By: Kevin LeBlanc
Tying a bow on 2015-16:
Carolina has built up their prospect pipeline in the last few seasons by focusing on building around talented players with size. Since Ron Francis took over the reigns from longtime general manager Jim Rutherford, the Hurricanes have not drafted a player under 6’0” tall. A focus on building from the blueline out led to the graduation of prospects such as Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce after the 2015-16 season. Carolina also got productive years out of forwards Phil Di Giuseppe and Andrej Nestrasil who both played in top-nine roles and out performed their projections.
Which Prospect will have the biggest NHL impact in 2016-17?
Sebastian Aho – Although he has not yet played an NHL Game, Aho is as much of a sure thing to be in the Canes opening night roster as there is among their prospect group. After putting up one of the best (and most physically demanding) campaigns of any prospect during the 2015-16 season, the young Finnish forward shot up prospect rankings everywhere. He has a high ceiling as a playmaker that will likely have a direct impact on the Hurricanes offensive production this upcoming season.
Top 10 Ranking (updated August 2016)
Factors in fantasy value and how close they are to making the NHL.
1. Sebastian Aho
2. Haydn Fleury
3. Jake Bean
4. Julien Gauthier
5. Alex Nedeljkovic
6. Nicolas Roy
7. Aleksi Saarela
8. Valentin Zykov
9. Janne Kuokkanen
10. Roland McKeown
Full Prospect Overview
Sebastian Aho – Will be in the NHL this year. Could be a 40-point player in his rookie season.
Nicolas Roy – Likely will return to QMJHL and dominate. Could lead the league in scoring.
Janne Kuokkanen – Could be a breakout prospect in 16-17. Will play for London Knights in the OHL in his first season in North America.
Lucas Wallmark – Coming off a solid season in Sweden. Former fourth rounder will hopefully slot in at center for Charlotte (AHL) for his first season on North American soil.
Warren Foegele – Had 48 points in 52 games for Kingston after leaving the University of New Hampshire. Projects as a bottom-six forward at the NHL level.
Hudson Elyniuk – Big, rangy center is a candidate for a breakout campaign for Spokane in the WHL this season.
Julien Gauthier – Has an outside shot of making the Canes out of camp, but likely will return to junior where he has the ability to lead the league in goals.
Aleksi Saarela – The main return in the Eric Staal deal, who could be a dark horse to get an NHL look. Likely a couple years away from being a mainstay at the NHL level.
Valentin Zykov – Will be looked at to carry a good amount of the burden offensively for Charlotte this year. Still a high-upside player.
Sergei Tolchinsky – Likely to receive top-six minutes in Charlotte, where his production will increase from his rookie AHL season.
Andrew Poturalski – Five points in 16 games in Charlotte after being signed following his sophomore season at UNH. An undersized player with secondary scoring upside.
Brock McGinn – Should split time between the AHL and NHL. Needs to show something at the NHL level or risk being passed by other prospects.
Erik Karlsson – Modest first season offensively in Charlotte. Should see increased responsibility in year two.
Spencer Smallman – Under the radar player who captained St. John (QMJHL) last season. Had a very solid prospect camp for the Canes this year.
Max Zimmer – Heading to Wisconsin this fall. Winger plays a speed game and could be a depth candidate down the road.
Matt Filipe – Another speedy forward from the USHL, likely to spend a few years at Northeastern University, but a player with scoring upside.
Haydn Fleury – His improvement was noticeable at prospect camp this summer. Could play NHL minutes this year, but it would benefit him to play top minutes at the AHL level for a season before making the jump.
Jake Bean – Could be the most offensively talented defenseman drafted in the 2016 NHL Entry draft. Will return to Calgary (WHL) and is a candidate to play on Canada’s WJC team this winter.
Trevor Carrick – Has had two great seasons in Charlotte and is flying under the radar. A potential points, penalty minutes and hits producer once he makes the jump to the NHL.
Roland McKeown – Had a great season with Kingston, but still needs time to develop. Will play big minutes for Charlotte this fall.
Josh Wesley – Unlikely to be a point producer, but could provide big blocked shots and hits numbers at the NHL level if he makes it.
Alex Nedeljkovic – Has the talent and athleticism to be a starter at the NHL level.
Likely needs 1-2 years of AHL starts before moving to the NHL full time.
Daniel Altshuller – Will play alongside Nedeljkovic in Charlotte. Candidate for an NHL backup spot if either Lack or Ward go down with an injury.
Callum Booth – Had a solid camp this summer, will return to Quebec where he will start for his third straight season.
Jack LaFontaine – NAHL product will head to the University of Michigan in the fall. Raw prospect with a very high ceiling. One to watch for the future as he develops.
Jeremy Helvig – Will return to Kingston where he will be the starter for the Fronts. Put up big numbers after taking over the net midseason.
On the Rise
Nicolas Roy – Taken with the Hurricanes fourth-round selection in 2015, Roy was viewed by some as a player who at the time was regressing. His breakout campaign in 2015-16 proved otherwise. Posting 90 points in 63 games while blossoming into one of the QMJHL’s best face-off men has put the 6-foot-4 center back on track towards an NHL future. He will likely return to Chicoutimi as the teams captain for the 2016-17 season, and has all the tools to lead the league in scoring.
Trevor Carrick – Carrick’s terrific past two seasons have been lost in the shuffle of breakout seasons by bigger name prospects such as Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce recently. The 2015-16 AHL All-Star put up 42 points in 70 games last season, increasing on his 32-point rookie season in Charlotte. He plays both at even strength and on the power play, and has a bit of a mean streak with 145 combined penalty minutes in his last two seasons. Carrick could see NHL time as early as this year.
Sergei Tolchinsky – By no fault of his own, Tolchinsky has fallen down the Canes prospect rankings over the last year. However, it is more based on the quality drafting and trading of the club then Tolchinsky’s play. As an undersized, offensively dynamic winger it was always going to take some seasoning at the AHL level before he was able to think about an NHL impact. Tolchinsky should have added offensive responsibility this year in Charlotte, and the opportunity to play alongside a more talented group of players.
Brock McGinn – Canes fans have long been waiting for McGinn to breakout in Carolina. His hard-nosed, speed game can cause problems for the opposition at times, but thus far his consistency has lacked in his NHL stints. Fellow prospect Phil Di Giuseppe made the jump to the NHL last season, clicking in the Canes top-nine, and looks to have passed McGinn in his development. McGinn will again be a fringe NHL/AHL player this season unless he is able to come in and produce with the Canes in his first call-up to the club. He still has a ton of talent and could be a late bloomer into a fantasy asset in multi-category leagues if he gets regular NHL ice-time.
Goaltending for the Future
This summer at prospect camp it was obvious that the Canes are in good hands in the future at the goaltending position. Nedeljkovic, Booth, LaFontaine and Helvig are all at different stages of their development, but provide the Canes system with more talent and depth in net then they have had in some time.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @kleblanchockey for any Canes related questions, prospect or otherwise.