Hurricanes top 20 prospects

By Glen Jackson

The Carolina Hurricanes system continues to improve with the influx of 2006 draftees, with goaltending and defense continuing to be the strong suits. A number of forwards with good potential were added in the draft, such that this position is less of a deficit than previously.

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. (2) Cam Ward, G – 22 – Carolina (NHL)
Rating: 9.0B, Projection: Starting goaltender

Jack Johnson had displaced Ward from the No. 1 position for the last Hurricanes’ prospects list, but on the strength of a phenomenal Stanley Cup playoff run in which he took over the starting job from Martin Gerber and eventually won a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe as a rookie, Ward returns to top spot for the Hurricanes.

Ward played in only 28 regular season games, which kept him from graduating based on Hockey’s Future criteria (45 regular season games for goaltenders) and had a14-8-2 record with a 3.68 goals against average and a .882 save percentage. It took only a few sub-par performances by Gerber to start the playoffs before Ward got his chance, and he appeared in all playoff games afterwards but one. The native of Sherwood Park, Alberta upset those from his hometown in defeating the Edmonton Oilers in the finals and overall he had a 15-8 record with two shutouts, a 2.14 goals against average and .920 save percentage.

Ward continues to look like a brilliant late first round pick for the ‘Canes from 2002 after a well decorated junior career with the Red Deer Rebels which was capped with a CHL Goaltender of the Year in 2003-04. He followed that up with making the AHL All-Rookie team in 2004-05 and had the top save percentage for all goaltenders (.937), let alone AHL rookies.

2. (1) Jack Johnson, D – 19 – University of Michigan (CCHA)
Rating: 8.5B, Projection: Top pairing defenseman

The third overall pick in 2005, Johnson is projected to one day run the ‘Canes blueline and 2005-06 proved he is still on the path to fulfill that potential. As a freshman with Michigan, Johnson was 23rd in the league in overall scoring, as well as second in scoring for defensemen and amongst freshmen with 10 goals and 22 assists in 38 games. Twenty-one of his points came on the power play and tied him for fourth-best in the CCHA.

Johnson is much more than just offense as his physical play and the intimidation factor he brings are as important to his game as the points he gathers. His 149 penalty minutes more than doubled the total of the next closest Michigan player, and was the highest total in the CCHA.

Some had expected the ‘Canes to sign Johnson at the conclusion of this season, but it appears that for now the Hurricanes might decide to let him continue with Michigan rather than turn pro at this juncture, however things might change by the time training camp rolls around.

The previous two seasons to 2005-06, Johnson was with the U.S. National Team Development Program where he was among the best defenders in the system, leading all rearguards in scoring during that time frame. Johnson has also seen some international competition including playing in the IIHF World U-18 Championships the past two years, and this year’s World Junior Championships where he had a goal and five assists along with 45 penalty minutes (the most in the tournament).

3. (3) Andrew Ladd, LW – 21 – Carolina (NHL)
Rating: 8.0B, Projection: First line forward

Along with Ward, Ladd won a Stanley Cup as an NHL rookie this season and made a worthy contribution in adding his name to the cup engraving. He played in 17 games and had two goals and three assists. In the first game of the finals versus Edmonton, Ladd had an assist, and he followed that up with a game-winning goal in game two, a 5-0 triumph by the ‘Canes.

In the regular season, Ladd suffered several injuries and trips between the AHL’s Lowell Lock Monsters and the Hurricanes. With the Lock Monsters Ladd played a total of 25 games and had 11 goals and eight assists, and with the ‘Canes he had six goals and five assists in 29 games.

In 2003-04, his first full season in the WHL with the Calgary Hitmen, Ladd led all rookie scorers and the Hurricanes drafted him fourth overall at the 2004 draft. In 2004-05 his point total dipped some, but he was by no means a disappointment, and he was also a big part of Canada’s 2005 gold medal World Junior team.

4. (4) Anton Babchuk, D – 21 – Carolina (NHL)
Rating: 8.0C, Projection: Top four defenseman

Although the Hurricanes didn’t utilize the native of Ukraine in the playoffs, Babchuk is expected to one day be a big part of the blueline corps in Raleigh. He was acquired on Jan. 20 from the Chicago Blackhawks for Danny Richmond and a swap of fourth round draft picks. He played 17 games for the ‘Hawks before with two goals and three assists and 22 games for Carolina, scoring three goals and adding two assists. In total the 6’5 Babchuk had a -7 rating on the season.

In the AHL in 2005-06, Babchuk had five goals and seven assists in 24 games for the Norfolk Admirals and one goal and three assists in five games for Lowell.

Last season with the Admirals, Babchuk had 24 points in 66 regular season games. He appeared in two playoff games for the Admirals before he was suspended for five games after an incident in which he responded to fan heckling by throwing a water bottle into the stands from the penalty box which struck a child.

5. (5) Kevin Nastiuk, G – 21 – Florida (ECHL)
Rating: 7.5B, Projection: Starting goaltender

Drafted in the fourth round in 2003, Nastiuk has developed well and the Hurricanes signed him for the pro ranks in 2005-06. He struggled with Lowell and had a 1-7-3 record in 11 appearances, along with a 3.45 goals against average and .887 save percentage. In January he was sent to the ECHL’s Florida Everblades and he fared well there in the regular season. The 21-year-old had a 13-4-2 record, 2.52 GAA and .924 save percentage for the ‘Blades. In the playoffs, however, Nastiuk played in just three of the team’s eight games and had one win and one loss in three appearances.

Nastiuk emerged as a top goaltending prospect the past few seasons after appearing in the Memorial Cup in 2003-04 with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Warriors, and then breaking the Medicine Hat franchise shutout record just seven games into 2004-05. He suffered through injury trouble near the end of last season but still had a respectable 2.18 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.

6. (6) Justin Peters, G – 19 – Florida (ECHL)
Rating: 7.5B, Projection: Starting goaltender

After a strong junior career with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors, the Plymouth Whalers were able to obtain their Hurricanes’ prospect midway through the season. Peters appeared in 35 regular season games for the Whalers and in total he finished with a 29-21-2-2 record, 3.14 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. In the playoffs, Peters helped the Whalers to a victory over the Windsor Spitfires in seven games in the first round, but they were eliminated by Guelph in the second round four games to two.

The Hurricanes elected to lock up their second round draft pick for three years on May 31. Peters is a competitive netminder who can handle the puck well and who only needs to improve his consistency to become an effective pro.

7. (7) Casey Borer, D – 20 – St. Cloud State (WCHA)
Rating: 7.0B, Projection: Top four defenseman

Borer was already a key cog in the Huskies defensive machine as a sophomore. As a junior he was captain and the No. 1 defensive-defenseman on the squad. Now entering his senior year, he will further develop into a leader in preparation for turning pro in 2007-08.

In 2005-06, Borer chipped in with some offense for St. Cloud as he had three goals and eight assists in 42 games. However, again, it’s his ability to shut down top offensive opponents that is his greatest asset.

8. (8) Brett Carson, D – 20 – Albany (AHL)
Rating: 7.0B, Projection: Top four defenseman

On June 2, the Hurricanes signed Carson to a three-year contract after he had another impressive season with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. The fourth round pick in 2004 had 11 goals and 29 assists in a full 72-game season while serving as captain of the team. It was his most offensively productive season in his junior career and he also had a +13 rating to go along with it. As a junior, Carson evolved into one of the better two-way defenseman in the league and at 6’5 and 205 lbs he has the pro size necessary to a be an effective blueliner this season in either the ECHL or AHL.

9. (10) Nate Hagemo, D – 19 – University of Minnesota (WCHA)
Rating: 7.0B, Projection: Top four defenseman

Hagemo lost his sophomore season to a serious shoulder injury after just three games. In 2004-05, as a freshman with the Golden Gophers, Hagemo had two goals and seven assists in 25 games. He was also tied for fifth on the team in plus/minus with a rating of +9. Hagemo is on the small side, but he is an excellent skater with good offensive instincts.

Although his development was setback in 2005-06, the Hurricanes hope that Hagemo can continue to show the promise that prompted them to draft him in the second round of 2005.

10. (NR) Harrison Reed, RW – 18 – Sarnia (OHL)
Rating: 7.5C, Projection: Second line winger

As a rookie on a weak Sarnia Sting team, Reed was able to collect 50 points (26 goals) in 68 games. His prowess in the offensive zone is noted, as is his strength on his skates, and his nose for the puck. However, defensive deficiencies can’t be denied and Reed doesn’t always make a beeline for his own zone as evidenced by his team-worst -31 plus/minus rating.

The 6’0, 178-pounder still has some growing to do, but his ability to fill the net bodes well for his long-term prospects.

11. (NR) Jamie McBain, D – 18 – University of Wisconsin (NCAA)
Rating: 7.0C, Projection: Second pairing defenseman

Jamie McBain spent time playing with Shattuck-St. Mary’s before becoming a Hurricanes draft pick. In 2004-05, the native of Fairbault, Minnesota native moved on to the US Under-17 team and had 19 points in 62 games and had a strong showing at the Four Nations Cup where he was named the Most Outstanding Defenseman.

McBain spent 2005-06 with the US Under-18 National Team and in 55 games he had nine goals and 21 assists along with 41 penalty minutes. Six of his nine goals came on the power play.

Although some scouts considered McBain’s abilities to be merely average, the ‘Canes felt the two-way defenseman would add valuable blueline depth to the system late in the second round. In 2006-07, McBain will play for the 2006 NCAA champion University of Wisconsin.

12. (11) Jakub Vojta, D – 19 – Ottawa (OHL)
Rating: 7.0C, Projection: Second pairing defenseman

Vojta was the first overall pick of the Ottawa 67’s in the 2005 CHL Import Draft and soon afterwards the Hurricanes selected the 6’, 194lbs two-way defender in the fourth round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. In 2005-06, Vojta was second in team scoring for rookies with 24 points (two goals) in 65 games and the Czech also had the second best plus/minus on the team (+12). Vojta was named to the OHL’s Second All-Rookie team. In the playoffs he had one assist in six games and was a -3.

Vojta is a crafty passer with 22 assists in 2005-06, and he’s skilled at setting up plays. He’s also a physical player with an edge and his 114 penalty minutes were second highest for the 67’s in the regular season.

13. (14) Ryan Pottruff, D – 20 – Guelph (OHL)
Rating: 6.5B, Projection: Third pairing defenseman

Pottruff started his junior career with the London Knights, but the combination of the ongoing construction of a dynasty there and his own injury troubles kept his ice time and opportunities to a minimum, and so it was a blessing for the Woodstock, Ontario native when he was traded to the Guelph Storm in 2004-05.

Pottruff made the most of the new opportunity, playing in 57 games and collecting 19 points, more than doubling his OHL career total. He was also second on the Storm and 13th in the league with a +22 rating. Pottruff is a scrappy player who won’t hesitate to drop the gloves when necessary and he collected 125 minutes in penalties in the regular season.

14. (NR) Bobby Hughes, C – 18 – Kingston (OHL)
Rating: 7.0C Projection: Second line center

The Richmond Hill, Ontario native blossomed in his third season with the Frontenacs, refining his goal scorer’s touch and reminding everyone why he was such a highly-prized early draft pick when he came into the league at the age of 16. Spending time on a line with Cory Emmerton (DET) certainly helped Hughes’ production, but Hughes already had a pair of impressive seasons under his belt before the 2005-06 campaign kicked off. In 2005-06, playing on the team’s top line, the 18-year-old center bettered his two-year goal total with 35, adding 40 assists.

Hughes has compensated for his lack of height with phenomenal strength. Not content to be an offensively gifted player on the fringes, Hughes is tough to knock off his skates and can hold his own against bigger, stronger defenders. Questions remain as to whether Hughes is a product of the talent that he plays alongside in Kingston or a catalyst in allowing that talent to blossom, but his development last season has allayed any fears that he may not be a good prospect at center.

15. (12) Craig Kowalski, G – 25 – Albany (AHL)
Rating: 6.5C, Projection: Backup goaltender

In 2005-06 Kowalski split time between the AHL’s Lowell Lock Monsters and ECHL’s Florida Everblades. With Lowell, Kowalski appeared in 20 games and posted a 3.38 goals against average along with a .905 save percentage. With the Everblades Kowalski played in 18 games and had a .915 save percentage. His play was slightly more consistent than his 2004-05 rookie year with the Everblades.

Not content to allow the former Northern Michigan keeper to move on just yet, the ‘Canes signed Kowalski to a one-year deal in July. The move came after Kowalski practiced with the Hurricanes through the Stanley Cup playoffs and no doubt benefited from facing NHL-caliber shooters, if only in a practice setting. That was a somewhat unexpected turn of events for the eighth round pick from 2000.

16. (16) Joe Barnes, C – 20 – Saskatoon (WHL)
Rating: 6.5C, Projection: Third line center

Barnes was selected by the Hurricanes in the third round of the 2005 Entry Draft after he had a 62-point season. In 2005-06 Barnes ended up sixth in scoring for the Saskatoon Blades with 25 goals and 27 assists.

Barnes has the size and ability to possibly succeed as a pro, but scouts have wondered about his mental makeup in the past. The Hurricanes are still deciding what to do with the native of Winnipeg, Manitoba and last week he attended a ten-player conditioning camp with other ‘Canes prospects.

17. (NR) Nick Dodge, RW – 20 – Clarkson (NCAA)
Rating: 6.5C, Projection: Third line winger

Nick Dodge was a team MVP and league All-Star in Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey for the Oakville Blades and it resulted in a chance to play for the Clarkson Golden Knights. In his freshman season in 2004-05 he had 18 points (six goals) in 37 games, and in 2005-06 boosted his offensive production to lead the Golden Knights in scoring with 41 points (16 goals) in 38 games. That was also the third-highest point total in the ECAC conference. Three of his 16 goals came on the power play, while four were shorthanded. Dodge was also a +9 on the season.

For his efforts, Dodge was awarded with Clarkson’s Bill Harrison Most Valuable Player Award, the same honor the Hurricanes’ Erik Cole won twice in the late 90’s. He was also the first sophomore in more than 25 years to serve in a leadership capacity on the Golden Knights (Dodge was an Assistant Captain).

18. (17) Risto Korhonen, D – 19 – HPK Hameenlinna (FNL)
Rating: 6.0C, Projection: Third pairing defenseman

Drafted in the fifth round of 2005, Korhonen is a capable blueliner who doesn’t have an abundance of skill, but he plays the position well and uses all of his 6’3 frame. In 2005-06 he’s played in 22 games for HPK Hameenlinna and has registered 18 penalty minutes, but no points. He also played for Finland at the World Junior Championships and had two penalty minutes and a -1 rating in seven games played for the bronze medal-winning team.

19. (NR) Stephane Chaput, C – 18 – Lewiston (QMJHL)
Rating: 6.0C, Projection: Third line forward

In 2005-06, Chaput’s tenacity, hard work, and offensive skills saw him move rapidly up the depth charts in Lewiston, and by mid-season, Chaput was a regular contributor on the second line, playing both on the power play and on the penalty kill, bringing a hard-hitting, tireless forechecking style of play. He finished his first full season with 48 points in 69 games.

Chaput is full of energy on the ice, willing to hit regularly. He is a strong skater with a good nose for the net, and is willing to work hard in the trenches to create plays. A tenacious forechecker as well as a responsible backchecker, Chaput is also a valuable defensive forward, giving fits to the opposition’s top players, and playing hard on the Lewiston penalty kill.

20. (15) Magnus Akerlund, G – 20 – Nykoping (SWE-2)
Rating: 6.0C, Projection: Backup goaltender

Akerlund continues to develop in Sweden where he’s played in both the junior Swedish Elite League as well as the second league. For HV71 under 20 team, Akerlund had a 4.75 goals against average and .863 save percentage in four games played, while for Nykoping of the second league he had a 3.25 goals against average and a .889 save percentage in 21 games. Those numbers have dropped off somewhat from last year’s, and his appearance in the World Junior Championships could also have been better.

Akerlund lost 5-1 in the opening game against the eventual silver medal-winning team from Russia and Sweden’s other netminder, Daniel Larsson, was given every other key start following that. Akerlund did get one more start against Latvia, a game the Swedes won by a score of 10-2. Akerlund finished with a 3.50 goals against average and .849 save percentage in his two games.

It will be interesting to see if Akerlund rebounds from last season and makes it back to the Swedish Elite League, in which he played three games for HV71 in 2004-05. He will begin the 2006-07 season with Skovde IK, a Division 1 team.

Jason Menard, Leslie Treff, Phil Laugher, Sean Ruck, and Kevin Forbes contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.