Carolina Hurricanes boast small, complimentary group of CHL prospects

By Cory Lavalette
Photo: Traded from the Windsor Spitfires to the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors in August, forward Justin Shugg has been on fire, potting 11 goals and 13 assists in only 20 games. (Photo Courtesy of Holly Gunning)

With seventh overall pick Jeff Skinner jumping right to the NHL, the drafting of college and European players, and several other CHL players turning pro, the Hurricanes’ pool of junior players is relatively thin. Carolina has one forward and three defensemen in the junior ranks this season.

OHL

Austin Levi, D, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 3rd round (85th overall) in 2010
Feb. 16, 1992. Ht: 6’4, Wt: 190lbs

Some eyebrows were raised when the Canes took Levi in the third round. The rangy defenseman was an off-the-board pick if you were going by the various scouting services. But the Carolina brass certainly knows a lot about Plymouth’s players, seeing that Peter Karmanos owns both the Hurricanes and the OHL’s Whalers.

“[Plymouth Whalers coach and GM] Mike Vellucci has been with our extended organization for a long time, and we really value his opinion,” Jason Karmanos, Hurricanes vice president and assistant general manager, said. “Austin is still raw at this stage, but he’s a great athlete, and we know him to be a great kid and a hard worker.”

The Hurricanes used three picks in the draft on college or college-bound defensemen with an offensive tilt, so selecting the defensive-minded Levi made sense.

“We also know how much he’s improved in a short period of time,” Karmanos said. “He was a guy that, given the number of picks we had, we felt we wanted to step [up] on and bring him into the organization. Like I said, he’s still raw in a lot of ways. But he skates very well, and when he’s at his best he plays a style that’s hard to play against. We think there’s a lot there. Obviously, when he’s playing in Plymouth, an added benefit is it’s easier to monitor his progress.”

Levi has five points in 20 games for the middle-of-the-pack Whalers, and is a plus-2 with 42 penalty minutes.

Justin Shugg, LW/C, Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors
Acquired: 4th round (105th overall) in 2010
Dec. 24, 1991. Ht: 5’11, Wt: 185lbs

Despite helping the Windsor Spitfires to back-to-back Memorial Cup titles and scoring 39 goals and 79 points last season, Shugg fell to fourth round in the entry draft. He was disappointed, but hopeful that he could take over a leadership role in Windsor and try for a Memorial Cup three-peat.

That, too, didn’t happen.

Shugg was sent to Mississauga — along with defenseman Marc Cantin — for a pile of draft picks. The good news is he still may have a chance at winning his third Memorial Cup. Mississauga is, thus far, the class of the OHL with 35 points (17-2-0-1) in 20 games.

“I think the trade is a good thing for Justin just based on the fact he’s on another top-notch junior team, and it’s always good to help a player’s development when they’re in a winning environment,” Karmanos said. “The move is more of a new start for him to make his own name, and so far he’s off to a good start.”

Shugg and teammate Rob Flick both have 11 goals and 13 assists for the Majors, leading the team with 24 points. Shugg was also the OHL’s Player of the Week after registering eight points in three games for the week ending Oct. 31.

“He can really shoot it,” Karmanos said. “He’s been playing center as of late, so he’s a pretty versatile guy. He’s looking comfortable at that position on a good team and obviously getting good results since he was Player of the Week there.”

But there’s still work to be done, according to Karmanos.

“He plays a real deliberate game, which is something he’ll probably need to work on over time,” he said. “Just given how smart a player he is and his skill level, he can get away with those things at the junior level, but maybe with time he’ll improve his intensity each and every shift and be able to make that jump.

“But he has a lot of real good tools, and he’s a really good kid. He’s like a lot of young guys who are still learning how hard he needs to work to be able to make the next jump.”

WHL

Rasmus Rissanen, D, Everett Silvertips
Acquired: 6th round (178th overall) in 2009
July 13, 1991. Ht: 6’3, Wt: 205lbs

Rissanen was one of three Scandinavian players — and two Finns — selected by the Hurricanes last season, and Carolina’s recent affinity for acquiring Finnish players is not by chance, it would seem.

“He’s of that mold of a lot of Finnish players that you see with an aggressive and in-your-face style,” Karmanos said.

The rugged defender won’t put up a lot of points (two through 20 games this year), but he can make life miserable for his opponents.

“He’s doing very well,” Karmanos said. “He’s a physically aggressive kid, a good skater. We really were happy with his training camp. Last year, he couldn’t participate for the most part because of a shoulder injury, so this is our first chance to really see him go through training camp. He’s a great kid — really eager and wants very badly to be a player.

Coupled with Levi, Carolina thinks they have two good stay-at-home defenders developing in their system.

“He and Levi are similar in a lot of respects because at this stage they’re both still pretty raw guys, but they have good size [and are] good skating, physically tough defensemen,” Karmanos said. “For us, we see bright futures for both of those guys.”

Tyler Stahl, D, Chilliwack Bruins
Acquired: 6th round (167th overall) in 2010
Jan. 29, 1992. Ht: 6’2, Wt: 201lbs

Stahl — whose name, while spelled differently, certainly sounds familiar to Carolina fans — is another defensive defenseman who is tough to play against. He has five points — including his first career junior goal — and 48 penalty minutes in 15 games for the Bruins this year. He missed the majority of October with a concussion, but has been back in the lineup since Oct. 29.

Tyler Stahl is more of a role player projection,” Karmanos said. “He has some good physical tools that make him hard to play against. He came to rookie camp and certainly didn’t lack for desire and played as hard as he could.

“He&rsq
uo;ll need to continue to work on his skill level and, like most young players, continue to get better in each part of his game. But he’s got some good physical tools and he likes to play that style.”