Carolina Hurricanes giving long look to younger players

By Cory Lavalette
Victor Rask - Carolina Hurricanes

Photo: Center Victor Rask has looked strong in his rookie season with the Carolina Hurricanes. Rask is a former second round pick from the 2011 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire)

 

The return of Jordan Staal—and his new job centering brother Eric—has the Carolina Hurricanes off to a strong start in 2015. Unfortunately, the 2014 part of their schedule was not so kind. Despite a 6-2-1 record in January’s first nine games, the Hurricanes still reside near the bottom of the NHL standings, 20 points out of a playoff spot that has long been too far in the distance.

So while the Staal brothers’ dominant play has offered optimism of what could come, the Hurricanes and general manager Ron Francis have embraced the reality that the second half of the season is best served to access the present and, more importantly, future of the organization.

That begins with two of the team’s recent first-round picks: Elias Lindholm (fifth overall, 2013) and Ryan Murphy (12th overall, 2011).

Elias Lindholm, C/W, 20

Lindholm is firmly in the team’s long-term plans, and he has at times even slotted alongside the Staal brothers on Carolina’s top line. While that has not resulted in a lot of points (a goal and two assists in nine games from January 2-19), it is easy to notice that Lindholm is gaining confidence. He did find the back of the net twice of late: the game-winning shootout tally in Carolina’s January 13th win over Colorado, and a breakaway goal against Toronto on January 19th.

Ryan Murphy, D, 21

As for Murphy, his back-and-forth between Charlotte, Carolina’s AHL affiliate, and Raleigh had started to become a concern. His seven-game NHL stint in October led to just one assist and a demotion back to the AHL. With 17 assists in 23 games with the Checkers, Murphy rejoined the Hurricanes for their New Year’s Eve game in Pittsburgh, looking to finally earn a full-time gig with the big club.

At first, it seemed like Murphy was providing more of the same: flashes of the offensive skills that made him a top prospect, but mixed with a reluctance to use his top two assets (his speed and shot) to his advantage. But after a couple games, things seemed to start clicking for Murphy.

Paired with veteran Ron Hainsey, Murphy began to assert himself starting with Carolina’s 2-1 shootout win over Boston on January 4th. Murphy finished with seven shot attempts, including four on goal, and seemed to be playing to his strengths. The floodgates opened two games later, with Murphy registering two assists against Buffalo on January 8th (his second career multi-point game), and he added an assist in each of his next two games, giving him the first three-game point streak of his career – and the hope that he had arrived for good.

Murphy was reassigned to Charlotte on January 20th, but it was a move made to give him more ice time and a chance to play in the AHL All-Star Classic.

Victor Rask, C, 21

While Murphy’s development, like most defensemen, has taken time, the Hurricanes have to be thrilled that center Victor Rask has matured so quickly.

A 2011 second-round pick, Rask spent one more season in the WHL after being selected before turning pro and playing a full year with the Checkers in 2013-14. A strong Traverse City Tournament performance followed by an impressive training camp made the Canes take notice, and Rask grabbed a spot in the opening day lineup and has not let go since.

Rask’s numbers are ordinary—six goals and nine assists through 46 games—but his play all over the ice is impossible to ignore. Rask has often been tasked with facing the opposition’s top forward lines, and the 21-year-old pivot has handled the responsibility with poise beyond his years.

He has also won more than half of the 500-plus faceoffs he has taken and has been playing the point on one of Carolina’s power play units, registering seven points with the man advantage. Like Lindholm, he also scored in the shootout win over Colorado, undressing fellow rookie Calvin Pickard (COL) for a highlight-reel conversion. It is the skill shown on that goal that has the Carolina brass thinking that Rask, already an NHL-caliber defensive center, can emerge into a legitimate two-way threat down the middle.

Andrej Nestrasil, W, 23

Several other players have gotten a look throughout the season, including newcomer Andrej Nestrasil. Claimed off waivers from Detroit on November 20th, Nestrasil provides more size and physicality in the Carolina lineup.

Unfortunately, he was sidelined for nearly a month with an injury after playing just eight games with the Hurricanes. In his time with Carolina, Nestrasil notched three points, including his first career NHL goal in his Hurricanes debut on November 22nd. Nestrasil was sent to Charlotte on a conditioning assignment and re-entered the Carolina lineup on January 16th, playing on the fourth line.

Others

Forwards Patrick Brown (22, C), Brody Sutter (23, C), Justin Shugg (23, RW), and Brendan Woods (22, LW) all spent a handful of games with the Hurricanes this season, though none registered any points during their time with Carolina. Defenseman Michal Jordan (24, D), Charlotte’s captain, got the longest look of his NHL career during a 16-game recall in November and December, but also did not crack the score sheet in nearly 15 minutes of ice time per game.

2015 World Junior Tournament Update

Two Hurricanes prospects participated in the 2015 World Junior Championship: Sergey Tolchinsky, who won a silver medal with Russia; and Lucas Wallmark, who finished fourth with Team Sweden.

Both players tied for fifth in goal scoring at the tournament with four goals apiece. Wallmark had six points in seven games, good for a tie for 17th among all scorers and fifth on Team Sweden. Tolchinsky tied for second on Russia with five points, including a goal and an assist in the second period of the gold medal game that set up an electric, but goalless, third period that ended with Canada winning, 5-4.

The biggest takeaway from the World Juniors, however, might be the absence of 2014 first-round pick Haydn Fleury, who was a late cut by Canada after failing to crack the team’s top seven defensemen.

Notes

Two Hurricanes prospects were moved ahead of the OHL trade deadline.

Forward Brent Pedersen, a 2013 fifth-round pick, was sent to contending Oshawa by Kitchener in exchange for draft picks. The move shipped Pedersen out of the only junior team he ever knew – he had 51 goals and 95 points in 232 career regular season games with the Rangers—into the thick of the OHL and Memorial Cup hunt. The Generals were 33-7-1-1 through January 21st, and Pedersen has one goal in 10 games with his new team.

Defenseman Kyle Jenkins, a seventh-round pick last summer, saw the flip side of trade deadline, going from first-place Sault Ste. Marie to struggling Peterborough. The Greyhounds sent Jenkins and four draft picks to the Petes for 2014 Ducks first-round pick Nick Ritchie and veteran blueliner Conor Boland. Jenkins had 24 points in 38 games with the Soo, good for second among the Greyhounds’ defensemen ahead of the deal. Jenkins was still looking for his first point through five games since joining Peterborough. The Petes’ lone win during the stretch was a 1-0 blanking of Oshawa.

Carolina Hurricanes Prospect of the Month

Jaccob Slavin - Carolina Hurricanes Prospect of the MonthThere were two glimmers of hope coming into 2014-15 for Colorado College.

For one, the Tigers had a new coach in former NHL assistant and AHL bench boss Mike Haviland. Second, they seemed to have a star-in-the-making in rising sophomore and 2012 Hurricanes fourth-round pick Jaccob Slavin, who led all Colorado College players in scoring his freshman season en route to several honors in his first collegiate season.

The Tigers have again struggled, residing at the bottom of the NCHC standings and an overall record of 5-14-1 through January 22nd. Most surprising, however, were the scoring struggles of Slavin, who had just two assists—both notched in the same game, an October 24th 6-2 loss at Boston College—in his first 15 games of the season.

That was a big drop for Slavin, who led the Tigers with 25 points (five goals, 20 assists) in 32 games last season. Slavin’s struggles kept him from making a repeat appearance with Team USA at this year’s World Junior Championship and also raised red flags about his future.

But since Christmas it seems Slavin may finally be back on track. The 6’3, 195-pound defender has caught fire of late. On December 27th and 28th, he had three points in two exhibition games against the U.S. NTDP Under-18 team.

He then registered points in four of five regular season games since returning from winter break. That included a back-to-back three-point nights – both new career bests.

The first came in a 4-1 win over Connecticut on January 6th that saw him get his first goal of the campaign. Then Slavin led the charge again on January 16th in a 4-3 win against No. 8 Nebraska-Omaha. Slavin factored in on the Tigers’ first three goals, opening the scoring with a power play tally, then assisting on Colorado College’s next two scores, including earning a second power play point.

Slavin and the Tigers hit the home stretch with nine of their 13 remaining games against currently ranked opponents, starting with a January 23rd-24th weekend tilt at No. 2 North Dakota.

Follow Cory Lavalette on Twitter via @CoryLav