Breakthrough campaigns propel Carolina Hurricanes prospects up the top 20

By Cory Lavalette

Photo: Not many OHLers made the jump to professional hockey as well as Sergey Tolchinsky, who had 36 points in 68 games for the Checkers. (Courtesy of Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

Photo: Not many OHLers made the jump to professional hockey as well as Sergey Tolchinsky, who had 36 points in 68 games for the Checkers. (Courtesy of Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

10. (9) Sergey Tolchinsky, LW, 7.0 C
Signed as a free agent, August 2013

Tolchinsky’s offensive skills are well documented: he twice registered 90-plus points in the OHL and is one of the more dynamic puck handlers you will see at any level. Still, 2015-16 has been a transition year for Tolchinsky as he tries to adapt to the pro game as the smallest player in Carolina’s prospect ranks.

Tolchinsky had a fast start for Charlotte, notching points in his first four games this season, but then took much of the remainder of the 2015 calendar year to get his skates under him. He has been streaky in his rookie AHL campaign, but had his first multi-goal game March 23 in Chicago with the Checkers battling for a playoff spot down the stretch.

Tolchinsky needs to continue to get stronger and learn how to not get bogged down by bigger defensemen, but he will always have an ace in the hole with his array of moves.

9. (8) Brock McGinn, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2012

McGinn is close to being a full-time NHLer, having played 21 games with the Hurricanes this season on several call-ups, scoring three goals and adding an assist. McGinn was a big-time OHL scorer, scoring 43 goals in his final season with Guelph, but he was and is best known for playing with reckless abandon despite his 6-foot, 185-pound frame.

McGinn has improved on his scoring this season, notching 14 goals and 14 assists in just 40 games with Charlotte—one more point than he had in 73 games with the Checkers last year—but is still trying to earn a full-time spot with the Hurricanes.

8. (6) Trevor Carrick, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2012

Carrick has built on a record-breaking rookie season with another solid AHL campaign. Through March 23, Carrick had nine goals and 29 assists for 38 points. All three are tops among Charlotte defenseman, and he ranks tied for first on the team in assists and second in points.

While Carrick has been bypassed by other Carolina defensive prospects who made the jump to the NHL, he brings a physical edge the rest lack. Carrick make his NHL debut in March, playing two games with Carolina, and should compete next season for a depth role in Raleigh.

7. (17) Nicolas Roy, C, 7.0 C
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2015

The Hurricanes took a flier on Roy in the fourth round last summer, hoping the former first overall pick in the QMJHL draft could one day live up to his promise. It look less time than expected for Roy to do it.

Roy had a monster 2015-16 regular season, leading the league in goals (48) and finishing seventh in scoring with 90 points. He was second in the league in power play goals (20), faceoff winning percentage (60.5), and game-winning goals (eight) for Chicoutimi.

Roy’s size (6’4, 197 pounds) and defensive acumen made him seem like, at worst, a bottom-six center down the road. But his dominance in the offensive zone has him looking more like the sure-fire first-rounder many saw in him years ago.

6. (16) Phil Di Giuseppe, LW, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall, 2012

While McGinn was selected nine picks after of Di Giuseppe, there was always a feeling the former Guelph Storm wrecking ball would carve out an NHL spot before the Michigan Wolverines’ winger. But instead of McGinn, it is Di Giuseppe who has become Carolina’s most relentless forechecker and a top-nine contributor.

Di Giuseppe and McGinn were both recalled to Carolina in early December, and Di Giuseppe took advantage of his opportunity and hasn’t looked back. In 40 NHL games through March 23, Di Giuseppe had seven goals and 10 assists while mostly playing on a line with Victor Rask and Skinner. He is among the league’s top players in hits per games, and he has finish around the net that Carolina needs from its depth forwards.

5. (7) Brett Pesce, D, 7.0 B
Drafted 3rd round, 66th overall, 2013

Pesce is one of three rookies who have made up half of Carolina’s defense corps this season. The first-year pro out of the University of New Hampshire has exceeded expectations from the get-go, claiming a spot after James Wisniewski went down with a serious knee injury in the season opener.

Pesce has contributed 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in his first 60 NHL games while playing nearly 19 minutes a night for Carolina. That includes averaging more than a minute on both the power play and penalty kill while playing in the Hurricanes’ top-four most of the season.

Pesce doesn’t have the speed of Noah Hanifin or acceleration of Jaccob Slavin, but he is positionally sound and tough in the corners without being reckless (just seven minor penalties taken all season). He should be a staple on the Carolina blue line for years to come.

4. (4) Alex Nedeljkovic, G, 8.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2014

Nedeljkovic further bolstered his resume with an outstanding showing at the World Juniors for Team USA. The 20-year-old goalie led the United States to a bronze medal with a 1.66 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in six games.

Nedeljkovic has also had a good, albeit unique, OHL season. He was dealt, along with fellow Hurricanes prospect Josh Wesley, to Niagara from Flint in early December. Flint—in its first OHL season after relocating from Plymouth—has been in total disarray, with the league suspending the Firebrids’ new owner and taking control of the franchise.

Luckily Nedeljkovic got out of Flint before the real fireworks began, and he has put together a solid season, combining for a 24-20-2-2 record and a .907 save percentage with the Firebirds and IceDogs. After missing the playoffs in Plymouth last year, Nedeljkovic will return with Niagara before beginning his pro career.

3. (2) Haydn Fleury, D, 8.0 C
Drafted 1st round, 7th overall, 2014

Fleury is the lone first-round pick on the list. While some have expressed concern that he won’t live up to those lofty expectations, the Red Deer defenseman has quietly put together a solid campaign for the Rebels. Fleury’s 12 goals are a career high, and he had 41 points in just 56 games this season (career-best 0.73 points per game). He’s also improved defensively, adding strength and using his length to disrupt attacking players. Fleury also played in the World Juniors, registering one assist in five games for underachieving Team Canada.

Red Deer hosts the Memorial Cup this season, so Fleury and the Rebels will be one of the four teams participating regardless of the outcome of the WHL playoffs.

Fleury will begin his pro career next season, likely joining the Checkers since Carolina’s defense is mostly set for 2016-17.

2. (3) Sebastian Aho, RW, 8.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2015

Aho’s performance at the World Juniors and with Karpat in the Finnish League has made him one the world’s top prospects. Aho helped lead Finland to a gold medal, finishing the tournament second in scoring (five goals, nine assists in seven games), while centering the best line in recent World Junior memory.

But Aho didn’t stop there: he had 20 goals and 25 assists in 45 games in Liiga en route to a second place finish in MVP voting. Aho, 18, was topped by 33-year-old Kristian Kuusela.

While Aho played center at the World Juniors, his future is likely at right wing, and he could be in Carolina’s lineup as early as next season given how well he performed in one of the world’s best leagues. Aho is undersized (5’11, 172 pounds), but makes up for it with speed, top-end vision and a high compete level.

1. (5) Jaccob Slavin, D, 7.5 B
Drafted 4th round, 120th overall, 2012

Not many around the league know about Slavin, but you can expect that to change. The rookie defenseman was playing for Colorado College last season, but—like Pesce and Hanifin—has slid seamlessly into the Hurricanes defense and hasn’t missed a beat.

Slavin’s numbers (one goal, 14 assists through 54 games) aren’t eye-popping like Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere, but the 21-year-old defenseman has emerged as a minute-munching defender who can play in all situations against any type of opposition. With John-Michael Liles traded at the dealing and Justin Faulk out with injury, Slavin logged top pairing minutes late in the season—including playing 20 minutes or more every night except one since Jan. 12.

Slavin’s greatest asset might be his acceleration: he is able to quickly identify a play and explode into position. He is a smooth skater and an adept puck mover, and he has solid offensive instincts even if it’s not yet reflected in his statistics. With Faulk and Hanifin likely penciled in as Carolina’s eventual top pairing for the foreseeable future, Slavin could one day be among the league’s best No. 3 defenseman.

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