A quick reminder that all top 10 candidates must be no more than 25 years old as of October 7, 2015. The lists consider all skaters in that age group who have played in fewer than 40 NHL regular season games, with 25 games being the cut-off among netminders.
With a foundering AHL team and a notoriously light scouting staff, the Carolina Hurricanes could have been contenders for the absolute nadir of this ranking. Bouyed by a late season trade that brought in one of their new top prospects as well as a draft class that included one of the best defensive prospects in the game, the Hurricanes have been afforded some breathing room. Still, not enough has gone right of late to push them any higher yet. Perhaps given another year to mold his vision, GM Ron Francis can begin to right this ship.
- Noah Hanifin, D, Boston College (Hockey East) 6-2”, 205. 5th overall, 2015
- Lucas Wallmark, C, Lulea (SHL) 6-0”, 176. 97th overall, 2014
- Roland McKeown, D, Kingston (OHL) 6-1”, 195. Trade: Feb. 25, 2015. (Originally: 50th overall, 2014, Los Angeles)
- Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer (WHL) 6-3”, 202. 7th overall, 2014
- Brock McGinn, LW, Charlotte (AHL) 6-0”, 185. 47th overall, 2012
- Sergei Tolchinsky, LW, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 5-9”, 170. UFA, signed Aug. 22, 2013
- Sebastian Aho, LW, Karpat (Liiga) 5-11”, 176. 35th overall, 2015
- Brett Pesce, D, New Hampshire (Hockey East) 6-3”, 195 66th overall, 2013
- Alexander Nedeljkovic, G, Plymouth (OHL) 6-0”, 190. 37th overall, 2014
- Phil Di Giuseppe, LW, Charlotte (AHL) 6-0”, 197. 38th overall, 2012
Players likely to lose eligibility
- Justin Shugg, RW, Charlotte (AHL) 5-11”, 185. 105th overall, 2010
- Danny Biega, D, Charlotte (AHL) 6-0”, 205. 67th overall, 2010
- Nicolas Roy, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL) 6-4”, 198. 96th overall, 2015
- Kyle Jenkins, D, Peterborough (OHL) 6-1”, 175. 187th overall, 2014
- Warren Foegele, LW, New Hampshire (Hockey East) 6-1”, 185. 67th overall, 2014
Unlike the other systems profiled thus far, the Hurricanes have a truly elite prospect in their system. Defenceman Noah Hanifin, taken with the fifth pick of this June’s draft, is on the short list for the top blueline prospect in the game. Possessing elite speed and instincts that belie his precocious age, he has the package that one looks for in profiling a number one defender. He has already singed his ELC and will likely spend the year with Carolina in the NHL. While he could see some time in the AHL, it would be shocking to see him eligible for this list again next year as he is ready to be a top four blueliner right now. Between Hanifin and Faulk the ‘Canes have a top pairing that will be the envy of the league in short order.
Perhaps the surprise placement of the Hurricanes list is Lucas Wallmark in second. He was a near miss for the top 100 prospect list and shot up the boards one year after being selected in the fourth round. He nearly doubled his point production in his second year playing with men in the SHL and had a fantastic showing for Sweden at the WJC as well. His offensive instincts, passing skills and a strong wrist shot suggest second line potential. He will make his North American debut this coming season.
Roland McKeown and Haydn Fleury were highly touted 2014 picks whose careers took unexpected turns last year. McKeown, a second round pick of Los Angeles, saw his offensive production stumble on a relatively impotent Kingston team, although his skill set was still apparent as he is very mobile and displays a high IQ on the backend. That said, the Kings were looking to fortify a borderline playoff team and dealt McKeown and a future first rounder to Carolina for the last two months of Andrej Sekera’s contract. Carolina definitely won this exchange as McKeown will play in the NHL, with the second pairing as a realistic ceiling.
Fleury came into the organization with nearly as much hype as accompanied Hanifin this season. Unfortunately for the teenager as well as for the Hurricanes, he stumbled badly as a 19 year old, losing approximately one third of his offensive production with Red Deer and being an early cut from consideration for Team Canada. The skating, size and strength are all still there, and he capped off his disappointing season by scoring a goal in his lone end-of-season game in the AHL. Expect a bounce-back this season, but for the moment, Fleury’s star is dimmer than it once was.
The middle of the Carolina top ten features a trio of left wingers who all have offensive skills, but sometimes fail to put up the numbers that garner attention. Brock McGinn and Sebastian Aho (the Finnish one) were both second rounders, while Sergei Tolchinsky was signed as an undrafted free agent. McGinn, whose older brothers Jamie and Tye haveboth already played in the NHL, is an above-average skater with a strong slap shot. He has the highest floor of the trio, with an all-around game that will certainly pay in the NHL, even if only in an energy line capacity, although his ceiling is definitely higher than that. Tolchinsky is an electrifying talent, although one who is easy to overlook because of his size. Having topped 90 points in each of his past two seasons with Sault Ste. Marie, he will continue to work on his defensive game with Charlotte. His offensive skills are likely already above and beyond those of any of his future AHL teammates and his skating, puck protection, passing and shot are all above average but his size and pedigree will force him to prove himself at every level before he is given a serious opportunity. Aho is the rawest of the trio, but has already held his own in his first extended look at playing with adults, with 11 points in 27 games for Karpat, in Finland’s highest league. He is a high energy player, with the skating ability to be effective in that role in the North American professional game.
While there were a number of potential candidates for the bottom three slots on the Hurricanes top ten prospect list, the three that were chosen all have at least one above average trait that allows them to occasionally stick out. For defenseman Brett Pesce, it is his shot from the blueline. It is strong, with a plus release and he shows the ability to consistently get it past the crowds and on to the net. He turned pro after his third year with the University of New Hampshire and we will see if his high IQ game will stick with him in the AHL. Alex Nedljkovic is small by current goaltending standards, standing only 6-0” tall – with some outlets listing him even shorter, but has exceptional athleticism and is a very good stickhandler for a netminder. He has been a workhorse for a mediocre team in Plymouth (now moved to Flint, Michigan), so he at least has proven that he is comfortable seeing a lot of rubber, but will face stern challenges in the organizational depth chart from the likes of Daniel Altshuller, Callum Booth and Rasmus Tirronen. The top ten closes out with former second round pick Phil Di Giuseppe, a mobile winger with above average puck skills. He was never a big point producer with the Michigan Wolverines, and his rookie season production in the AHL also underwhelmed, but the tools are there for him to grow into a bottom line player who can add depth to any team’s offense.
Looking beyond the top ten, Justin Shugg and Danny Biega are both still-young AHL veterans with reasonable skills who would not embarrass themselves or the organization if they were needed for extended callups this year. Shugg will make his mark on the back of a very strong shot – and the instincts to make it count – while Biega is a calm and mobile rearguard who still needs to prove that he can cope with the higher pace of game in the NHL. He has the raw tools to at least be able to handle protected minutes when needed.
Looking at potential sleepers in the system, recent draftee Nicolas Roy has the potential to make many teams regret letting him fall to the fourth round this past June. Once touted as a potential first rounder, his production never equaled his skill set. He is still big, gritty and plays responsibly in all three zones. A solid finish to his year with team Canada at the U-18s provides hope that he can take a big step forward next year. Kyle Jenkins, a blueliner with Peterborough of the OHL is unprepossessing, without standout size or evident physical skills, yet he is perpetually tough to play against and is a plus puck mover worth keeping an eye on. Finally, we have Warren Foegele, a project upon whom Carolina risked a third round pick in 2014 after destroying the Canadian high school ranks. His first season with New Hampshire was strong enough, but his physical game and plus speed allow for supporters to hope for more in his near future. In light of his lack of high level experience, Foegele is the system’s true wild card.
Between a weak system and an NHL roster that has only a few players who are both part of their core and young (Faulk, Lindholm, Skinner, Rask and maybe Murphy), they have a tremendous amount of ground to cover before they can be considered to be playoff threats again. Hanifin is a great prospect to start with, but the Hurricanes will need at least one more top five pick to begin consolidating their next contender. That next top five pick is likely only 10 months away. More patience will be needed as the organization continues to rebuild.