2010 draft pick Jeff Skinner has raised a lot of eyebrows since making the NHL out of training camp. (Photo Courtesy of www.ontariohockeyleague.com)
After years of having very few NHL-capable players in its system, the Carolina Hurricanes had training camp battles at several positions involving multiple players. The result was five different prospects making the Hurricanes to start the season and several others poised to earn a chance over the course of the year.
The Canes have a good mix of depth at left wing. Leading the way is former third-round pick Drayson Bowman, whose reliable two-way play coupled with untapped offensive potential earned him a job in Carolina’s bottom six. While did not score in eight games with Carolina before being reassigned, Bowman has impressed the Canes front office.
Three other left wings are also currently with the Charlotte Checkers, the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate. Oskar Osala and Chris Terry are both in significant roles and have a shot at an NHL career. But given the team’s young depth at forward, both will probably spend the majority, if not all, of the season in Charlotte. Osala, a big body with good hands, could get a chance in Raleigh if Carolina has a need for size and help with the power play. Terry is among the team’s top goal scorers, netting six through 12 games.
Nicolas Blanchard is one of Carolina’s biggest forward prospects and has become a physical presence for the Canes’ top affiliate. He piled up 171 penalty minutes while adding 14 goals last season. His path to the NHL is probably as a fighter/fourth liner.
Carolina has one left wing in junior hockey and another in Europe. Two-time Memorial Cup winner Justin Shugg was traded this offseason from Windsor to Missassauga, where he’s being relied upon to be a top scorer. The fourth-round pick in this year’s draft is living up to his billing, registering 21 points in 14 games, and he was named OHL Player of the Week for the week ending Oct. 31.
Mattias Lindstrom, a 6’3 Swedish power forward, is trying to bounce back from a knee injury in 2009-10. He has one assist in seven games with the SEL’s Skelleftea junior team.
The big news at center is, of course, 18-year-old phenom Jeff Skinner. Skinner has earned a job in Carolina for the balance of the 2010-11 season, and the Hurricanes’ commitment to him is paying off. He has four goals and 10 points in his first 12 NHL games, both tops on the Canes and his point total is first among all NHL rookies. Skinner has played some center in Carolina, but seems to have found at least a temporary home on the wing.
Carolina has had two other rookie centers play in Raleigh this season. Zac Dalpe had one assist in seven games in a mostly fourth-line role before being reassigned to Charlotte, while one-time Flyers draft pick Jon Matsumoto was recalled and scored twice in his second career NHL game, a 7-2 win over the Islanders Nov. 3.
Zach Boychuk, Riley Nash, Nick Dodge and Stefan Chaput are all with the AHL’s Checkers, with Boychuk the most likely to earn a promotion to Carolina (although, more and more, it seems his future is certainly on the wing). Cedric Lalonde-McNicoll is with Carolina’s ECHL affiliate, Florida Everblades.
Boychuk was a disappointment in training camp, losing out on an NHL job to several other prospects, but he has worked hard in Charlotte and leads the Checkers in scoring with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in as many games and was riding a six-game point streak through Nov. 3.
Nash has faced an adjustment period since turning pro after three years at Cornell University, but scored his first goal Nov. 3 with the Checkers. Dodge and Chaput are third- and fourth-years professionals, respectively, and are both role players for Checkers coach Jeff Daniels. Dodge has been a do-everything center for Charlotte, playing in every situation for the Checkers. Chaput’s role has been diminished with the influx of new talent at forward. He has one assist through 12 games.
If there’s a weakness in Carolina’s prospect ranks, it’s at right wing. That being said, several of Carolina’s center prospects have played on the wing this season. Among the true right wingers, Jerome Samson is the most accomplished. The fourth-year pro dominated the AHL last season, scoring 37 goals and adding 41 assists for 78 points, and led the Hurricanes’ then-AHL affiliate, the Albany River Rats, in all three categories. His brief NHL stint last season resulted in two assists in seven games, and the number of prospects with better pedigrees will make it a continued uphill climb for him to earn an NHL job.
First-year pro Jared Staal is still best known as the youngest of the four Staal brothers. He’s played seven games for the Checkers this season, but is yet to register his first point. Like Staal, rookie Matt Kennedy has been in and out of the lineup and unable to dent the scoresheet yet this season in six games. Undrafted Matthew Pistilli is playing with the Everblades after playing the majority of his games last season in the AHL. He has seven points through eight games with Florida.
The Carolina defense is varied in talent, skills and career progress. Only Jamie McBain is currently with the Hurricanes after scoring 10 points in 14 games with the Canes at the end of last season. In 2010-11, the points haven’t come so easily, with the fringe Calder Trophy candidate putting up three assists in the team’s first 12 games. That being said, McBain is logging more than 19 minutes a night.
The only other prospect who has been on Carolina’s roster this season is Bobby Sanguinetti. The 22-year-old traveled with the Canes during their trip to Finland to open the NHL season, but was a healthy scratch for both games. Sanguinetti is yet to score this season, registering four assists in 11 games with the AHL’s Checkers.
Also in Charlotte, Michal Jordan and Casey Borer are both two-way defenders who can contribute offensively, while one-time sixth-round pick Brett Bellemore has grown into a shutdown defender and has been praised by Daniels as an underrated blueliner. Another late-round pick, Kyle Lawson has been assigned to the ECHL despite playing 10 games with the River Rats last year after he turned pro.
Brian Dumoulin, Justin Faulk, Mark Alt and Danny Biega are all playing in the NCAA right now. Dumuolin is in his second season at Boston College, where he led the Frozen Four winners in plus/minus as a freshman. Biega, a third-round pick this year, is also a sophomore and is in his second season with Harvard.
Faulk and Alt were second round picks in this year’s draft and both are playing college hockey in the state of Minnesota. Alt, son of a former NFLer and himself recruited to play quarterback by major colleges, decided to play hockey with the Golden Gophers. Faulk has been a key player for Minnesota-Duluth in his first season, ranking among the leaders in defensive scoring early in the season.
Plymouth Whaler Austin Levi was a surprise selection in the third round, but the big defender is emerging as a shutdown force in the OHL. Tyler Stahl, another major junior defenseman, already has four points through nine games with the WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins after managing just six in 59 games last season. He is again among the Bruins leaders in penalty minutes as well.
Both Rasmus Rissanen and Tommi Kivisto are Finnish-born blueliners, but they have taken vastly different paths. After playing a year in Red Deer, Kivisto decided to return to his home country and has played for Jokerit the past two seasons. Rissanen, on the other hand, was coming off a season in Europe when the Hurricanes selected in the sixth round in 2009, then decided to come to North America. He’s in his second season with Everett of the WHL and is already making a name for himself as a rugged defender.
Justin Krueger, a seventh-rounder in 2006, opted to play in the Swiss league in his first pro season rather than come to terms with Carolina after four seasons at Cornell.
Rookie Justin Peters played well enough last season as a call-up to Carolina that he earned the No. 2 spot behind Cam Ward for 2010-11. A 2004 second-round pick, Peters is winless in two starts this season after going 6-3 last year in Carolina. While his record this year isn’t impressive, the two losses can hardly be pinned on Peters, who played well during camp and has continued to be serviceable so far this season.
Journeyman Justin Pogge traveled, like Sanguinetti, with Carolina to Europe but did not dress for either of Carolina’s two season-opening games against the Wild. He and two-time OHL goalie of the year Mike Murphy are jockeying for playing time in Charlotte. Each has played six of 12 games, with both registering two wins but Murphy outperforming Pogge in the early going. Murphy is 2-3-1 with a .919 save percentage and 2.32 goals-against average a seventh of the way through the season. Pogge is 2-4 with a .898 save percentage and 3.49 goal-against average.
Carolina’s final pick in the 2010 draft was netminder Frederik Andersen, a Dane who has performed well both internationally and in the Denmark league early in his career. He led Denmark to a win over favored Finland at the World Championships in September and was named league MVP last season in the Danish league.