, the Hurricanes seem content with keeping their current goalie tandem. Things could obviously change, but I’m not optimistic. I like Nedeljkovic as a goalie and I think that he could become a quality backup for the team in the future.
Jesper Sellgren – Sellgren is also off to a great start in the SHL and the organization seems to believe that he has a legitimate shot at becoming an NHL player in the near future. He is currently playing on the top pair for Frolunda in the SHL and is averaging over 21 minutes of ice time a night. Sellgren is one of the better skaters that I’ve seen and his ability to contribute in the offensive zone is an asset. He could use some work in the defensive zone, but I believe that the Hurricanes have a deceptively good defenseman on their hands. If Sellgren can polish some of his issues in the defensive zone, I believe he could be a third pairing defenseman as early as the 2021-22 season.
Tuukka Tieksola – Tieksola is too good for the U20 league, as we saw last season. He’s also only going to get fourth line minutes at the Liiga level, which wouldn’t be much better for his development. Currently, however, he’s in quarantine and hasn’t played in quite some time. Tieksola’s offensive skill set reminds me of Teuvo Teravainen in a way. He isn’t afraid to make a dangerous pass and can see the ice better than most players at his level. Tieksola has a fantastic shot and great one on one skills, making him a threat in almost every area in the offensive zone. This is a long term project for the Hurricanes, but one that could have a massive reward if they’re patient.
Zion Nybeck – Speaking of players that are a treat to watch in the offensive zone, may I interest you in one Zion Nybeck? This is a player that has the ability to turn the tables of a game. He’s quick, a dangerous passer, a great shooter, and one of the smartest players on the ice at any given moment. Nybeck can take control of a game and can be the catalyst of his team’s offense. Like Tieksola, Nybeck is unpolished and will take some time to grow into the top six forward that he has the potential to become. For the second year in a row, the Hurricanes take a chance on a smaller forward with high amounts of skill and upside in the fourth round.
C – Average NHL Prospect
The “C” tier can be broken up into three categories all by itself, if I’m being honest. At the top, you have a few players that project to becoming NHL players as well as some boom or bust players. In the middle, you have the average prospects or the prospects that I’m not as familiar with. At the bottom of that tier, you have players that might still have a shot, but ones that project as fourth line prospects. This is a tier where the rankings are a little more fluid than other tiers. Very little separates some of these players from the guys above or below them.
Joey Keane – Keane could realistically have an NHL job by the time the 2020-2021 season is over and done with. I’m still not as informed on Keane as I would like to be, so he’ll be a player that I’ll be keeping an eye on whenever the AHL season gets underway. I like the addition of Joey Keane to the pipeline even more after the 2020 draft, especially since the Hurricanes did not draft a right-handed defenseman. If Keane does make it to the NHL, the Hurricanes are getting another player that can contribute offensively as well as play a responsible two-way game.
Stelio Mattheos – Mattheos has NHL upside and with a full season under his belt, I believe that we could see him take some massive steps forward in his development. Since he hasn’t played at all since March, it may take some time to get back up to game speed. He doesn’t move at all in the rankings because I believe in him as a player and the Hurricanes didn’t add any players to the pipeline that I felt were better than him at this point in time.
Domenick Fensore – Fensore had a great freshman season, and after seeing some of his advanced stats, I’m convinced that he’ll be a dangerous player next season. There’s no denying that he’s able to create offense and help his team on the attack. His transition defense needs work and he could use help defending rushes, but that’ll come with time. I’m pleased with Fensore’s growth overall and I think that a few more years in college will help him out.
Steven Lorentz- Lorentz has a shot at making the NHL roster this season, especially since he’s on a cheap contract and the Hurricanes are dealing with a flat salary cap. He was the most improved player in the entire AHL this past season and his work ethic is outstanding. You all have heard me hype up Lorentz for a while now and I’m convinced that we’ll see him on the Hurricanes soon.
Eetu Makiniemi – I still believe in Makiniemi despite some underwhelming numbers early on in the season for him. He has the potential to become an NHL goalie at some point down the road, although I’m not sure if that will be with the Hurricanes. I love his athleticism, and when he’s getting consistent starts, he has the ability to steal games for his team. Maybe things will improve once he’s able to cement his status as a goalie in Finland.
Blake Murray – Murray has a legitimate shot at becoming a 20-30 goal scorer at the NHL level if he can establish some consistency in his game. He improved a lot this past year and was much more of a threat during each shift, making me believe that there’s NHL upside here. Murray has the build of a power forward and is a strong skater, so combine that with his goal scoring ability and emerging passing game and you have a player on the right track for NHL success. I’ll be watching Murray closely this season since it’s a contract year for him.
Alexander Nikishin – Boom. Nikishin will be a fan favorite as long as he remains in the Hurricanes’ system due to his ability to deliver Earth-shattering hits. There’s obviously more to his game than just his physical presence, but what stands out as of right now is his ability to turn the tides of a game due to his hitting. If he catches a player with his head down, there’s a good chance that Nikishin will make that said player pay. Nikishin is a good skater for his size and isn’t afraid to contribute in the offensive zone as well. I don’t see Nikishin as a top four defenseman, and he’s still a ways away from the NHL, but his floor is fairly high and the Canes are in need of a physical presence on their blue line. That’s enough to put Nikishin right at this point.
Alexander Pashin – Pashin is a ball of fun and, like Zion Nybeck, can control the pace of play in the offensive zone. Pashin’s ability to take over a shift is almost unparalleled despite his stature. Based on upside alone, Pashin could be pushing for the “B” rankings here. The only reason why he isn’t at that level is the fact that his floor is a little too low for my liking at this stage in his development. Some time in either the VHL or KHL would do wonders for Pashin, but it looks as though his team is content with letting him dominate the U20 league for a little while longer.
Clark Bishop – Bishop is what he is at this point. In my eyes, he’s a solid AHL veteran that you can call up in the event of an injury if you need a reliable fourth line checking forward. I don’t believe that Bishop is ever going to be a full-time NHL player, but having that option in the AHL is never a bad thing.
Lenni Killinen –
Killinen can’t stay healthy to save his life and has yet to appear in a regular season game for Assat this season. Killinen has the size and skating ability that you want in a player. He can score goals, is good in front of the net, and has a physical element to his game. His playmaking and hockey sense leave much to be desired, however, which can lead to some problems in his game. Killinen can be behind the play on occasion and has lapses in judgment in the defensive zone. There’s still time for Killinen to develop into an NHL prospect, but I don’t believe that I’ve seen enough growth in these past two seasons to convince me that he’s an NHL prospect.
Kevin Wall – Wall should be a key part of Penn State’s roster this season, so we’ll get to see how much he’s capable of. Wall has a good shot and is a decent skater that does everything well. Aside from his shot, I don’t see anything else that jumps out as an elite quality. I see a player with third line upside that can be utilized in any situation in your lineup, which is a nice player to have in your pipeline.
Massimo Rizzo – I’d be more comfortable with Rizzo’s development if I knew where he was going to be playing after his time in the BCHL is over. He decommitted from the University of North Dakota and has yet to announce where he will be continuing his education, if he is still NCAA bound. Rizzo has fantastic hands and is a gifted playmaker, but scouts have been wary of him due to his inability to take his game to the next level. He’s a great BCHL player, but is there anything beyond that?
Ronan Seeley – Seeley has an interesting skillset and could be poised for a breakout season due to a few departures on Everett’s blue line. Seeley averaged just over 16 minutes of ice time per game this past year and managed to more than double his point totals, so it’s reasonable to expect that even more ice time will give us an idea of the type of player that he can be. Seeley’s skating is his biggest asset and it’s clear that he’s one of the best skaters in his age group. Other than that, you have a player that can close gaps effectively and make some plays with the puck. Seeley is a prospect with a lot of raw skills and very little polishing, but the good news is that he’ll have a chance to shine this next year. I’m putting him in the lower half of this tier but he’s one of my breakout candidates for the upcoming season.
Cade Webber – I’m more optimistic about Webber’s professional future now than I was after the 2019 draft, and that’s mostly due to the fact that he had a good showing in the BCHL before an unfortunate injury. Webber is a great defender and Penticton was noticeably worse with him out of the lineup. Obviously this doesn’t mean that he’ll be an NHL player, but Webber seems to have some skills that could translate to the NHL. Four years with a young Boston College team will help Webber grow more confident in the offensive zone while continuing to mature defensively. I’m bumping Webber up above Slepets for two reasons. For starters, Slepets isn’t playing in the KHL once again and doesn’t seem to be much better than a depth player at the VHL level at this point in time. The second reason is that Webber has the luxury of continuing his development in the AHL after he is finished with Boston University. That will be an asset for the Hurricanes moving forward.
Lucas Mercuri – Mercuri is a player that I don’t know a ton about, so I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I can project his future as a player. On paper, you see a big center that was able to dominate the prep school ranks in his draft year. The Hurricanes’ staff has mentioned his hands and hockey sense as two potential NHL assets, but beyond that, I have no idea what his future looks like. The USHL is a slight step up for him before he finds his way into the UMass lineup in the fall of 2021. Prep school players are almost always a risk because the level of competition isn’t great and there are a lot of unknowns with these types of players. Sometimes, like with David Cotton, it works out. Other times, these prep school players fizzle out in college. The good news is that the Hurricanes will let Mercuri develop on his own time over the next five years.
Kirill Slepets – Not much has changed with regards to Slepets’ ranking when you look at it compared to last time. Sure, he’s quick and can score goals, but beyond that, I’m not sure about his NHL upside. Slepets will take time to develop and it’s likely that we won’t see him in Raleigh for at least four or five more years, if at all.
D – Marginal Chance of NHL Success
Spencer Smallman – The good news is that Smallman earned another NHL contract and will be back for the upcoming AHL season. I wasn’t convinced that he would be qualified and so it is encouraging to see that the organization still believes in him. There are NHL assets and I could see the Hurricanes getting some value out of him, similar to how they have gotten NHL games out of Clark Bishop.
Jake Kucharski – It’s likely that we’ll see Jake Kucharski’s first NCAA start very soon, so that’ll give me an idea as to where he’s at in his development. I’m not overly optimistic at this point in time, but he was an NHL draft pick and there has to be a reason for that.
Ville Rasanen – I wrote Rasanen off as a prospect in 2018 and I think the Hurricanes did too. It hasn’t worked out for Rasanen at any level and so it’s safe to say that he’s not an NHL player.
And those are my updated rankings! The Hurricanes had a strong draft class, adding talent at every position except for in goal. As of right now, the Hurricanes have eight picks in the 2021 draft, with picks in every round except the fifth round. The Hurricanes also own St. Louis and Los Angeles’ picks in the seventh round, giving them eight picks in total. It’ll be another opportunity for the organization to add to an already deep pipeline! Here are the additions to the pipeline sorted by the tier they were in:
B: Gunler, Ponomarev, Nybeck
C: Nikishin, Pashin, Seeley, Mercuri
Overall, the Hurricanes added one top prospect, three “good” prospects, and four prospects in the middle. Not a bad haul for eight picks!