Hurricanes Prospect Depth: Right Wingers

In the third installment of my five part series on the Hurricanes’ prospect depth at each position, we’ll take a look at the right wingers in the system. Carolina boasts an impressive amount of talent on the wings of their NHL roster, and so we’ll take a look at which players could contend for roster spots in the future. I’ll talk about each prospect individually, assess the Hurricanes’ strengths and weaknesses at the position, provide some draft implications, and rank the prospects into tiers.

I should note that Stelio Mattheos was included with the Center prospects despite spending most of the past two seasons on the wing. Mattheos may end up becoming a permanent winger, although I do think that his relentless forecheck and high pace could put him back at the center position.

Spencer Smallman – Smallman has struggled with injuries since turning pro, but when he’s healthy, he’s looked great. Smallman isn’t going to wow you in a lot of areas, but what stands out is that he does almost everything well. He can skate, he can defend, his vision is above average, he has a good shot, and he’s a physical presence on the ice. While 13 points in 47 games for Charlotte may not be impressive, one has to remember that Smallman has missed significant time over the past three years due to a torn ACL and shoulder surgery. Smallman’s progression has been steady despite these injuries, and I’d like to see what he can do with a full season under his belt. This tweet may be from early in 2018, but you have to remember that this was before Smallman tore his ACL.

Dominik Bokk – Bokk could very well be the team’s most exciting prospect, and he’s the one that I’m most excited to watch in the AHL next season. After a rough start to the season, Bokk headed to the World Juniors lacking confidence. He returned from the World Juniors a different player, having led Germany’s team in scoring and impressing against the top prospects in his age group. Bokk’s offensive skills tell the story for him. He’s a goal scoring forward that can skate like the wind and dazzle you with his puck skills. Bokk’s shot is incredibly accurate, and he can strike from almost anywhere due to his speed and pinpoint accuracy. It seems that Bokk is comfortable streaking down the wing despite not being the strongest forward, and his agility in doing so reminds me of watching Erik Cole. If there’s anything to be said about Bokk, it’s that his play in the defensive zone needs work. His gaps are okay, but his lack of strength can make him hesitant to challenge for the puck. His poor defensive play resulted in a lack of trust from his coaches, and as a result, a lack of ice time. Next season, Bokk will be playing for a coach that has helped his players improve in all three zones. This should allow for Bokk to play his game and work his way towards being a better two way player. Cam Robinson has always been high on Bokk, so naturally, his tweet is going to be used as an example. Check out Bokk’s accuracy, it’s bordering on cheat code levels.

Lenni Killinen – Killinen is more of a long-term project, and it’s likely that the Hurricanes will let him develop in Finland for at least another year. Killinen struggles with consistency, and a big part of those struggles is his below average hockey sense. I don’t believe that Killinen can see the game at a high enough level just yet. There are some lapses in his judgment that lead to turnovers, missed opportunities, or poor efforts. I did see Killinen start to turn things around after the World Juniors, but he’s still a ways away from the player that he could be. Right now, Killinen is a strong winger with a good shot and above average skating. Killinen thrives around the net, which is where most of his offense comes from. He’ll screen the goaltender, bat in a rebound, or be a general nuisance for defenders. There’s plenty of room for growth, but luckily for the Hurricanes, Killinen’s rights don’t expire until the summer of 2022. They can afford to let him develop.

Tuukka Tieksola – Tieksola quickly became one of my favorite prospects to watch this season due to his speed, playmaking ability, and unreal hockey sense. Tieksola is a player that, if developed correctly, could become another Teuvo Teravainen in terms of playmaking. Tieksola’s shot shouldn’t be slept on, and it turned into more of an asset as the season went on. Tieksola was named the best forward in Finland’s U20 league this season after a 61-point campaign. There are two glaring issues with Tieksola, however. The first is his strength, which goes hand in hand with his struggles defensively. Tieksola isn’t strong enough to make a difference in the defensive zone just yet. He can’t win a lot of puck battles, he’s not a physical player, and he seems hesitant to get involved due to his lack of strength. There’s plenty of room for growth, which is likely one of the reasons why Karpat seemed so content with leaving him on their U20 team for most of the season. The second issue is that Tieksola barely saw time at a higher level this season. Tieksola played in seven games for Karpat this season, including the two games in the Champions Hockey League that he appeared in. Tieksola also appeared in two games for Hermes in Mestis, the Finnish second-tier league. That’s simply not enough time at the men’s level for legitimate development. The tweets below are some examples of how easy hockey in the U20 league seemed for Tieksola.

Kirill Slepets – Slepets was a bit of a surprising pick for the Hurricanes in the 2019 draft. Considering that the Hurricanes had not selected a player from Russia in nearly two decades, the fact that the Hurricanes selected two almost felt like it came out of nowhere. Slepets was born in 1999, so being a double overage player likely caused him to fall to the Hurricanes in the fifth round. From what I’ve seen, Slepets possesses elite speed and skating abilities, a good shot, and decent vision and hockey sense. His defensive play is shaky, but I’ll need more viewings to see if it’s an issue that appears more frequently. Slepets is still very much an unknown, at least for me. It’s possible that the Hurricanes got a steal with this pick, but Slepets is at least two years away from coming to North America. His team, Dinamo Riga, is one of the KHL’s worst teams, so that may not help his development. Still, Slepets did appear in 33 games with Riga.

Strengths

The Hurricanes certainly have a strong crop of prospects on the right wing, headlined by Dominik Bokk. Bokk is likely a top six forward at the NHL level and could be an NHL player by the end of next season if everything goes as planned. Tuukka Tieksola has high upside as well, and although he’s a bit of a long-term project, the payoff could be huge. Lenni Killinen has a bottom six future in the NHL if he shows consistent growth like he did this season, although he’s still three or four years away. If Spencer Smallman signs a new deal over the summer, I could see him developing into a nice depth piece for the Hurricanes as well.

The Hurricanes have the potential to reap the rewards of having two dynamic offensive talents in Bokk and Tieksola. Bokk may see the NHL sooner than Tieksola will, but if both players can make it to the big club, it’ll be a massive win for the Hurricanes organization. It still remains to be seen if Kirill Slepets could be an NHL prospect, but if he works out, I would imagine that he could fit in the middle six.

Weaknesses

The Hurricanes did lose one of their better prospects on the right wing in Julien Gauthier, but despite that, the system remains strong. There aren’t a whole lot of weaknesses here. Like every team, the Hurricanes could stand to increase their depth on the right wing. The addition of Bokk and the continued development of their prospects makes the loss of Julien Gauthier seem less significant as time goes on.

Draft Implications

The Hurricanes lack right-handed forwards at the NHL level, so I could see the team drafting a couple of right wingers at some point in the draft. I would consider taking a chance on Noel Gunler in the first round, but I can see how his inconsistencies and occasional passive style of play would throw up red flags for NHL teams.

Tiers

  • A: None
  • B+: Dominik Bokk
  • B: Tuukka Tieksola
  • C: Lenni Killinen, Spencer Smallman, Kirill Slepets

It is my belief that the Hurricanes don’t have a true “A” list prospect on the right wing, but Bokk comes close at a B+. There are still some concerns about his two way play that are preventing him from being a blue chip prospect, in my opinion. If Bokk can continue playing at the level he was playing at after the World Juniors, then I have no doubt in my mind that he will become a great NHL player. Tieksola may have a high ceiling, but his lack of strength and time in the U20 league kept him from developing as much as I think he could have. This may be for the best, however, as I think his lack of strength could have been a real issue in the Liiga this season. The good news for the Hurricanes is that there aren’t any busts in the pipeline just yet. Killinen is developing nicely, Smallman has potential if he can remain healthy, and Slepets seems to be on the right track. That’s a great sign for the Hurricanes’ long-term success. The future remains bright for the Carolina Hurricanes and it will continue to be bright for the foreseeable future.

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