10. (8) Warren Foegele, LW, 7.0 C
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2014
Foegele’s sophomore campaign could go a long way in determining how the University of New Hampshire winger will project down the road. Foegele was slow out of the gate for the Wildcats, scoring just once in the first 18 games while battling injury and the transition to the collegiate game. But the first-year player heated up, starting in late January, registering 10 points (four goals and six assists) in a nine-game stretch and finishing the season with 16 points in 34 games.
The task for Foegele will be recapturing that scoring touch and becoming one of UNH’s top scorers in 2015-16. With the Wildcats losing some big contributors in their top six to graduation, Foegele should get the ice time and opportunity to make his mark.
9. (7) Sergey Tolchinsky, LW, 7.0 C
Signed as undrafted free agent, 2014
No Hurricanes prospect has the ability to fluctuate on this list faster than Tolchinsky. There’s no denying that the 5-foot-8, 170-pound winger is dynamic on the attack, flashing puck skills and an elusiveness that made him nearly impossible to stop at the junior level.
But as with any undersized player, Tolchinksy needs to prove he can continue to produce when the stakes get higher—and the opposition bigger and stronger. Tolchinsky didn’t hurt his cause at Carolina’s prospect camp in July, dazzling coaches, teammates and observers with his on-ice wizardry for the second straight year.
With only 11 forwards currently on one-way deals, Carolina should have an open competition for one or two forward spots, and no one will be surprised if Tolchinsky is in the thick of the competition. But to make his impact at the NHL level, the Russian winger will need to exhibit the type of production that made him a 90-point player the past two seasons.
8. (3) Brock McGinn, LW, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2012
Competing with Tolchinsky for a spot should be McGinn, the second-year pro with an NHL pedigree—brothers Jamie and Tye have each played in the league—who is looking to improve on his disappointing first AHL campaign.
McGinn finished 2014-15 with a respectable 15 goals and 27 points in 73 games with the Charlotte Checkers, but had a 20-game stretch without a point and was twice suspended by the league for bad hits. But it is that on-the-edge physicality that makes McGinn so intriguing—he brings a level of unpredictability and agitation that the Hurricanes have lacked for some time. If McGinn can straddle the right side of that line while also exhibiting more scoring consistency, he should be have a chance at a spot in Carolina by 2016-17, or even sooner.
7. (6) Brett Pesce, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 3rd round, 66th overall, 2013
Pesce evolved into a standout number-one defenseman during his three years at the University of New Hampshire, but rather than return for a fourth he opted to go pro and sign his entry-level contract with the Hurricanes. Pesce is one of several young defenders in the Carolina pipeline that should have fans salivating and opponents concerned.
Big (6’3, 200 pounds) and versatile, Pesce is an all-situations blueliner who is capable of logging big minutes in all three zones. He averaged roughly a half point a game his last two seasons at UNH (10 goals, 37 points in a combined 72 games), but shows the ability to be an able puck mover who is reliable in his own end.
6. (5) Trevor Carrick, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2012
Carrick built up his resume by following up a successful junior career with a standout rookie season with the AHL’s Checkers. The now-21-year-old defender led Charlotte defensemen in goals (seven) and points (32), and was first on the entire team in assists with 25. Throw in a rugged style of play (94 penalty minutes, including eight fights), and you can see why Carrick is making a name for himself.
Carrick has the size (6’2) to be an NHL player, but could stand to add muscle to his currently listed 186-pound frame. Still, he will be in the mix in training camp for a spot on Carolina’s roster, and he is certainly on the team’s radar for the near future.
5. (4) Jaccob Slavin, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 4th round, 120th overall, 2012
After a long courtship, the Hurricanes finally convinced Slavin to forgo his final two years of college eligibilty and join its stocked pool of defensive prospects in the professional ranks. Slavin had a bit of a sophomore slump to start the 2014-15 season after having a fantastic freshman campaign at Colorado College, but he adjusted to a new coaching staff to put together a solid second half by scoring five goals and adding 10 assists in the season’s final 19 games.
Slavin was the NCHC Rookie of the Year in 2013-14, and was named to the All-Conference First Team after being on the Second Team his freshman year. Like Carrick and Pesce, Slavin has an ideal frame (6’2, 205 pounds) and can play at both ends of the ice. He could log big minutes in Charlotte this season to groom him for the NHL in the next year or two.
4. (2) Alex Nedeljkovic, G, 8.0 D
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2014
As one of the younger players in his draft year, Nedeljkovic will be back in the OHL for a fourth campaign. But it won’t be in Plymouth with the Whalers. Following the sale of the team by Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr., the Plymouth franchise relocated across the state to Flint, Michigan, becoming the Flint Firebirds. It’s all the same to Nedeljkovic, the 2013-14 OHL Goaltender of the Year, who will look to help the team return to the postseason after missing out in 2014-15.
Nedeljkovic is not your typical goalie: rather than being 6-foot-a-lot and taking up all the net from the butterly, he measures just 5’11 and relies on his athleticism and never-give-up-on-a-play determination to stop pucks. Still, making it in the NHL as an undersized goalie is a tough hill to climb these days—just six goalies listed under six-feet tall played an NHL game last year, and only Jaroslav Halak had definitive success. A solid season and return to the playoffs would go a long way in preparing Nedeljkovic for the next step.
3. (NR) Sebastian Aho, LW, 7.5 C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2015
With their second pick in this summer’s draft, Carolina filled an urgent need by drafting a right wing. In Aho, Carolina is getting a smooth puckhandler who matched Tolchinsky in opening eyes at the team’s prospect conditioning camp. Aho is coming off a championship season with Karpat in the Finnish league—he scored the title-cliching goal in overtime—but training camp will determine which destination is best for his development. Would he benefit most from another season in Finland with more responsibilities, or is he ready for a jump to North America and the AHL?
Aho—not to be confused with Swedish defensive prospect of the same name—measures only 5-foot-11 and 172 pounds, so a move to the North American game that features bigger players on a smaller rink might be premature. But like Tolchinsky, Aho is out to prove that size isn’t everything.
2. (1) Haydn Fleury, D, 8.0 C
Drafted 1st round, 7th overall, 2014
The pressure is a little bit off of Fleury thanks to Carolina’s top pick in the 2015 draft. Still, Fleury’s drop in point production (28 in 2014-15 after 46 in his draft year) and failure to make Canada’s World Junior entry last year raised some concerns about his future.
Everything out of Carolina’s post-draft conditioning camp spoke to Fleury coming back this summer bigger, stronger and more polished—which many said was the goal of his 2014-15 campaign that focused more on handling things in his own end. While the arrival of Hanifin shifts the spotlight somewhat off the Carolina’s top pick in 2014, everyone will be looking for Fleury to up his game in 2015-16. While Fleury will get a long look in training camp, that improvement will likely come in Red Deer with the Rebels, who are set to host the Memorial Cup and thus automatically have a spot in the four-team, end-of-season junior hockey tournament.
The Rebels have already tried to beef up their lineup, trading for the rights to Flames prospect and Boston University defenseman Brandon Hickey in the hopes he will leave the NCAA for a shot at a Memorial Cup (he says he’s staying in school). With a likely improved supporting cast and another year under his belt, Fleury needs to put together the promise of his draft-year performance and the grind of his 2014-15 campaign into a stellar 2015-16.
1. (NR) Noah Hanifin, D, 8.0 B
Drafted 1st round, 5th overall, 2015
There’s not much new to say about Hanifin. He is considered by many to be the top defensive prospect in hockey, and his decision to turn pro has Hurricanes fans already anticipating him in Raleigh rather than Charlotte. Along with emerging NHL star Justin Faulk, Hanifin is the foundation of Carolina’s impressive young defense. While the team may still be a year or two away from icing an impressive grouping of younger-than-25 defenders in the NHL, Hanifin is already close to contributing.
The 18-year-old blueliner—who had 23 points in 37 games as a freshman at Boston College—will have to earn his way on to Carolina’s roster, but with the experienced competition thin and a fan base clamoring for something to be excited about, one can expect the Massachusetts-born defender to be playing in North Carolina’s capital sooner rather than later.