While Zach Boychuk jumps two places into the top spot, the Hurricanes have four prospects that one could argue as the organization’s best. Three of the team’s 2008 draft picks — including Boychuk — find themselves in the team’s top six at the three-quarters pole of the season.
Top 20 at a glance
1. (3) Zach Boychuk, C
2. (1) Brandon Sutter, C
3. (2) Drayson Bowman, LW
4. (4) Jamie McBain, D
5. (5) Zac Dalpe, C
6. (19) Mike Murphy, G
7. (8) Brett Carson, D
8. (5) Casey Borer, D
9. (10) Chris Terry, LW
10. (9) Kyle Lawson, D
11. (12) Nick Dodge, RW
12. (15) Michal Jordan, D
13. (13) Justin Peters, G
14. (7) Bobby Hughes, C
15. (20) Jakub Petruzalek, RW
16. (16) Justin McCrae, C
17. (17) Jerome Samson, RW
18. (18) Stefan Chaput, C
19. (NR) Samuel Morneau, LW
20. (NR) Nicolas Blanchard, C
1. (3) Zach Boychuk, C, 19, 7.5B
Acquired 1st round, 14th overall, 2008
Despite being injured and unable to participate in contact drills or exhibition games, Boychuk made enough of an impression this preseason to earn a two-game peek with the Hurricanes. That tells you how highly the organization thinks of their latest first-round pick. While wrist surgery early in the year and an ankle injury suffered during Canada’s gold medal run at the World Junior Championships slowed him, Boychuk is again putting up impressive numbers with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes. Through 36 games, the speedy center has 21 goals and 27 assists, a 1.33 point-per-game pace that rivals the 91 points he had in 2006-07. Expect Boychuk to compete for a full-time roster spot next season with the Canes.
2. (1) Brandon Sutter, C, 20, 7.5B
Acquired 1st round, 11th overall, 2007
While Sutter drops one spot to No.2, it doesn’t take away from what he’s shown in his first NHL season. The early season concussion he suffered courtesy a crushing Doug Weight check would’ve derailed many players’ seasons, but Sutter showed determination and maturity beyond in years in how he handled both his recovery and the media’s questions about the hit. Sutter filled the fourth-line center position and was also the team’s top penalty-killing center most of the season until a string of scratches followed by a late February trip to the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate in Albany for a conditioning assignment. While Sutter hasn’t contributed much offensively (a goal and five assists in 50 games), his heady play — specifically in his own end — is well beyond his 20 years.
3. (2) Drayson Bowman, LW, 19, 7.5B
Acquired 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2007
After a long 2007-08 that included winning a Memorial Cup with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs, Bowman got off to a slow start this fall. That included a training camp with the Canes that, while not disappointing, was a little underwhelming. Bowman showed flashes of his speed and skill for Team USA at the World Juniors, but it appears he now fully has his legs back under him and is getting better by the day. On Feb. 26 he had his first career four-goal game, and stands at 40 goals (fifth in the WHL) and 71 points in 54 games. Bowman, who turns 20 in March, has an NHL-ready shot and above-average speed and could be NHL-bound as early as next season.
4. (4) Jamie McBain, D, 21, 7.5B
Acquired 2nd round, 63rd overall, 2006
McBain has taken his game to new levels in his junior season at the University of Wisconsin. The Badgers defenseman is college hockey’s top scoring blueliner and a Hobey Baker award candidate. His 34 points through 34 games leads all Wisconsin players in scoring, and his 27 assists are tied for 10h in the NCAA. The 6’2, 197-pound defenseman showed a mix of size and skill during Carolina’s summer rookie camp, and his maturation into a point-producer at the college level bodes well for him and the Hurricanes. McBain — who is coached by Mike Eaves, the father of current Canes forward Patrick Eaves — could skip his final year of eligibility with the Badgers, but a logjam at defense means his arrival in Raleigh could come in 2010-11 unless the organization makes room for him.
5. (5) Zac Dalpe, C/W, 19, 7B
Acquired 2nd round, 45th overall, 2008
Dalpe, a projected first-rounder heading into the 2008 draft, fell to the Hurricanes in the middle of the second round, and lately with Ohio State he is showing why many considered him Round 1 material. Despite missing some time with a leg injury, Dalpe has been one of college hockey’s top freshman goal scorers, potting 13 goals — plus 10 assists — in 32 games with the surprising Buckeyes. Dalpe started the season at No. 2 center but was moved to first-line wing, most recently so coach John Markell could play him with playmaking center John Albert (ATL) and winger Hunter Bishop. Dalpe’s ability to contribute as a freshman — he has three CCHA rookie of the week honors — has moved OSU into the mix for an NCAA tournament bid.
6. (19) Mike Murphy, G, 19, 7C
Acquired 6th round, 165th overall, 2008
At Carolina’s rookie and training camps, Murphy came across as a scrawny, excitable goalie who managed to stop shots any way he could, even if the shooter was Hall of Famer Ron Francis. His numbers last season with Belleville were impressive, and his performance at the camps opened eyes. But his unorthodox style made believers of few — be it at the draft where he slid to the sixth round, or among the decision-makers at Hockey Canada, who passed him over for the World Juniors. Luckily for the Hurricanes, someone in the organization thought there was something special about Murphy. The 19-year-old goalie has followed up his 2007-08 OHL goaltender of the year season with an even more impressive season. Through 49 games, Murphy is 35-9-4 with a stunning .940 save percentage and 2.15 goals-against average. Thanks to his play, Belleville is among the OHL’s top teams and a contender for this year’s Memorial Cup.
7. (8) Brett Carson, D, 23, 7C
Acquired 4th round, 109th overall, 2004
When finally given his chance, Carson did not disappoint. His five-game stint with the Hurricanes this season, coupled with improved offensive output in the AHL, point to Carson making his way into Carolina’s top six. Carson showed an ability to play against NHL forwards — even killing penalties with Carolina — and make sound decisions with the puck. He has 23 points in 49 games with Albany, with a -13. At 6’4, Carson is Carolina’s biggest top-end blueline prospect and could find his way onto the Hurricanes roster as soon as next season.
8. (5) Casey Borer, D, 23, 7C
Acquired 3rd round, 64th overall, 2004
A year ago, Borer was having a breakthrough season. He had made a positive impression during an 11-game recall with the Hurricanes and become one of Albany’s most reliable defensemen. But his 2007-08 season was cut short by a serious knee injury that seems to have slowed his development somewhat. His offensive productivity has taken a step back this year, and his three-game stint with the Hurricanes was less impressive than the year before. To make matters worse, Borer suffered season-ending injuries in the River Rats bus crash in February, cutting short his season again. With 24-year-old Bryan Rodney moving ahead of him in the pecking order, and McBain and Carson both looking solid, Borer will need to re-establish his place in the organization next season.
9. (10) Chris Terry, LW, 19, 6.5B
Acquired 5th round, 132nd overall, 2007
Terry has become one of the OHL’s top point producers, registering 85 points (good for a tied for fourth in the league) through just 47 games in his fourth season in Plymouth. If not for time missed with mononucleosis in November, Terry could be atop the OHL scoring race. His plus-30 rating is 11th in the OHL and best on the Whalers. While he has become an elite scorer in major junior, Terry will need to prove he is fast enough and big enough to translate to the pros. But given is sound defensive play, Terry should find his way to the NHL as at least a third or fourth liner with some scoring ability.
10. (11) Kyle Lawson, D, 22, 6.5B
Acquired 7th round, 198th overall, 2005
The junior defenseman continues to be a leader and catalyst for highly ranked Notre Dame. A year after the Irish lost in the Frozen Four title game to Boston College, Lawson has helped lead his team back into the thick of the race for the Frozen Four. Lawson’s ability to move the puck from the back end and jump into the play in the offensive zone make him a valuable part of the Irish’s talent-heavy defense. Through 35 games this season, Lawson has managed three goals and 17 assists.
11. (12) Nick Dodge, RW, 22, 6.5C
Acquired 6th round, 183rd overall, 2006
Dodge’s first pro season has to be considered a success. The winger has not only proven to be as reliable defensively as he was in four years at Clarkson, but he’s been both productive offensively and durable. He is one of only two River Rats to play in all of the team’s games thus far, and his 32 points rank fourth on the team. While he has just nine goals, Dodge’s 23 assists are second on Albany, and his minus-2 rating is among the team’s best.
12. (15) Michal Jordan, D, 18, 6.5 C
Acquired 4th round, 105th overall, 2008
Jordan’s first full season with Plymouth has gone well, with him currently ranking 15th among OHL defensemen in scoring with 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) through 52 games. His plus-26 rating is also tied for 16th in the OHL and second on the Whalers to Terry. In late February, Jordan recorded his first career hat trick in an 8-3 win over Sarnia, the first Whaler to register three goals in a game since NHLer James Wisniewski did it in 2002.
13. (13) Justin Peters, G, 22, 6B
Acquired 2nd round, 38th overall, 2004
Peters has established himself as the River Rats No. 1 goalie, playing 40 games to backup Daniel Manzato’s 23 after they shared the load for the early part of the season. But Peters’ numbers have been average, and while his goal support has been dreadful, he also hasn’t won many games on his own. Peters is 14-21-3 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, similar to the numbers he put up in 11 games with the River Rats last season. With Murphy excelling in the OHL and Cam Ward and Michael Leighton signed through at least next season, Peters will need to prove he can handle the AHL workload before he’ll be considered for any duties in Carolina.
14. (7) Bobby Hughes, C, 21, 6C
Acquired 4th round, 123rd overall, 2007
Hughes’ second season as a pro has gone better than his first — just not much better. A neck and back injury that threatened his career last year seems behind him, but Hughes had to have sports hernia surgery this season and missed a significant amount of time. He has been limited to 11 games this year, having played four games in early to mid-February after recovering from the surgery. But the bus crash that ended Borer’s season also affected Hughes, who apparently re-aggravated his hernia injury in the accident. Hughes has managed just two goals and an assist this season.
15. (20) Jakub Petruzlaek, RW, 23, 5.5B
Acquired via trade in 2006
Petruzlek finally got his shot at the NHL this season, getting an assist in two games with the Hurricanes in early February. The hard-working winger is the Rats’ top scorer (14 goals, 30 assists in 57 games) but will need to fill more of a grinding role if he is to stick in the NHL. In his time with Carolina, Petruzalek did just that, skating hard and hitting as a checker. With Chad LaRose set for free agency this offseason, Petruzalek could be a replacement if the Canes do not hold on to LaRose.
16. (16) Justin McCrae, C, 20, 5.5B
Acquired 4th round, 102nd overall, 2007
The Spokane Chiefs captain missed a good chunk of the early portion of the season due to a hyper-extended knee, but has recovered and picked up his pace of late for the defending Memorial Cup champions. While McCrae has just six goals and five assists in 29 games, four goals and an assist came in February as the Chiefs geared up for a title defense. McCrae is a lead-by-example character player who will have to make it to the NHL based on his effort and determination.
17. (17) Jerome Samson, RW, 21, 5.5C
Signed as a free agent
While Samson ranks third on the River Rats with 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists), he saw player after player recalled to the Hurricanes without getting an opportunity this season. Samson missed the first six games of the season with an injury and 11 total, but was one of the fortunate who were not seriously hurt in the Rivers Rats crash.
18. (18) Stefan Chaput, C, 20, 5.5C
Acquired 5th round, 153rd overall, 2006
Chaput’s first professional season was off to a promising start, with the rookie registering four goals and seven assists in just 15 games, but season-ending knee surgery in early February — an injury suffered in practice Dec. 5 — cut short his debut. Still, his point production in such a short period time shows he can translate his game to the AHL level and should open doors for him next season once he’s recovered.
19. (NR) Samuel Morneau, LW, 19, 5B
Acquired 7th round, 195th overall, 2008
The shifty Morneau showed good speed and agility in Raleigh over the offseason, and while Val d’Or has been among the QMJHL’s worst teams this season, he has put up good numbers for the Foreurs. In 58 games, he is tied for the team lead in goals with 23 and his 49 points are second. Those numbers represent the best of his three-year major junior career, all of which have been with different teams.
20. (NR) Nicolas Blanchard, C, 21, 5B
Acquired 7th round, 192nd overall
Blanchard is the Canes’ biggest forward prospect has added a physical dimension to his game this year. Blanchard has a team-high 18 fights this season to go with 132 penalty minutes. And while that is three times as many as the six he had last season, Blanchard continues to contribute some offensively with seven goals and 12 assists in 55 games. But Blanchard was among the most seriously injured in the bus crash that ended Borer’s season. He was the final one released from the hospital after suffering deep lacerations to his side and abdomen. Blanchard’s status for the rest of the season has not yet been determined.