Hurricanes Look to Bright Future
With playoff contention looking doubtful, the Carolina Hurricanes, nee Hartford Whalers, are starting to focus on the upcoming draft and the future of the club. The team has a chance at a fresh start in front of fans just catching on to the sport of ice hockey and how they perform in the critical years of the near future will dictate the success of the NHL in North Carolina. Fortunately, the Hurricanes have a talented core of prospects that should make their job a whole lot easier. Despite giving up tremendous talent in Hnat Dominechelli and Jean-Sebastien Giguere to the Flames for proven veterans, Carolina has a strong bunch of prospects that are very close to stepping into the big time.
The Hurricanes are in desperate need of offensive defensemen and speed up front and that’s just what they have developing in the farm system. The Beast of New Haven of the AHL are also starting afresh and, also like the parent club, are destined for success. Two of the most notable prospects playing with the Beast are Sergei Fedotov and Byron Ritchie. Fedotov, drafted 35th overall in 1995 and just two seasons removed of the Moscow Dynamo, is a dynamic offensively-talented defenseman. He is a terrific skater and primarily finesse player, though he does play a strong two-way game. Fedotov handles the puck with ease and is a smart and very quick player with good size(6-2, 188) and strength. He was known to be a non-physical player when he first came over but has proved that wrong for the most part. Spending a year with the Detroit Jr. Whalers of the OHL in ‘96/97 helped immensely in that area of his game. Fedotov is a coach’s dream in that his a willing and hard worker with an excellent attitude and desire to succeed. He will undoubtedly fill the empty role of a rushing defenseman on the Hurricanes’ roster within the next year.
When you mention WHL superstar Byron Ritchie, one thing in particular comes to mind: scoring and lots of it. While playing for Lethbridge last year, the flashy center racked up a mind-blowing 50 goals and 126 points in only 63 games to finish second in the league in scoring. Ritchie has an excellent shot, as well as tremendous hockey sense–his outstanding ability to read and react to plays can do nothing but improve his chances. But another thing that is mentioned concerning Ritchie is size, as in a lack of. At 5-10 and 186 lbs, Byron is a little, okay really, below the NHL standard but what he lacks in stature, he makes up for with a fiery, devil-may-care attitude and dogged determination. He plays a gritty game where he makes his home in the crease and corners and mucking along the boards. His skating, although better than average, needs some work, as does his defensive play. But Ritchie will stop at nothing to make the NHL and the ‘Canes couldn’t be more pleased.
The Hurricanes made out well at last year’s draft as they picked up the likes of talented UND winger Brad Defauw . Defauw, drafted 28th overall, brings two important factors to the ‘Canes: size(6-2, 210) and a winning attitude. He was an part of the University of North Dakota team that knocked off powerhouse Boston University to take the 1997 NCAA Championship. As a freshman, Brad learned what it takes to win and that will be a key factor when he makes the Hurricanes, who are having just a little trouble winning. Defauw is developing into a prototype NHL power forward and he plays a sound, two-way game. There are no glaring deficencies in his game but he’ll likely finish his final three years at school.
Carolina also has a potential NHL goalie waiting in Manny Legace. After spending the past two seasons dominating the AHL with the Springfield Falcons, Legace is earning some valuable ice time and experience under the tutelage of veteran Tim Cheveldae with the Las Vegas Thunder of the IHL. Although he’s an older prospect at age 24, Manny was one of the best goalies in the AHL and his stats in the I aren’t too shabby either–10-8-1, 2.72 GAA and .922 SV%. He has the skills to play with the Hurricanes; it’s only a question of time before he’s given the chance and takes over for McLean or Jablonski, who are both getting up there in age.
The Hurricanes have a few other prospects in their system who are all at various stages. Gargantunous Marek Malik started to play with the team last year but had trouble with his consistency. The 23-year-old Czech native is a octupus-like defenseman who uses his reach as his main defensive tool in which he covers a great deal of the ice, much in the form of Kjell Samuelsson, but he needs to fill out his wiry frame(6-5, 185). Malik has such a high skill level in all areas that the Hurricanes are willing to give him the time he needs to perform. He’s a good skater for his size, though awkward, and has decent offensive skills. Marek is strong and poised on the puck and he headmans it out of the zone well, though he rarely jumps up into the attack. He’s a good passer and playmaker but he does a lot of the little things well that makes him a solid defensive player. He gets what little points he puts up via a wicked shot from the point. Malik is not a big hitter but he’s aggressive and was able to throw in 56 PIMs in the 50 or so games he played with the Whalers/Hurricanes. The ‘Canes are banking on Malik turning his game around soon and if can, he’ll be a great fit.
Another pick, though a few years away, is Russian scoring sensation Andrei Petrunin. Plucked from Russia’s Central Army team at the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, Petrunin is small, fast and purely finesse. Remind you of, say…Sergei Samsonov or Pavel Bure? Possible but unlikely up to this point. But Petrunin does a have a pretty good shot at making the NHL someday. Although someone at his size(5-9, 170) would have some trouble, Andrei has that uncanny ability to just push back defensemen and create offensive opportunities with his phenomenal speed. He also has excellent endurance that should enable him to just skate around all the pesky offenders. Petrunin, as mentioned before, is 100% finesse. His playmaking, skating and stickhandling are superior and he has excellent vision and hockey sense. Peturin is extremely agile and has great mobility but he needs to get stronger physically if he wants to make it with the big boys. His shot is decent but could use some work and could his defensive play and zone coverage. The Moscow native has the tools but can he put them all together for the Hurricanes?
Along with Byron Ritchie, the ‘Canes also have another WHL superstar in their ranks. Trevor Wasyluk is one of those solid players that you know will play in the NHL, it’s only a matter of time. In his third year with the Medicine Hat Tigers, the big winger is continuing to give management something to smile about. After being named the MVP of the first CHL Prospects Games in 1996, Wasyluk was drafted 34th overall with the high expectations that he would be in the Hurricanes’ line-up very soon. Perhaps the most attractive thing about the Clavet, Sask. native’s game is his versatility. He can, and will, successfully play every position but goalie and at 6-2, 195, he’s got the size to do it in the NHL. Trevor also has the skills. A stellar skater with excellent speed and acceleration, Wasyluk is also a dynamic stickhandler that can take the puck end to end with ease. He’s sound defensively but at times can be lazy and needs to work on his consistency if he’s to really get a shot at the big time.
Another prospect that the Hurricanes’ are giving a look at is big defenseman Ryan Risadore. At 6-4, 195, Risadore is a the gritty type of player the ‘Canes need to survive in the Eastern Conference. An excellent bodychecker, Ryan also has good skating ability and is strong on the puck. He moves the puck out well and is a pretty good passer. Risadore continues to sharpen his game in the minors but should be called up very soon.
So despite the current lackluster situation for the Carolina Hurricanes, they have nothing but success to look forward to in the future as their many bright prospects continue to develop into NHLers. It’s safe to say that hockey in the Carolinas will have nothing to loose and everything to gain.