Hurricanes Top 20 prospects

By Glen Jackson

Hockey’s Future’s Top 20 ranking is based on long-term impact on the hockey club and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned an individual rating per HF criteria. Other factors that help determine ranking order to varying degrees include: player age, current league and team quality, draft position, location (North America or Europe) and foreseeable opportunity.

Key: Rank (former rank), name, position – age – current team (league)

Rating, Projection

1. (1) Cam Ward, G – 21 – Lowell (AHL)
Rating: 8.5B, Projection: Starting goaltender

Ward has had a tremendous rookie season in the AHL with the Lowell Lock Monsters. He has compiled a 22-13-3 record, 6 shutouts, a 1.96 goals against average, and a .937 save percentage.

“Cam Ward is just 21 years old and just out of junior, and what he’s doing in the American League is just something else,” said Sheldon Ferguson, Director of Amateur Scouting for the Hurricanes, who talked with Hockey’s Future by phone last week.

Had the NHL season not been cancelled, it was expected that Ward would have been in a Hurricanes uniform backing up Martin Gerber.

Ferguson confirmed this but added that, “The year in the American League sure isn’t going to hurt him any, and he’s handled himself very well at that level.”

With Lowell he’s excelled as an AHL rookie and is tied for third in the league for goals against average, and he leads the league in save percentage.

“Now it’s up to him, because it certainly looks like he is going to get a chance,” said Ferguson of the possibility of Ward playing regularly with the ‘Canes. “If we start next year I would think he would be one of the guys we would be looking at.”

Ward is clearly the best candidate between the pipes for the Hurricanes, and that’s more than just lip service given the depth the ‘Canes system has in goal.

2. (2) Andrew Ladd, LW – 19 – Calgary (WHL)
Rating: 8.0B, Projection: First line forward

Although his production is off somewhat from his draft year last season, Ladd has continued to do well in the WHL with the Calgary Hitmen and is third in team scoring with 45 points in 65 games. It is a .37 points-per-game drop compared to 2003-04.

Ladd had a strong performance with the Canadian squad that won gold at the World Junior Championships and continues to look like an ideal linemate for Eric Staal in the future. At the WJC Ladd was tied for fifth in team scoring with 3 goals and 4 assists in 6 games and was very effective for Canada even though it was possible to overlook him on that stacked team. He used his size well and roughed opponents up to create room for him and his linemates.

Although the points haven’t come as they did last season, there’s been speculation that an injury sustained in the summer is at the root of the drop in scoring. On that subject, Ladd recently told Hockey’s Future that whether he is injured or not, he’s not going to start explaining the differences in play that way.

“I’m not going to start making excuses. That’s just not me,” said Ladd. “Right now I’m starting to get back to where I want to play and bring what I want to bring.”

3. (10) Kevin Nastiuk, G – 19 – Medicine Hat (WHL)
Rating: 7.5B, Projection: Starting goaltender

Nastiuk has really emerged as a top goaltending prospect the past few seasons. Coming off a Memorial Cup appearance with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL last year, he began the 2004-05 season in almost unbelievable fashion, breaking the franchise shutout record just seven games in. From there he continued to accumulate wins and good numbers, and when David Shantz could not attend the Canadian WJC selection camp, Nastiuk got his chance.

In the end Nastiuk was narrowly beat out by Rejean Beauchemin for the back up job and returned, disappointed, to the Red Devils.

“He had a tremendous first half. (Team Canada) could have taken him and they still would have won,” said Ferguson.

Overall on the season Nasituk has 23-18-1 record in 42 appearances. From mid-January on he missed games and his numbers began to drop when he did play, while Matt Keetley has taken over the load of work. The Calgary Sun recently reported that Nastiuk had been pulled from the lineup with what they speculated was a somewhat serious hand injury.

Assuming he rebounds from this setback in a timely manner he should see time between the pipes for the Tigers in the playoffs.

4. (6) Danny Richmond, D – 20 – Lowell (AHL)
Rating: 7.5B, Projection: Top four defenseman

Many expected Richmond to return to the powerhouse London Knights of the OHL as an overage player in 2004-05, but he did well enough in the Lock Monsters camp to stay on with the team. He has continued to stick with the Lock Monsters with strong play.

“They been real happy with him (in Lowell),” said Ferguson of Richmond. “He’s a 21-year-old playing in that American League which is a tough son of a gun, and he doesn’t give an inch to anybody.”

Richmond has three goals and nine assists in 51 games played, along with a +3 rating as an AHL rookie, and mental errors that occasionally appeared earlier in his career are becoming less common.

In 2003-04 with the Knights, Richmond had 35 points in 59 games.

5. (3) Justin Peters, LW – 18 – Toronto (OHL)
Rating: 7.5B, Projection: Starting goaltender

Justin Peters was coming off a very strong season in the OHL with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors, his first as a starter, when the Hurricanes selected him in the second round of the 2004 Entry Draft. He’d shown excellent form and competitive drive in posting good numbers in the regular season as well as coming through in the clutch for the Majors in the playoffs before bowing out in the Eastern final to the Mississauga IceDogs.

Peters’ drop in ranking isn’t related to a drop in performance so much as a leveling off in the 2004-05 season. His numbers are virtually identical to 2003-04 with a slightly weaker team in front of him; a 2.78 goals against average versus a 2.65 mark last season, and a .911 save percentage versus .910 last season, but his record in 2004-05 was 23-23-5. He also notched 3 shutouts in the regular season compared with four in 2003-04.

“He was struggling with some bad goals early,” said Ferguson, but noted that at one time St. Mike’s had scored the fewest goals of any in the OHL.

Early on in the season Peters let in some uncharacteristically soft goals but his performance has steadily improved as the Majors worked towards a playoff spot. They ended up beating out the Kingston Frontenacs by four points for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Majors will face the IceDogs in the opening round and it will be interesting to see if Peters will prove his worth again in the playoffs when it matters most, and Ferguson plans to follow his progress closely.

“He’s a real solid character kid. Goaltenders take a little longer, and we sure consider him a bright light.”

6. (5) Rob Zepp, LW – 23 – Florida (ECHL)
Rating: 6.5B, Projection: High end backup goaltender

After leading the Florida Everblades to the Kelly Cup Final in 2003-04, Zepp’s performance dropped somewhat and right out of camp he found himself on the short end of a crease time-share situation with rookie and fellow Hurricane prospect Craig Kowalski.

Zepp has an 11-8-2-1 record, a 2.64 goals against average and a .909 save percentage in 2004-05, numbers that are not too far off from 2003-04 despite the fact that the Everblades are having more success in this year’s regular season.

Zepp sprained his MCL at the end of January, but is now back playing with the team. Playing time may be in short supply in the playoffs, however, as Florida has acquired the rights to ECHL All-Star Chris Madden at the trade deadline, who is currently playing for Providence.

“Rob Zepp will certainly get a shot at the American League level if Cam can make it and we go on our own next year,” said Ferguson. “We’re just full of goalies right now.”

7. (8) Mike Zigomanis, C – 24 – Lowell (AHL)
Rating: 6.5B, Projection: Second line forward

With his ego perhaps bruised somewhat by GM Jim Rutherford’s lack of interest in signing him to what Zigomanis felt would be a fair contract last offseason due in large part to disappointing stints with the Hurricanes the past few years, Zigomanis has continued to produce as he always has in the AHL in 2004-05. He has 47 points (23 goals, 24 assists) in 62 games, fourth in scoring on the team.

Ferguson, among others, has taken note. “Ziggy is one of those kids who have played himself back (in). I think he’s got to be considered a National League prospect, if not with us, somebody.”

Career-wise, Zigomanis has 178 points in 240 AHL games, and it should be interesting to see if he will ever appear in a Hurricanes uniform again.

“He’s a step off,” said Ferguson when asked his opinion as to why Zigomanis didn’t do better when he appeared in a Hurricanes uniform. “But everything else is solid, his hockey sense is really good. He’s just got to pick up the skating a little bit.”

8. (9) Chad LaRose, RW – 22 – Lowell (AHL)
Rating: 6.5B, Projection: Second line forward

The promising LaRose did well in both the ECHL and AHL last season in his first season as a pro, and he made the Lock Monsters right out of camp this season. He’s fifth in scoring on the team with 17 goals and 17 assists in 53 games, and he is continuing to develop nicely.

LaRose inked a three-year deal as a free agent with the Hurricanes on August 6, 2003, after playing for the OHL’s Hurricane-connected Plymouth Whalers and since then LaRose has done almost everything right as a pro.

“He’s a kid that’s worked himself in and done real well,” said Ferguson. “He skates and his heart is so good.”

Lack of size (5’8, 185 lbs) seems to be the only question mark for LaRose. “Some of these (little) guys can play, and most can’t,” said Ferguson. He believes LaRose has the potential to play in the NHL and should get a look in the future.

9. (12) Casey Borer, D – 19 – St.Cloud State (WCHA)
Rating: 6.5B, Projection: Top four defenseman

The St. Cloud State sophomore is already beginning to look like an excellent third round selection. The defensive defenseman has become a reliable blueliner while chipping in 11 assists in 35 games. He’s one of the team’s most improved players this season and excels at taking his man out of the play.

Borer was also picked to represent the US at the World Juniors and was often matched up against the opposing team’s top lines. His even plus/minus was tied for third best on the team, and Ferguson noted how pleased he was with Borer’s WJC.

Borer’s not a player that will ever get noticed by the fantasy pool players, but he is shaping up nicely to maybe one day fill a Hurricanes uniform.

10. (15) Brett Carson, D – 19 – Calgary (WHL)
Rating: 6.5C, Projection: Top four defenseman

Carson has continued to be the two-way defenseman the Hurricanes hoped they were getting mid-way through the 2004 Entry Draft in Raleigh.

In 2004-05 he led the Hitmen blueliners in power play goals with four and in total he had eight goals and 16 assists in 24 games. Carson was fourth best on the Hitmen in plus/minus with a +12.

“He’s playing really well, killing penalties and playing some power play in Calgary,” said Ferguson. “You know, he’s an interesting kid, he skates pretty well for a big man.”

He’s also strong in his own end and has the size at 6’4, 215 lbs to be an effective pro in the future.

11. (7) Brad Fast, D – 25 – Lowell (AHL)
Rating: 6.5C, Projection: Top four defenseman/power play specialist

Fast appeared ready to step up to the Hurricanes lineup this NHL season, had there been one. Instead he had no option but to remain with the Lock Monsters, but instead of dominating and improving on his play in the 2003-04 season, he has had a dismal campaign, collecting 6 points in 32 games before being demoted to the ECHL Florida Everblades on March 1st.

Ferguson, for one, isn’t sure what happened to Fast.

“He was named our (AHL) team captain, he finished so strong last year. It’s a total collapse of confidence right now.”

“It’s been a frustrating year,” Fast said in an interview with Hockey’s Future last weekend. “It started out good in Lowell, being captain and everything. And then I didn’t play up to expectations and things just sort of snowballed from there. I got out of the line-up and it was tough for me to get back in.”

Fast’s AHL point production had dropped off considerably from last year before being sent down. Last season he notched 0.44 points per game compared with 0.19 in 2004-05.

“In fairness to him he’s only 185 lbs and that American League is one tough (league) this year,” said Ferguson.

That statement would also indicate that Fast is not ready for the NHL as had been expected.

12. (16) Craig Kowalski, G – 24 – Florida (ECHL)
Rating: 6.0B, Projection: Backup goaltender

Kowalski completed his career with Northern Michigan in 2003-04, finishing with a 68-49-12 record and 12 career shutouts, a record at the school.

In August, 2004 the Hurricanes signed him to a two-year contract. The Hurricanes placed him with the Everblades this season and he’s played well, appearing in 26 games and posting a 13-6-5 record, a 2.84 goals against average, and .908 save percentage.

Kowalski remains out of the line-up with a groin injury and will find it tough to get back with the addition of Madden.

13. (13) Aaron Dawson, D – 20 – Peterborough (OHL)
Rating: 6.0C, Projection: Third pairing defenseman

Dawson’s shoulder troubles last season limited his games played to just 24 in 2003-04. This season he was back and chipping in with some offense, having collected 4 goals and 16 assists in 68 games, his best point total in his OHL career.

However, his plus/minus rating was the second worst on the team at -15, which is in sharp contrast to the +27 for the team leader in that category.

Dawson, a Peoria, Illinois native, is 6’5, 220 lbs, a size that is becoming fairly common within the Hurricanes system for defensemen, but there is a chance he will get a shot with the Everblades next season.

14. (NR) Magnus Akerlund, G – 18 – HV71 (SEL)
Rating: 6.0B, Projection: Backup goaltender

At just 18 years of age Akerlund has been seeing time with HV71 of the Swedish Elite League as well as playing in tournaments and exhibitions. In international play, the consensus has been that he’s often been the best player on the team and he’s also done well in his time with HV71, posting a 2.92 goals against average and .886 save percentage.

Ferguson is particularly excited about Akerlund’s chances.

“Akerlund is a kid that I got in the fifth round last year from Sweden and he should have been on the Swedish national team this year but he didn’t make it, but he’s been playing really well.”

“He’s had a good season and he’s a kid that we think has a good future too, and he’s got a real good chance of making the Swedish national team next year.”

15. (14) Ryan Rorabeck, C – 20 – Belleville (OHL)
Rating: 5.5B, Projection: Second line forward

Rorabeck looked like a prospect on the rise last season as he helped lead the St. Mike’s Majors deep into the playoffs. This season he was a leader again and one of the most experienced players on the Majors and had nine points in 13 games with a -3 rating on a losing team before he became part of a multi-player deal that sent him to the Belleville Bulls.

Since the trade, Rorabeck played in only 37 games for Belleville due to numerous injury problems. He finished the regular season with 8 goals and 20 assists in 50 games.

“His hockey sense is real good but he hasn’t got a lot stronger from when we drafted him, and these injuries this year have really hurt him,” said Ferguson.

With this being his last season in the OHL, what’s next might depend on what happens with the CBA negotiations.

If all goes well, Ferguson hopes to see Rorabeck in camp.

16. (17) Sean Curry, D – 22 – Lowell (AHL)
Rating: 5.5B, Projection: Third pairing defenseman

Curry continues to be fairly consistent in the AHL. In 57 games this season he has chipped in with two goals and eight helpers, along with a +2 rating.

He’s played well again with the Lock Monsters, and it’s possible that he’ll be seen in a Hurricanes uniform at some point, although Ferguson believes it might have to be as a forward.

“He’s played forward and maybe that’s where he has to stay to make the next step. And if he can do that, those big wingers, he’s 6’5 220. Those guys are tough to find and he skates quite well.”

In three seasons in the AHL, Curry has 19 points in 166 games played.

17. (11) Matej Trojovsky, D – 20 – Prince George (WHL)
Rating: 5.0B, Projection: Third pairing defenseman

Trojovsky, originally drafted by the Hurricanes 130th overall in the 2003 Entry Draft, looked to have good potential to become a third pairing defenseman one day, but his play the past few seasons has raised some concerns about the 20-year-old.

While playing with the Swift Current Broncos he was a team-worst -11 when he was traded to Prince George in January. He finished the season with Prince George and was a team-worst -30 on the season.

Trojovsky is a tough defenseman who usually accumulates lots of penalty minutes, 199 this season. On the offensive side of things he had five goals and four assists in 57 games in 2004-05. This has not been a good season for boosting his value in the eyes of the ‘Canes.

Ferguson even went one step further in his assessment of Trojovsky compared to Curry.

“He can’t play defense, he’s going to have to play forward, but he’s a tough son of a gun this kid.”

18. (18) Martin Vagner, D – 21 – Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
Rating: 5.5C, Projection: Third pairing defenseman

“We took a chance because he played so well, when Dallas took him in the first round it looked like a good pick,” said Ferguson, in reference to the former first round selection for the Dallas Stars in 2002.

After two sub-par seasons in the QMJHL, Vagner was not able to sign with the Stars and he reentered the draft in 2004 and the Hurricanes selected him in the ninth round.

Vagner, who had 3 goals and 13 assists this season with last place Acadie-Bathurst of the QMJHL, might get a chance at the Everblades next season. But it also seems a distinct possibility that he could return to the Czech Republic and plays while the Hurricanes wait and see how he develops from here.

19. (19) Tyson Strachan, D – 20 – Ohio State (CCHA)
Rating: 5.0B, Projection: Third pairing defenseman

Strachan had a good sophomore season with Ohio State and had five points in 30 games with a +7 rating.

Ohio State finished with an overall record of 27-10-4 and Strachan was a big part of the team’s success, although he only played in 30 games again this season.

Strachan is a defensive defenseman who possesses size, toughness and can take care of his own zone.

20. (NR) Jonas Fiedler, RW – 20 – Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Rating: 4.5C, Projection: Checking winger

Fiedler spent 2004-05 with the Plymouth Whalers as an overage player and scored 19 goals, and added 18 assists in 61 games.

“Not great numbers (for Fiedler this season), but he is captain of Plymouth,” said Ferguson.

Fiedler has never been much of a scorer, instead he plays a physical brand of hockey and he helped lead the Whalers to a second place finish in the OHL’s West Division.

Ferguson expects Fiedler to get a chance to move up in the organization in 2005-06.

“We’ll give that kid a look next year in the American League, especially if we go on our own there.”

Briefly

Sheldon Ferguson on Lowell’s affiliation with the Calgary Flames coming to an end:
“There’ve been rumblings, but nothing definite.”

On if he’d like to see Carolina as the only affiliate in Lowell:
“Oh no, Daryl Sutter is so good to work with. He was my first captain when I started coaching, right out of school, and he’s one of the best guys in the game and he’s so good to work with.”

On dual-sport athlete (baseball being the other) and Hurricanes 2003 eighth round pick, Jamie Hoffmann:
“He’s a real athlete, that kid. We knew that when we took him but he was worth a shot if he decided to go the other way because he had a full ride at CC. Unfortunately he thought the money was a little quicker going the other way and it looks like he might have been right. It will be interesting to see if he turns out to be a ball player or comes back to hockey.”

On the impact of the lockout on prospects:
“We’re (going to be) into a new CBA now so nobody knows exactly what is going on. We’re worried about the kids that we have that are playing that are coming up playing this year but nobody knows what the heck is going on. It’s nasty out there right now.”

Aaron Vickers and Holly Gunning contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.