For several Carolina Hurricanes prospects, the 2014-15 season was rife with losing records, injuries, and disappointment. But despite the many setbacks, there was still excitement to be had—and hope for the future.
First-year pros Trevor Carrick and Brock McGinn made an impact with their physicality, while flaunting their scoring potential. Meanwhile, Haydn Fleury and Sergey Tolchinksy had dominant seasons in the CHL, giving Hurricanes fans hope that the team may once again become a competitive force in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
Prospect of the Year: Trevor Carrick, D, Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
Carrick didn’t put up the kind of gaudy numbers that make fans stand up and shout, but his 32 points (seven goals, 25 assists) set an all-time record for Checkers rookie defensemen. For a 20-year-old first-year pro to adapt to the pro game as well as Carrick did, it was definitely a season well spent.
Carrick’s physicality and willingness to fight (eight scraps in 2014-15) was enough to impress, and he was also just one of two Checkers to play in all 76 games. Offensively, he finished third on the team in scoring (32 points), tops in assists (25), and led all AHL rookies with 13 power play assists.
Most Improved Player: Brendan Woods, RW, Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
Woods has NHL size, but after his first pro season it was unclear if he had the skill to crack an NHL roster. Woods’ 2014-15 campaign proved he did. Woods doubled and tripled much of his output in his second professional season, scoring 13 goals and adding 17 assists in 68 games after managing just eight points in 42 games last year. Also up were his shots on goal (123 compared to 47), penalty minutes (101 compared to 40) and most importantly, his spot in the Carolina prospect pecking order.
Woods earned a two-game call-up to Carolina in late December, totalling just over 12 minutes of total ice time while registering three shots and two hits combined in the two games sandwiched around Christmas.
Best Defensive Prospect: Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
It wasn’t a standout season for Fleury; he was cut from Canada’s World Junior team, and he finished with 18 fewer points (six goals, 22 assists) than he had last year. His Rebels were ousted in the first round of the 2015 WHL playoffs.
Still, Fleury remains Carolina’s prized prospect, a big, rangy, smooth-skating blueliner who is still learning all the responsibilities that come with being a No. 1 defenseman and top pick. Were his numbers down? Yes. Did he finish 2014-15 as a better player than he started it? Absolutely.
The cherry on top was his one game with the Checkers following Red Deer’s playoff elimination. Despite having to leave the game late with an injury, he managed to score a power play goal in the team’s 4-3 win.
Fastest Skater: Erik Karlsson, LW/RW, Frolunda HC (SHL)
Karlsson’s speed has been lauded since he was drafted back in 2012, but the former fourth-round pick has not yet made his way to North America to show off his skating prowess. Karlsson hasn’t been a consistent scorer with Frolunda, but he makes his mark as a player that, despite his size, uses his speed and energy to hit and disrupt the opposition.
Hardest Shot: Trevor Carrick, D, Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
Carrick was considered one of the OHL’s hardest shooters last season, helping him earn that distinction among Carolina prospects in the 2014 version of these awards. There’s no reason not to give it to him again. Carrick finished with seven goals on the season, several on slap shots from the point, and was a fixture on the Checkers power play.
Overachiever: Justin Shugg, LW, Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
Shugg has had to prove himself over and over throughout his career, and 2014-15 was another step up the ladder. A big-time scorer in junior, Shugg finished this season as the Checkers’ top goal scorer and point producer, finishing with career bests in both (21 goals, 43 points). His play earned him a three-game call-up to Carolina, his first NHL promotion, in his fourth pro season.
Underachiever: Patrick Brown, C, Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
Brown made the Hurricanes opening night roster, but after seven games without a point he was assigned to Charlotte for the balance of the season. Brown is a reliable defensive player, but injuries and a lack of scoring (just two goals and eight assists in 60 games with the Checkers) made his first pro season a disappointing one after such a promising start.
Highest Risk/Reward: Sergey Tolchinsky, LW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Like a year ago, Tolchinsky put together a great season by topping 90 points again and leading the Greyhounds in scoring. But the same questions will hover around the 20-year-old Russian until he gets the chance to prove otherwise: can he overcome his diminutive frame to make an impact at the NHL level? Successful underrated and undersized players like the Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello and Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson give hope of a big payoff, but for every one of them there are handfuls of smaller forwards who couldn’t overcome the disadvantage.
With back-to-back 30-goal, 60-assist seasons under his belt, Tolchinksy has the Hurricanes hopeful that he can be one of the exceptions to the rule.
Hardest Worker: Brock McGinn, LW, Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
McGinn’s numbers (15 goals, 12 assists in 73 games) are lower than expected for a first-year player who some thought could compete for an NHL job. But those stats skew both the kind of season McGinn had and the type of player he is.
McGinn is a wrecking ball on the ice, hitting everything that moves and not backing down from bigger opponents. Furthermore, his 27 points weren’t representative of his scoring chances—not until later in the season did the puck seem to find the back of the net for him. With a little more luck, McGinn should get rewarded more next season for his consistent hard work.
Breakout Player in 2015-16: Brett Pesce, D, University of New Hampshire (Hockey East)
Pesce was UNH’s best player this season, as evidenced by how the team struggled when he was out of the lineup with an injury. But it’s not just that the junior defender controlled the game from the Wildcats back end, but rather how he did it with a poise well beyond his years.
Pesce opted to turn pro, meaning he’s likely to spend next season in the AHL and potentially gives Charlotte another right-handed shot on the blueline to go with pending restricted free agent Danny Biega. That should give Pesce that chance to ease himself into the pro game while also providing a chance to succeed.
Prospect of the Month: Keegan Lowe
Lowe earned his first promotion and played his first NHL game April 9 in Philadelphia — and he made the most of it. Lowe fought current Flyers center and former Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier twice, getting the better of the veteran in the first fight after a brief shoving match in front of the Carolina net, then getting ambushed by Lecavalier later in the game.
Lowe’s size and toughness bode well for his future as a potential bottom pairing defensive defenseman.
Carolina opted to not renew the contract of Charlotte Checkers head coach Jeff Daniels, ending the former Hurricanes player and assistant coach’s run with the franchise. Daniels had coached Carolina’s top affiliate in Albany and Charlotte for the past seven seasons, reaching the postseason three times. He also played for the Hurricanes, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002, and played alongside Carolina GM Ron Francis on Pittsburgh’s 1992 championship team.
Daniels was an assistant coach under head coach Peter Laviolette when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006, and took over as head coach of the AHL’s Albany River Rats in 2008-09. Daniels moved with the team to Charlotte when the franchise relocated to Charlotte in 2010-11, guiding the team to the AHL conference finals that season, but failed to guide the team to a playoff series win after that year.
Daniels’ contract expires at the end of June, and the team is conducting a search for his replacement.