Carolina Hurricanes’ junior prospects taking on important roles this season

By Cory Lavalette
Clark Bishop - Carolina Hurricanes

Photo: Forward Clark Bishop is off to a strong start to the 2014-15 season, managing 17 points in his first 18 games with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. (courtesy of Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

 

The Carolina Hurricanes‘ junior prospects are being expected to carry heavy loads this season. As far as player development goes, you cannot ask for much more.

From top picks to undrafted signings, Carolina’s prospects are earning more and more responsibility, many for contending teams.

OHL

Tyler Ganly, D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Acquired: 6th round (156th overall), 2013

After starting the season alongside fellow Hurricanes prospect Kyle Jenkins, as he spent most of last season, Ganly has been teamed with former Edmonton first-rounder and Greyhounds captain Darnell Nurse. The change came when Nurse was reassigned to Sault Ste. Marie after playing two games for the Oilers.

Ganly, an alternate captain in his third year with the Greyhounds, started off strong alongside Jenkins after missing the first three games of the year recovering from a concussion suffered in Traverse City, Michigan with the Hurricanes prospect team.

The Greyhounds won their first eight games – including an October 11 win over Owen Sound that saw Ganly register a three-point game with a goal and two assists – and held a ten-point lead in the West Division through November 18th.

Ganly and Nurse are being relied on as the Soo’s top pairing, which means they will be going head to head with the OHL’s top forwards like Erie’s Connor McDavid (2015).

Ganly’s numbers through 17 games played (one goal, seven assists) are on pace to surpass last year’s totals (three goals and 18 assists for 21 points).

Kyle Jenkins, D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Acquired: 7th round (187th overall), 2014

As mentioned above, Jenkins has seen his role change since Nurse’s return from the NHL. Jenkins got off to a hot start with six assists in his first five games, but had just three more assists in the next 15 games.

With Ganly and Nurse both back in the lineup, Jenkins – a second-year player who had seven goals and 18 assists in 63 games last season – has slipped into a secondary role on the Greyhounds’ blue line. Jenkins spent most of last year paired with Ganly, but is now playing mostly with Tyler Hore, a 6’3, 208-pound, defense-first defender who is with his third different OHL team in three years.

Alex Nedeljkovic, G, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 2nd round (37th overall), 2014

Nedeljkovic continues to be Plymouth’s best and most important player. The reigning OHL Goaltender of the Year, Nedeljkovic has kept the Whalers afloat in the early going under new coach Don Elland.

An early season thumb injury limited Nedeljkovic in the summer and the start of the season, and he has seen a lot of highs and lows since then, posting a 7-8-1 record with a 3.18 goals-against average, .902 save percentage and three shutouts through 16 appearances.

With Plymouth struggling to keep scoring pace with the league’s top teams, Nedeljkovic has been leaned on to outplay the opposing goalie and give the Whalers a chance to win each night.

Nedeljkovic should be in the running for a roster spot on Team USA’s entry at the World Junior Championships, with Vancouver prospect and Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko the favorite to be the starter.

Brent Pedersen, LW, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 5th round (126th overall), 2013

Pedersen has not developed into a scoring power forward, but he has become a reliable role player for the Rangers. His most frequent job this year is as the gritty element on Kitchener’s top line with top scorers Ryan MacInnis (ARI) and Justin Bailey (BUF), both past second-round NHL picks.

They have helped Kitchener to a hot start: the Rangers sat second in the Midwest Division as of November 18th, with a 11-3-2-4 record and had not lost in regulation in their past 15 games.

Through 20 games, Pedersen has seven goals and seven assists, easily putting him on pace for his best statistical season (he had 31 and 30 points the past two seasons).

Sergey Tolchinsky, LW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent, 2013

Tolchinsky continues to be one of junior hockey’s most dynamic and electric scorers. The diminutive winger is on pace for another 90-point season with nine goals and 29 points in his first 20 games of the 2014-15 campaign. He ranks in the top 10 in the OHL in assists with 20, and he has been piling up points in November with 12 (three goals, nine assists) in his first six games of the month.

His efforts have helped the Greyhounds to the top of the West Division, and it also earned Tolchinsky a spot on Russia‘s entry in the Subway Super Series, where he recently faced Soo teammates Nurse and Jared McCann (VAN). Tolchinsky is also a candidate for Russia’s World Junior Championships entry set to start play in late December.

Josh Wesley, D, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 4th round (96th overall), 2014

Wesley kicked off his 2014-15 season by going viral on the internet, scoring an end-to-end, spin-o-rama goal that made its away through the hockey world just a night after getting a goal in the Whalers’ season opener.

Since then, goals – and points – have not come quite so easily for Wesley, who has been held without a point in the past 18 games. But Wesley, despite being a converted forward, was never supposed to be an offensive force from the back end.

Wesley has been playing on Plymouth’s second pairing in his second OHL season after getting his first sniff of professional hockey in Carolina’s summer camps and at the Traverse City prospect tournament.

QMJHL

Clark Bishop, C, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Acquired: 5th round (127th overall), 2014

As expected, Bishop is statistically thriving on the high-powered Screaming Eagles. In 18 games, Bishop already has 17 points (nine goals and eight assists) after posting a career high of 33 points in 56 games last year.

But Bishop’s contributions go well beyond points. Cape Breton’s captain is the team’s second-line center and one of the league’s best character players. Bishop continues to be an all-situations player for the Screaming Eagles, but the team has underachieved through 24 games (8-12-2-2).

Bishop will represent Canada and the QMJHL in the Super Series along with teammate Julien Pelletier (CLB). Both will be facing fellow Screaming Eagles Max Lazarev and Evgeny Svechnikov, who are set to join Team Russia for the two games November 18th and 20th.

WHL

Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer Rebels
Acquired: 1st round (7th overall), 2014

Do not be disenfranchised by Fleury’s offensive numbers in the early going of the 2014-15 season: both the Red Deer coaching staff and the Hurricanes would not change a thing.

Fleury has been logging heavy, difficult minutes for the Rebels. So while he only has nine points (one goal, eight assists) in his first 16 games, Fleury has received nothing but praise from his coach, former NHL bench boss Brent Sutter. While Red Deer is currently a middle-of-the-pack WHL team this season, they are set to host the Memorial Cup next season.

Fleury also represented Canada and the WHL in the Super Series. The team suffered two 3-2 losses (the first in an 11-round shootout) on November 10th and 11th. He finished with an even plus/minus and no points. Fleury is also expected to compete for a spot on Canada’s World Junior blue line.

USHL

Collin Olson, G, Sioux City Musketeers
Acquired: 6th round (159th overall), 2012

It has been more than a year since Olson left Ohio State, opting instead to return to the USHL while looking for a new NCAA squad. Olson was required to sit out a full year, so that meant finishing last season with Sioux City and returning this year to Musketeers. Olson finally found a home for 2015-16, announcing on Twitter that he would playing for Western Michigan next season. He will likely battle with the Broncos current starter, junior Lukas Hafner, for playing time next year.

Meanwhile, Olson is off to a hot start for the Musketeers, tying the USHL in wins through November 18th with a 10-2-1 record in his first 14 appearances with a 2.57 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and one shutout. That has helped lead Sioux City to first place in the Western Conference.

Other Notes

Carolina 2011 second-round pick Victor Rask had an impressive summer and earned a spot with Carolina coming out of training camp. Rask had a solid October, but the Hurricanes went winless and Rask was without a point.

But November not only brought wins for Carolina, but also points for Rask.

He scored his NHL goal against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and has four points through the Hurricanes’ first nine games of the month. Rask has been a reliable defensive player and standout in the faceoff circle, winning 53.9 percent of his draws through 17 games.

Sergey Tolchinsky - Carolina Hurricanes Prospect of the Month, October, 2014Carolina Hurricanes Prospect of the Month: October

It is hard to argue with the talent of Sergey Tolchinsky, who not only puts up points, but does so with style. It is amazing that the undersized Russian went undrafted given his immense skill, and if he continues on his current pace he will be close to reaching the 30-goal, 90-point plateaus he hit in 2013-14.

Follow Cory Lavalette on Twitter via @corylav