We’re less than four months away from the first deadline for teams to sign undrafted prospects, so it’s time to take a look at some pending free agents in the Hurricanes’ system. If these players are left unsigned, they will become free agents and will be free to sign NHL or AHL deals with whichever team suits them. The Hurricanes already locked up Jamieson Rees, who was going to be the biggest prospect on this list. There aren’t any major prospects on this list, but there are a few players that could find themselves signing an NHL contract before this season is all said and done. Let’s talk about each prospect and assess whether or not they’ve earned a contract!
LaFontaine is putting together a phenomenal season on one of the best teams in the NCAA, boasting a .936 save percentage through 18 games. LaFontaine is an easy guy to root for, going from the NCAA to the BCHL and then reviving his career back in the NCAA with Minnesota. LaFontaine is calm and collected in net, allowing for him to make a lot of saves look easier than they really are. LaFontaine’s production warrants an NHL contract, but there are some things that need to be addressed when we talk about LaFontaine’s future.
One of the big concerns that I have about LaFontaine is that he has done well against the bad teams in the Big Ten but has struggled against the top teams in his league this year. It’s tough to be on your game all the time, but LaFontaine hasn’t been great against the top teams in his conference. It’s not damning for his NHL future, and it’s certainly not going to take away from his success this season, but it’s something to keep an eye on. The other concern that I have is that I’m not sure that LaFontaine is an NHL starter. Does he have NHL upside? Absolutely, and I could see him earning NHL starts sooner rather than later. But at this point, it’s not clear whether LaFontaine is a backup or a 1A/1B at the NHL level. The Canes will likely sign LaFontaine and it’s likely that LaFontaine will begin his career with the Chicago Wolves. Seeing LaFontaine at the professional level will give us more of an idea as to what the future holds for him.
NHL Contract: Absolutely
Makiniemi’s career has been an interesting one to follow and it’s a pain to see an athletic goalie not getting as much of an opportunity as he deserves. He has gone from a goalie too good for the U20 level in Finland to a goalie too good for Mestis, to a backup for one of the best goalie prospects in the world at the Liiga level. As a starter, Makiniemi has shown flashes of brilliance and some fantastic saves, but nothing that screams “NHL goaltender.” Makiniemi hasn’t been able to string together good starts for a little while now, and since he has already signed an extension with Ilves, I would imagine that it’s not likely that he earns an NHL contract with the Hurricanes.
NHL Contract: Not likely
Rasanen is about as much of an NHL prospect as I am, so the Hurricanes should and will not sign him.
NHL Contract: Nope, uh uh, no way, not a chance
Murray has potential in a depth scoring role due to his size, speed, and goal scoring ability, but there are concerns that he may not have enough skill to succeed at the NHL level. For what it’s worth, I believe in Murray’s game. I don’t believe that he’s ever going to push the pace of play, and he won’t be the best player on his line, but if you put him with a playmaker, he’ll find ways to score. With the right linemates, Murray could become a 20-goal scorer at the NHL level. There’s value in that, and I could see the Hurricanes giving Murray an entry-level deal to prove himself at the professional level. Murray has done well in HockeyEttan, Sweden’s third-tier league, to start the year, with 14 points in eight games. I can’t say that I’m an expert on that league, however, so there’s no telling exactly how meaningful those stats are.
I’m still up in the air with whether or not Blake Murray will earn a contract. I like his game and I think that he could have value at the AHL level even if he’s not a sure thing at the NHL level. Ryan Warsofsky could work with Murray and hone his skills to enable Murray to have success at the NHL level. It’s possible that the Hurricanes strike gold with their sixth round pick. But what I keep coming back to is this: are the Hurricanes going to be willing to commit to a player that may or may not become an NHL regular? They’ve done so with players such as Smallman and Bishop, but now that the pipeline is deeper, is that still going to be the case? It’s something to keep an eye on in the coming months, especially with the OHL reportedly returning to play sometime in April.
NHL Contract: Still a 50/50 as to whether or not Murray receives one
As of right now, the Hurricanes only have one sure thing out of the four prospects that will become free agents this year. LaFontaine is the only prospect that I am 100% convinced will earn an NHL contract from the Hurricanes. Makiniemi is athletic and may have potential down the line, but it’s not likely that he’s going to be a good pro goalie right now. Ville Rasanen isn’t a prospect worth a second of your time. I like Blake Murray and I’m willing to bet on him, but I’m not convinced that the Hurricanes will. What do you think, Canes fans? Do you think that Murray has earned a contract? Let me know!