The Carolina Hurricanes have one bold, italicized line on their to-do list for the 2014-15: return to the postseason. That is not very different from what the team’s goal has been for much of the past five seasons, but this year has a different feel with new men in charge as general manager Ron Francis and head coach Bill Peters now run things in the front office and on the ice, respectively.
It will be an uphill climb – many have low expectations for a team that finished near the bottom of the NHL standings in 2013-14 and made few changes to a roster that has largely failed them in recent seasons.
If the Hurricanes are going to make a return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, chances are they will need further contributions from a stable of young players who have thus-far unfulfilled promise. Francis and Peters are charged with trying to get that potential to produce now, but also set the team up for a constant flow of talent that keeps the franchise on stable ground.
Top Pro Prospect
Elias Lindholm, C/RW, Carolina Hurricanes (NHL)
Lindholm looked a touch overwhelmed at times as a teenager among men in his first season in North America. But there were also times when it became incredibly clear why Carolina selected him fifth overall in the 2013 draft.
Lindholm finished with a modest nine goals and 12 assists in 58 games with the Hurricanes last season, but progressed as the season went on, showing why he was considered a top two-way talent in an incredibly deep draft.
Not only should Lindholm be bigger, stronger and more prepared for his second campaign on the NHL’s smaller ice surface, but Peters’ promised forechecking, attacking style plays right into the 19-year-old’s strengths. Lindholm may not be come a 25-goal, 70-point performer this coming season, but it would be surprising if he did not take a step in that direction.
Rask started slow but finished strong for the Checkers, rekindling hope that the former second-round pick can one day make his way to the NHL. Rask has the size and skill to be a top-nine center, and he showcased that in the season’s final 12 games with six goals and five assists.
Rask finished 2013-14 with 39 points in 76 games, but should see time as the Checkers’ number one center this coming season – and perhaps eventually a shot at Carolina’s up-for-grabs third-line center position.
Unsigned For 2015-16
Michal Jordan, D, Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
Jordan has been a reliable top-pairing AHL defender for a few years and even held his own during a brief call-up to Carolina a couple seasons ago. But with younger defenders making their way up the Carolina ranks and Jordan on just a one-year extension, the time has come for the Czech blueliner to make the leap or get left behind.
A big 2014-15 in the AHL could lead to a shot in Raleigh. But the blue line this coming season is crowded – there are six players on one-way deals and two more who are expected to contribute on two-way contracts – so Jordan will need fate to intervene and hope he makes enough of an impression that the franchise makes room for him going forward.
It did not take Nedeljkovic long to make a name for himself. The Ohio-born goaltender took over the number one job in Plymouth last season and carried one of the Whalers’ weaker teams in recent years back to the postseason. Along the way, Nedeljkovic seized OHL Goaltender of the Year honors and performed well for the United States in multiple international tournaments.
There are some concerns among pundits about Nedeljkovic’s size (currently listed at 5’11, 190 pounds), but his athleticism and compete level are through the roof and enough to convince Carolina to select him in the second round of this summer’s draft. Nedeljkovic should battle for a spot on the U.S.’s World Junior entry this year, perhaps even competing for the starting job.
Bishop is unlikely to become a high-scoring pro down the road, but there is no reason to think one of the key cogs in the Screaming Eagles lineup cannot put up numbers this year in the goal-happy QMJHL.
Bishop had just 33 points (14 goals) in 56 games last season, but Cape Breton is poised to battle for league supremacy and Bishop could benefit on the score sheet.
Unsigned For 2015-16
Brent Pedersen, LW, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Pedersen has yet to live up to his potential with the Rangers, and as a 19-year-old heading in to his fourth season of junior hockey it is make-or-break time for the 2013 fifth-rounder.
While he has the size to battle for pucks in the offensive zone, Pedersen has managed just 30 and 31 points the last two seasons. Pedersen will need to up his production to make Carolina take notice.
Top Amateur Prospect
Jaccob Slavin, D, Colorado College Tigers (NCHC)
Slavin was one of the younger players selected in 2012 draft, so he had to wait until last fall to start his freshman year at Colorado College. It was worth the wait. Slavin, a defenseman, led all Tigers in scoring with 25 points in 32 games, and also earned a spot on Team USA at the World junior Championships.
Slavin is already an all-situations player for Colorado College and will be a key piece for new coach Mike Haviland.
Olson is biding his time after transferring out of Ohio State last year. The 2012 sixth-round pick opted to join the USHL’s Musketeers while sitting out a year before he can enroll elsewhere and rejoin the collegiate ranks.
But while Olson has been honing his craft in the USHL, he has fallen to the back of the Hurricanes goalie ranks. Fellow 2012 pick Daniel Altshuller has turned pro after a successful OHL career, and Carolina used a second-round pick on Nedeljkovic, all while Olson is stuck facing lesser competition waiting for his next NCAA stop.
Freshman to Watch
Warren Foegele, LW, New Hampshire Wildcats (Hockey East)
Twice passed over by the OHL, Foegele was left to play Canadian high school hockey – hardly the preferred path for future NHL stardom. But Foegele opened enough eyes with his play and late growth spurt that he was taken in the third round by Carolina.
Foegele will finally get his chance against better competition this fall as a freshman at UNH, joining fellow Hurricanes prospect Brett Pesce.
Top European Prospect
Lucas Wallmark, C, Lulea HF (SHL)
Wallmark went undrafted in 2013 despite being Central Scouting’s 16th-ranked European skater. After having an interesting 2013-14, Carolina made good on it this summer by selecting the Swedish center in the fourth round.
A two-way pivot, Wallmark has been a solid contributor in international competition for Sweden and also plays in the top Swedish League with Lulea.