The good news for the Carolina Hurricanes is they have several players younger than 25 – two at the top of this ranking – who have contributed for them in the NHL this season. The big question is how many of the rest will eventually make their way to Raleigh.
1. (1) Elias Lindholm, C/RW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 5th overall, 2013
Lindholm's numbers are far from gaudy: he has 12 points in 35 games with the Hurricanes this season. But there is plenty to like about the 19-year-old Swede. Not only has Lindholm found a permanent place on Carolina's power play – usually with the first unit – but he has recently been playing among Carolina's top-six forwards on a line with Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner.
Lindholm's greatest asset is his determination and effort, which is evident in all three zones on every shift he takes. But he also has incredibly quick hands and is willing to go to all the dirty areas of the ice, an attribute that will pay off for him down the road. In fact, his scoring numbers are comparable (when projected over a full season) to current captain Eric Staal's rookie campaign in 2003-04. Just two seasons later, following the lockout, Staal finished with 100 points and helped lead Carolina to their only Stanley Cup. Do not be surprised if Lindholm becomes a top-six scorer in the future.
2. (2) Ryan Murphy, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 12th overall, 2011
Murphy's recent assignment to the AHL was more about getting him ice time during the Olympic break than demoting him for poor play. That being said, Murphy has been in and out of the lineup as Carolina shuffles eight healthy blueliners. The recent acquisition of veteran John-Michael Liles gives Carolina a proven power play quarterback, and also took the pressure off Murphy to be the go-to guy at the point.
In 39 NHL games, Murphy has two goals and nine assists, but only three points on the power play despite playing more than 100 minutes with the man advantage this season. Murphy's defensive play has been better than expected, but he is still limited by his size. As he grows more confident offensively – he desperately needs to use his low, hard shot more often – he should be able to blossom into a reliable defenseman.
3. (8) Brock McGinn, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2012
McGinn's rise up the Carolina prospect ranks continues. Once acclaimed for his hard-nosed, all-effort style, McGinn has added big-time scoring to his repertoire. Through February 24th, McGinn has 68 points (including 36 goals) in 48 games.
McGinn started the year with points in 23 straight games and has only been held without a point seven times this season for the Storm, currently the OHL's top team. He figures to join the Charlotte Checkers once his season with Guelph is over – either for the AHL's stretch run or, if the Storm advance far in the postseason, the start of 2014-15.
4. (3) Victor Rask, C, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2011
Rask was a premiere point-producer in the WHL the past two seasons, so his role as third-liner/complementary scorer with the Checkers is disappointing. Rask has just 25 points through 52 games in a campaign that included an early season 24-game goal drought.
Rask is at his best when shooting often, so in order to be successful he will likely first need to regain a top scoring spot among Checkers forwards, then get back to firing the puck. Do not be surprised if the Hurricanes dangle Rask at the trade deadline in an attempt to acquire an upgrade at third line center.
5. (12) Jaccob Slavin, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 120th overall, 2012
Like current Penguins prospect and former Hurricanes pick Brian Dumoulin, Slavin was young and unpolished when selected by the Hurricanes in the summer of 2012. But just 25 games into his freshman season at Colorado College, Slavin gives Carolina something to be excited about down the road.
Slavin's play to start the season earned him a spot on the United States' blue line at the World Junior Championships, where he registered a goal and an assist in five games and was a bright spot for the Americans despite a disappointing fifth-place finish. Slavin has 19 points on the season for Colorado College, second on the Tigers and more than twice as many points as the next closest defenseman.
6. (10) Daniel Altshuller, G, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 69th overall, 2012
Altshuller has been one of the OHL's top goalies all season, ranking in the top three in wins and goals-against average for the Eastern Conference-best Oshawa Generals through 48 games played.
After stumbling through late January by allowing nine goals in his final two games of the month, Altshuller bounced back in the month of February and sits at 29-11-0-3 with a 2.49 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and two shutouts on the season.
7. (6) Brett Pesce, D, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 66th overall, 2013
Sometimes all a player needs is an opportunity. With teammate Trevor van Riemsdyk out of the lineup due to a broken ankle, Pesce has taken on a bigger role with the Wildcats and made the most of it.
Pesce has points in eight straight games – including a career-best three in a win over Notre Dame on January 31st – and has totaled three goals and seven assists over that stretch after having just five points in his first 26 games of the year. For a player whose defense and determined play got him drafted, Pesce's offensive growth is just another asset in his path toward the NHL.
8. (14) Trevor Carrick, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2012
After two and a half seasons with Mississauga, Carrick was dealt to Sudbury in early January for several assets in an effort by the Wolves to make a run in the OHL. Carrick's 20 goals in 60 games are second among all OHL defensemen.
Carrick has 42 points on the season. He has also fought a career-high seven times this year – twice since coming to Sudbury.
9. (5) Phil Di Giuseppe, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall, 2012
Di Giuseppe made his name as a goal scorer, but the past two seasons he has not done much to maintain that reputation. Di Giuseppe struggled in in 2012-13, and his numbers have dipped even more this year. The junior left wing has eight goals and nine assists through 28 games with the Wolverines.
The high point of his season was scoring the game-winning goal against cross-state rival Michigan State on January 23rd, snapping a personal eight-game goalless streak along the way. But what could have been a catalyst for Di Giuseppe's season was mostly a blip on the radar as he went on a seven-game pointless streak from January 24th to February 15th.
10. (9) Keegan Lowe, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2011
In his first professional season, Lowe has been a fixture on the Charlotte blue line. The 20-year-old has played 44 games with the Checkers in 2013-14, registering two goals and six assists along with 53 penalty minutes.
The recent addition of Ryan Murphy to Charlotte's roster has made Lowe the odd-man out on the Checkers defense and he has been a recent scratch.
11. (7) Danny Biega, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2010
It took Biega 38 games to score his first professional goal. He liked it so much he did it a second time in Charlotte's 4-3 loss to Abbotsford on February 5th. It was a big step for Biega, who has been hampered by injuries since turning pro the end of last season.
When healthy, Biega has been able to log big minutes, taking current Hurricanes defenseman Brett Bellemore's spot alongside Michal Jordan on the Checkers' top pairing. Overall, Biega has 12 points in 41 games with Charlotte this season, but was a top point producer from the blue line during his four years at Harvard.
12. (16) Michal Jordan, D, 6.0B
Drafted 4th round, 105th overall, 2008
Even if it was for just five games last season, Jordan showed he could hold his own in the NHL in a pinch. The 23-year-old continues to be a top option for coach Jeff Daniels on the Charlotte back end, consistently putting up around 20 points a year while serving in a shutdown role in his first three professional seasons.
This year has been more of the same for Jordan, who has three goals and eight assists in 46 games so far for the Checkers while manning a spot on the team's top pairing.
13. (15) Austin Levi, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 85th overall, 2010
While Levi has spent most of his first professional season in the ECHL, do not rule him out as a potential future NHL player. Levi was considered a work in progress when Carolina selected him three-plus years ago, and patience will be the best thing the Hurricanes can give him in his first couple of pro campaigns.
Levi has an NHL body (6'4, 210 pounds) but needs to log big minutes so he can continue to develop. He earned a nine-game call-up with the Checkers, scoring one goal, and has 11 points in 39 games with the Everblades this year.
14. (NR) Sergey Tolchinsky, LW, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, August 22nd, 2013
Tolchinksy's career will likely go one of two ways: he will either fizzle out due to his diminutive size, or he will overcome his genetic disadvantages to become a productive NHL forward a la current Hurricanes winger Nathan Gerbe or Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello.
For now, Carolina has to be pleased with the shifty Tolchinksy's play. He ranks 11th in OHL scoring with 80 points through 59 games, including an impressive 54 assists, for the Greyhounds in just his second season in North America. He has 10 games so far with at least three points, including a two-goal, three-assist night on October 19th in a 9-7 win over Peterborough.
15. (NR) Brody Sutter, C, 5.5B
Drafted 7th round, 193rd overall, 2011
Sutter's size (6'5, 203 pounds) and bloodlines can't be taught. Like his cousin and teammate, Brett, Sutter brings intangibles, work ethic and hockey smarts every night. He's settled in as one of the Checkers' top centers this season, and while he hasn't scored much (five goals, 14 assists through 41 games this season) his size makes him a valuable asset and close to a sure-thing as at least a fourth-line fill-in down the road.
16. (17) Brent Pedersen, LW, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2013
Pedersen is the latest Kitchener Ranger – joining Jeff Skinner and Ryan Murphy – to enter the Carolina prospect pipeline. Pedersen has the size and grit to be a good third or fourth-liner down the road, but lacks the offensive punch thus far to be expected to be anything more than that.
Through 58 games with Kitchener this year, Pedersen has 13 goals and 13 assists for the struggling Rangers.
The Hurricanes are hoping Nemisz, a former first-round pick, can benefit from a change of scenery after being acquired from Calgary in a deal that sent enforcer Kevin Westgarth to the Flames. So far, Nemisz appears to have rediscovered his scoring touch.
In 11 games with Charlotte, Nemisz has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) after averaging just 0.39 points per game in more than 200 games with Abbotsford, Calgary's AHL affiliate, the last three-plus years. Nemisz has a power forward's build and was expected to be a top-line guy coming out of junior, but will need to re-establish himself as a reliable scorer if he is going to make headway in the Carolina system.
18. (NR) Justin Shugg, RW, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 105th overall, 2010
Shugg has finally earned a full-time role in the AHL after bouncing between Charlotte and Carolina's ECHL affiliate, the Florida Everblades, the past two seasons. He has responded by having his best season as a pro, scoring 13 goals and adding 15 assists in 52 games with the Checkers.
Shugg has long been a winner – he captured two Memorial Cups with Windsor and helped Florida to a Kelly Cup in 2012 – but needs to emerge as more of a point producer if Carolina is going to take notice.
19. (NR) Rasmus Rissanen, D, 6.0C
Drafted 6th round, 178th overall, 2009
Rissanen is in his third full season as a pro and continues to be a reliable physical defender. Much like Brett Bellemore before him, Rissanen has been a physical presence on the Checkers defense. He does not score much (just seven points through 38 games this year) but finds ways to contribute elsewhere.
Rissanen has not been as "mean" as advertised coming out of his draft year, but maybe adding more of that element – as Bellemore did during his time in the AHL – would make him a more attractive candidate for a future recall.
20. (13) Erik Karlsson, C, 5.5C
Drafted 4th round, 99th overall, 2012
The "other" Erik Karlsson stayed in Sweden for this season, but the Hurricanes are hoping he will eventually make a name for himself as an energy player in North America. Karlsson's best attribute is his work ethic, and he is a physical player despite his size.
Karlsson has five goals and an assist through 36 games with Frolunda this season, playing with former Hurricanes pick Magnus Kahnberg (who was shipped to St. Louis in the Doug Weight trade in 2006 and played just 16 games in North America).