Wild variance among Carolina Hurricanes junior prospects

By Cory Lavalette
Photo: Callum Booth made 36 stops to lead the Remparts to a shutout win over the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada on December 18th.(Courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Photo: Callum Booth made 36 stops to lead the Remparts to a shutout win over the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada on December 18th.(Courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

 

 

It is the nature of developing prospects to go through ups and downs. Such is the case for the Carolina Hurricanes’ stable of junior hockey prospects. Some are showing the growth and improvement an organization would hope for in a future pro, while others are struggling to find footing or even showing some regression.

QMJHL

Clark Bishop, C, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Drafted 5th round, 127th overall, 2014

Bishop is having his best statistical season with 24 points in his first 25 games for Cape Breton. He was also a key part in Canada’s win over Russia in the CHL Canada Russia Series, captaining Team QMJHL to a two-game split in sealing the series. Bishop notched an assist in the Game 2 win.

Bishop suffered a leg injury in the tournament, but he has missed only a total of five games this year.

Callum Booth, G, Quebec Remparts
Drafted 4th round, 93rd overall, 2015

Booth has emerged as one of the QMJHL’s top goalies in his second year as a starter, ranking in the top 10 in goals-against average (2.92) and save percentage (.905) while boasting a 13-4-3 record for Quebec through Dec. 20. Booth missed a month after an appendectomy but won five of his first six starts after returning Dec. 4.

Nicolas Roy, C, Chicoutimi Saguenéens
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2015

The Carolina Hurricanes may have the steal of the 2015 draft in Roy. Roy’s potential has never been in doubt: he is 6-foot-4 with a power forward’s build and a skill level admirable in a player of any size. But the former QMJHL first overall pick had been a relative disappointment during his first two junior seasons, managing 91 points in his first 131 junior games. Those pedestrian numbers led to Roy sliding from probable first round pick all the way into the fourth round last summer.

But Roy is a disappointment no more, and the Hurricanes are poised to benefit from it.

This year, the Saguenéens’ alternate captain has been everything he was expected to be a few seasons ago. Through Dec. 20, Roy already had a career-best 19 goals along with 20 assists in 30 games, averaging 1.3 points per game.

Given Roy’s size and other talents—he’s excellent on faceoffs, winning more than 60 percent of his draws—the Hurricanes likely figured Roy could develop into, at worst, a bottom six pivot. But his rediscovered scoring touch and overall play could mean Carolina nabbed a top-round talent with the 96th overall pick.

Spencer Smallman, RW, Saint John Sea Dogs
Drafted 5th round, 138th overall, 2015

After a pre-draft season that saw him score 23 goals and total 56 points, Smallman has struggled to put up similar numbers in 2015-16. Through 30 games this season, Smallman has 19 points, including just six goals, for the Sea Dogs. But Smallman’s scoring has picked up in December with five points in the month’s first six games, including a two-point night Dec. 5 in a 4-3 win over Charlottetown.

OHL

Warren Foegele, LW, Kingston Frontenacs
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2014

New Hampshire sophomore winger Warren Foegele never found his stride with the Wildcats, so his decision to leave college hockey for the Kingston Frontenacs made sense even if it stirred up more animosity between the NCAA and junior hockey crowds.

It’s thus far paid off for Foegele, who had 18 points in his first 20 games with Kingston, one more than he had in 39 career collegiate games over two seasons at UNH. It’s also helped Kingston, who sits atop the East Division. Foegele’s solid 200-foot game has led the Frontenacs to sometimes use him at center, where he can impact play at both ends of the ice. The speedy forward thrives in a forechecking role, so getting him in the middle gives him more opportunity to pressure the opposition and create mistakes.

Kyle Jenkins, D, Peterborough Petes
Drafted 7th round, 187th overall, 2014

After missing time due to injury in late October and early November, Jenkins returned to the Petes’ lineup and quickly turned around Peterborough’s season. Jenkins posted 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in his first five games back in the lineup, including a four-point night Nov. 14 against Sudbury, to help the Petes back into the East Division race.

Jenkins hasn’t kept up the torrid scoring pace—he has a total of 18 points through 29 games this year—but he is a key cog in the Peterborough lineup, and the team won 10 of the first 17 games after he returned.

Steven Lorentz, C, Peterborough Petes
Drafted 7th round, 186th overall, 2015

Lorentz is having his best junior season, registering 30 points in his first 35 games for the Petes. He has 14 goals through Dec. 20, 10 of which have come in 12 games since Oct. 30. That includes an overtime winner Dec. 4 against Kingston, the team Peterborough is chasing in the East Division, and two two-goal outings.

Roland McKeown, D, Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired via trade from Los Angeles, 2015

McKeown left for Canada’s World Junior camp as the OHL’s top scoring defenseman, registering six goals and 22 assists in 28 games for Kingston, currently first in the East Division. The Kingston captain earned one of seven spots on Canada’s defense for the tournament, joining fellow Hurricanes prospect and frequent international defensive partner Haydn Fleury on the team. McKeown is the only right-handed defenseman on Canada’s entry.

His 22 assists—10 on the power play—with Kingston were tied for 22nd among all OHL players through Dec. 15, and he is a team-best plus-11 on the season.

Alex Nedeljkovic, G, Niagara IceDogs
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2014

Nedeljkovic’s time in Flint (formerly Plymouth) came to an end in December when he, along with fellow Hurricanes draft pick Josh Wesley, were dealt to Niagara. The 19-year-old goalie got off to a good start with the IceDogs, stopping 44 of 45 shots in his debut—a 2-1 win over Peterborough—and won two of his first three starts with Niagara before joining Team USA’s World Junior camp.

Nedeljkovic earned one of two spots in Team USA’s net, joining Sault Ste. Marie goaltender Brandon Halverson on the roster. It was an uphill climb for Nedeljkovic, who missed this summer’s evaluation camp with an injury and had limited time to impress Team USA’s coaching staff. Halverson and Nedeljkovic combined for a shutout in Team USA’s 4-0 Dec. 18 exhibition tuneup over UMass, each making seven saves.

Nedeljkovic is a combined 11-8-2 with a .912 save percentage and 3.00 goals-against average with Flint and Niagara in the OHL this season.

Josh Wesley, D, Niagara IceDogs
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall

Wesley was dealt, along with Nedeljkovic, from Flint to Niagara as the ties that used to bind the old Plymouth Whalers and the Hurricanes continue to disappear. Now in his third OHL season, Wesley is having his best statistical campaign with two goals and 10 assists through 24 games this year. Wesley—considered a defensive defenseman like his father was during his time in Carolina—has seen some power play time with his new team after an injury sidelined new teammate Vince Dunn in mid-December, and scored the game-winning goal in his home debut with the IceDogs, earning first star.

WHL

Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer Rebels
Drafted 1st round, 7th overall, 2014

Carolina’s decision to let Fleury spend another year with Memorial Cup host Red Deer seems to being paying dividends. The 19-year-old defenseman has regained the scoring touch he had in 2013-14 when his 46 points—coupled with his size and skating ability—that led Carolina to select him with their first round pick.

After registering only 28 points last year, Fleury already has 20 in his first 24 games this season, including seven goals, for the Central Division-leading Rebels. That puts him in the top 25 among WHL defensemen despite the fact that some players have players ahead of him have played a dozen or more games than him.

On top of chasing a Memorial Cup in Red Deer, Fleury will be a key cog for Canada at the World Juniors. After missing the cut last year, Fleury is poised to be one of the team’s top defensemen in Finland.

USHL

David Cotton, C, Waterloo Black Hawks
Drafted 6th round, 169th overall

Cotton, who is headed to Boston College next season, is in his first season in the USHL with Waterloo. He has acquitted himself well, with 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in his first 23 games. That ranks him tied for second on the Black Hawks in goals and fourth in points.

USHS

Luke Stevens, LW, Noble & Greenough (Mass.)

Stevens is set to head to Yale next season, but he returned to his high school team for the 2015-16 season. The son of former NHLer Kevin, the younger Stevens had two goals—both scored in the same game—and an assist in his first three games of the season for Noble & Greenough.

Other notable performers

It’s hard not to like what’s happening on Carolina’s blue line—and it’s just as difficult to pick one standout. Injuries to James Wisniewski and Ryan Murphy opened the door for a trio of first-year pros, and all three have stormed through.

That begins with 2015 fifth overall pick Noah Hanifin, who won a job out of training camp but soaked up more responsibility when Wisniewski was lost to a knee injury in the season opener. Hanifin has emerged as a steady presence on the Hurricanes defense, registering seven points (one goal, six assists) in his first 30 games and looking confident despite being just 18 years old. He has also been moved to Carolina’s top power play unit alongside Justin Faulk, and the duo has contributed to Carolina’s improved play with the man advantage.

Three years older than Hanifin but just as new to being a professional hockey player, 21-year-old Brett Pesce has been arguably the best rookie on the team. He’s averaged more than 19 minutes a night in his first 26 NHL games, including noticeable ice time on both the penalty kill and power play. He has nine points, including scoring on back-to-back nights Nov. 22 and Nov. 23 to help Carolina earn three of a possible four points. His goal on Nov. 23 tied the game with less than four minutes remaining vs. Philadelphia, completing a rally that erased a two-goal deficit and forced overtime. Pesce was named the game’s third star and played a career-high 23:06 minutes.

Finally, the newest face on defense is Jaccob Slavin. Like Hanifin and Pesce, Slavin is less than a year removed from playing collegiate hockey, but he has already shown why he is a part of Carolina’s future on defense. In his first 12 NHL games, Slavin has logged 15:05 a night, playing his off side with Hanifin as his partner. Slavin has four points (one goal, three assists) in his first 14 NHL games, and the 21-year-old is slowly earning more ice time and responsibility as he proves he belongs.

Prospect of the Month (And the year so far)

Noah Hanifin - Carolina HurricanesIt’s Hanifin, who is still learning the game but oozes potential. The team has been smart to ease Hanifin into more situations early in the season, but coach Bill Peters can’t be far from putting the left-handed Hanifin with Faulk on Carolina’s top pairing. It’s not a matter of if but when for the 18-year-old defender.