Carolina Hurricanes possess small but promising group of prospects at CHL level

By Cory Lavalette
Photo: Austin Levi (left) and Tyler Stahl (right) are two of only three Hurricanes prospects currently playing in the CHL. (Photo courtesy of Jamie Kellner)

Carolina’s top CHL prospect was supposed to be 2010 first round pick Jeff Skinner, but the rookie forward burst on the scene early in camp and never let up, earning a full-time job in the NHL en route to being named a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy, which is given annually to the league’s top rookie.

Instead, the Canes have just three players in the CHL ranks, with two defensive defensemen and one of the OHL‘s top scorers. The scorer, Justin Shugg, happens to be aiming for his third straight Memorial Cup despite changing teams in the offseason.

OHL

Austin Levi, D, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 3rd round, 85th overall, 2010


The Hurricanes went back to the Whalers’ well last summer by selecting Levi, an athletic defender who’s viewed as a potential stay-at-home blueliner at the NHL level. His season ended April 13 when Plymouth was swept in the second round of the AHL playoffs by Owen Sound after beating Kitchener in seven games in the opening round.

While Levi is best known for his play in his own zone, he was second among Whalers defenseman in points in both the regular season (25 points) and postseason (five points), trailing only teammate – and Carolina conditioning camp invitee – Beau Schmitz. His regular season numbers more than doubled his output from last year (six goals, 19 assists in 2010-11 vs. three goals, nine assists the year before), and he scored five points in 11 playoff games after not registering any in 14 previous postseason games the two years before.

Levi will likely return to Plymouth, who finished sixth in the OHL‘s Western Conference this season, for a third-straight full OHL season in 2011-12.

Justin Shugg, RW, Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors
Acquired: 4th round, 105th overall, 2010

For the third straight year, Shugg will find himself playing for the Memorial Cup. After winning back-to-back CHL titles with the Windsor Spitfires, Shugg was acquired by Mississauga, this year’s Memorial Cup host, to provide scoring punch and experience for the Majors’ run at the league title.

Shugg hasn’t disappointed.

After registering 79 points in 67 games with the Spitfires last year, Shugg bettered his production this season despite not playing with the likes of Taylor Hall (EDM), Ryan Ellis (NAS) and Cam Fowler (ANH). He led his new team in scoring with team highs in goals (41) and assists (46), and his 87 points ranked tied for 14th in league scoring. His performance helped lead the Majors to the league’s best record and the top seed in the OHL playoffs.

The team’s performance has carried over to the postseason. Mississauga is unbeaten in the nine playoffs games, having swept Belleville and Sudbury in the first and second rounds, respectively, and jumping out to a 1-0 series lead over Niagara in the league semifinals. Shugg, coincidentally a native of Niagara Falls, has four goals and three assists thus far in the playoffs. Regardless of the playoff results, Shugg and the Majors will be part of the Memorial Cup tournament as the host city. Following his campaign, Shugg will likely sign his entry-level deal with Carolina.

WHL

Tyler Stahl , D, Chilliwack Bruins
Acquired: 6th round, 167th overall, 2010

Carolina fans have become accustomed to hearing the name Staal mentioned frequently, whether its when someone speaks of the team’s captain, Eric, his brother Jared (a Hurricanes minor-leaguer), or either of his siblings playing for Eastern Conference rivals. While this Stahl is not related to the famous quartet, Carolina used a late pick last summer to add the Chilliwack rearguard.

Stahl, like Levi, is known for his play in his own end and scored little in 2010-11, managing just 10 points (one goal, nine assists) in 67 games with the Bruins. He was second on the team in penalty minutes with 182, but ranked last among Chilliwack blueliners in plus/minus at minus-15. The Bruins – who finished sixth in the WHL‘s Western Conference -were knocked out of the WHL playoffs in the first round by Spokane in five games, the last two of which Stahl missed due a suspension levied after he was called for an elbowing major in Game 3.

Stahl will likely return to the Bruins for the 2011-12 season.