Murphy and Rask remain top prospects for Carolina Hurricanes

By Brian Fogarty

Victor Rask - Carolina Hurricanes

Photo: Forward Victor Rask split the 2012-13 season between the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL and the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. Rask projects to be a second-line forward for the Hurricanes, possibly as soon as next year. (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Despite lacking a lot of depth and talent, the Carolina Hurricanes organization has top-end prospects in the pipeline, including the offensively talented defenseman Ryan Murphy, and a potential rising offensive star in Victor Rask. There are also several good depth defensemen who, in the near future, could solidify the Carolina blue line.

1. (1) Ryan Murphy, D, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 12th overall, 2011

Over the last eight months, Ryan Murphy played hockey for four different teams in two hemispheres at four levels of competition. Murphy captained the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL, and collected 49 points through 54 regular season games. He helped lead the Rangers to the Western Conference Semi-Finals, where they fell in five games to the eventual Western Conference champion London Knights. Murphy also played for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia, but his trip there also ended in disappointment after Canada lost to the US in the semi-finals and failed to win a medal. In late February, Murphy got his first chance to play in the NHL, and saw four games of scoreless action before his emergency call up ended. After his OHL season, he joined the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL where he scored four points in eight games.

Murphy is a gifted offensive defenseman, with great vision and the passing ability to get the puck to open players. The former first-round pick lacks size and still needs extensive development of his defensive skills, but when the puck is on his stick, he makes things happen. Although he seems destined to be a powerplay specialist at the NHL level, if he can acquire the patience and determination to play a solid game in his own end, he could become a valuable top-four defenseman.

2. (2) Victor Rask, C, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2011

Rask missed significant time from the Hitmen roster this year, not due to injury (a knee injury caused him to miss several games at the end of the 2011-12 season), but because he was getting an extended look with the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL, and then playing for Sweden in the World Junior Championships. Yet, having played in just 37 regular season games in the WHL, Rask scored 14 goals and 27 assists, good enough for a seventh-overall spot on the team's scoring list. However, Rask shone during Calgary's playoff run. He was the team's leading scoring through seventeen games, and helped carry the Hitmen to the Eastern Conference Finals before they lost in seven games to the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Rask has speed and good size, and he uses both to protect the puck and buy time for his linemates to find space. He has the ability to battle in the corners and maintain puck possession, even when harried by several opponents. Rask is not an elite-level scorer, but with his hockey sense and physical play, he should develop into a valuable contributor on the Hurricanes second line.

3. (4) Zac Dalpe, C/W, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 45th overall, 2008

Dalpe rebounded from a frustrating 2011-12 season and put in a performance that has him back on track for a possible NHL role in the near future. He used his well-rounded game to score 21 goals and 21 assists in 54 AHL games (among the top four in Checkers scoring). He also had the chance to play in 10 NHL games during the season, where he mostly held his own and tallied a goal and two assists while playing primarily third-line minutes. Dalpe will need to continue the hard work and gritty style of play if he is to secure a full-time NHL spot next season.

4. (8) Riley Nash, C, 6.5B
Trade with Edmonton Oilers, June 26th, 2010

The proximity of the Hurricanes AHL affiliate played an important role for Nash this season as he made several trips back and forth between Charlotte and Raleigh. By season's end, Nash had played in 32 NHL games and finished with four goals and five assists. His play with the Hurricanes was mostly average, interspersed with a few good games (he scored five of his nine points in just two games). His speed was an asset, but he will need to find more ways of being effective in a two-way effort in order to earn a permanent spot with the team.

5. (3) Jeremy Welsh, C, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent, April 5th, 2012

Welsh came into the season with high expectations after signing with the Hurricanes last spring. However, despite decent numbers with Union College, he has struggled to bring the same offense to the professional level. The 24 year old rookie forward failed to make the Hurricanes team after the truncated training camp, but he did see action in five games for Carolina during brief call-ups. Welsh will get another chance in the fall, but he faces a difficult climb to the NHL next year. He is in a precarious position of being older and more physically developed while still being new to the professional leagues. He will need to find the right mixture quickly if he is to have a shot at an NHL career.

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

Michigan suffered through a down year in 2012-13, and the effect on Di Giuseppe's overall performance shows in his statistical output. While ending the season tied for third for assists, fifth in scoring and third in shots on net would be welcome production for most NCAA players at an established program, the lack of relative improvement over the preceding year is disappointing for Di Giuseppe. However, in terms of his play on the ice, the 19-year-old sophomore exhibited many encouraging signs of development. Although there were moments when his decision-making still looked raw, he improved his on-ice presence and patience. Di Giuseppe is still a work in progress. However, if he continues to improve his mental game to the point where it augments his many skills instead of detracting from them, he could become a force in the NCAA game, and eventually at the NHL level. Further, while his 6'1, 201-pound frame is not small, he will continue to benefit from added strength in order to evolve his power game.

7. (9) Danny Biega, D, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2010

Biega finished out his college career as the captain for the Harvard Crimson. He led his team in scoring from the blue line with two goals and nine assists, totals that were a far cry from the 35 points of his junior season. To be fair, the team as a whole dropped more than 30 percent in goal-scoring from the 2011-12 season, as it staggered to a last place conference finish. At season's end, Biega signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Hurricanes.

Biega brings leadership, skating and a two-way skillset to Carolina's professional organization. After a year or so of AHL seasoning and acclimation to the speed and size of the highest level of minor-league hockey, he should progress into a dependable middle-pair defenseman for the Hurricanes.

8. (12) Brock McGinn, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2012

McGinn is an interesting prospect. At just 5'10 and 174 pounds, he does not fit the physical mold of an agitator and defensive forward. However, the 19-year-old left winger plays the game as if he were 6'2, 215 pounds. He is an aggressive, shut-down defensive forward who is always moving his feet and challenging opponents. After missing half of the previous season with a wrist injury, McGinn returned to Guelph this year on a mission. He was again given alternate captain responsibilities, and he led the team through hard work and determination. He scored 28 goals in 68 games, and assisted on another 26 goals. With his size, McGinn will have to continue to show the same kind of intensity and willingness to battle all over the ice in order to eventually crack the NHL lineup.

9. (14) Michal Jordan, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 105th overall, 2008

In his third season of professional hockey, Jordan finally got his first taste of life in the NHL. He played five games with the Hurricanes in late February, called up to replace the injured Joni Pitkanen. Although he failed to score in those five games, he did show that he is a reliable and developing blueliner who is nearly ready for a full-time NHL roster spot. Jordan was named to the AHL All-Star team this year, and was consistently among the best of the Checkers defensemen. He scored six goals with 10 assists for Charlotte in just 54 games. He might not have the offensive flash of Ryan Murphy, or the size of Austin Levi, but he is a defenseman on the rise in the Hurricanes system.

10. (11) Austin Levi, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 85th overall, 2010

Levi is one of the biggest defenders in the Hurricanes system at 6'4, and 205 pounds. The 21-year-old played an overage year with Plymouth, and finished with two goals and 15 assists in 58 games, off the pace of his previous season. Although he was not relied on to generate offense for the Whalers, he still finished third in scoring among the Plymouth defensemen. Levi is already under contract with Carolina, and will begin his professional career next season.

11. (15) Daniel Altshuller, G, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 69th overall, 2012

The Hurricanes third-round pick last year took over the starting goaltender job for the Oshawa Generals last season, and turned in a solid performance. In 58 regular season games he registered a .909 save percentage with a 2.62 goals against average. He has good size for the current NHL standard (he is 6'4, 205 pounds) and plays with sound technique and positioning. Although Altshuller did not receive the same kind of recognition as some of the other goaltenders in his draft class (he was the sixth netminder selected last year), he has become a steady performer and his stock is rising. 

12. (13) Keegan Lowe, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2011

Keegan Lowe is a hometown player for the Edmonton Oil Kings and son of former NHL defenseman and Oilers President Kevin Lowe. In 64 games for the Oil Kings, the younger Lowe netted 15 goals (more than doubling his total from his three previous WHL seasons combined) with 148 penalty minutes and finished at plus-38. Already under contract with the Hurricanes, Lowe will get a chance to work his way into a top-pair role in the AHL next season.

13. (7) Chris Terry, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 132nd overall, 2007

Terry got his first taste of NHL play this season, even if it was only for three games. The 24-year-old winger has played the last four seasons in the AHL, where he has established himself as a consistent scoring threat. However, as a smaller player, Terry simply does not have the type of skating ability that will allow him to create space and time in the NHL. As such, he will likely play out the rest of his career as a top-tier AHL player with brief opportunities to play in the NHL as an injury replacement.

14. (16) Jaccob Slavin, D, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 120th overall, 2012

Slavin played the season in the USHL as he prepared for his collegiate career. In 62 games for the Chicago Steel, Slavin led defensemen on his team with five goals and 28 assists. His offensive totals earned him a spot on the league's top-10 list for blueliners. Slavin has good height at 6'2, but at just 180 pounds, he needs add muscle and weight before he will be ready to play professional hockey.

15. (17) Erik Karlsson, C, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 99th overall, 2012

Karlsson played the majority of the year in the Swedish junior league, where he scored 10 goals and 25 assists in 40 games for Frolunda's junior team. He also saw action in five games for the men's team. He will continue to play in Sweden, and should spend the next season in the Elitserien in a full-time role, though like most players under twenty, his ice time will be limited. Getting experience at that level will help in Karlsson's development as a small but skilled forward.

16. (20) Trevor Carrick, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2012

Yet another prospect that the Hurricanes added in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, Carrick is a stay-at-home type of defender with a good sense for moving the puck forward. He scored 10 goals for Mississauga this season despite playing in just 56 games. Carrick will play another year of junior hockey in 2013-14.

17.  (NR) Justin Shugg, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 105th overall, 2010

Shugg can score, but he lacks the size and speed to be a major threat even at the AHL level. However, he works hard at both ends of the ice, and his production has begun to improve. He once again split time between the ECHL and the AHL this year, but he was on the Checkers post-season roster and scored a goal in four games. He will continue to play in the minor leagues as he tries to develop the non-scoring parts of his game and find a role that can help him make his way to the NHL.

18. (NR) Gregory Hofmann, C, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 103rd overall, 2011

Hofmann played for Davos in the Swiss league last season, and he finished sixth overall in team scoring behind a couple of NHL veterans (Joe Thornton played 33 games there during the lockout and former New Jersey Devils forward Petr Sykora signed with Davos after failing to receive an NHL contract). Hofmann scored 16 goals with 11 assists in 49 regular season games. He will play in Switzerland again next year, but could make the transition to North America in the near future.
 
19. (NR) Matt Mahalak, G, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 163rd overall, 2011

After getting his first opportunity as the number one netminder for the Whalers, Mahalak struggled in the 2012-13 season and eventually lost the Plymouth starting job to seventeen-year-old rookie Alex Nedeljkovic. Inconsistent and often lackluster play caused Mahalak's downfall last season. He posted a .868 saves percentage in the month of January, stopping just 203 of 226 shots and allowed 23 goals in nine games. Things went downhill from there, and he saved only 86.2 percent of the 123 shots he faced in six games in February. Mahalak turned 20 in January, and at this time his future is uncertain. However, with the lack of depth in goal throughout the Carolina organization, Mahalak could get a chance to sign a contract with the team this offseason and try to work his way back into form in the lower levels of professional hockey.

20. (NR) Brendan Woods, RW, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 129th overall, 2012

Woods has excellent size at 6'3 and 201 pounds, and he uses that size to play a physical game. He signed an entry-level contract at the end of his sophomore season with the University of Wisconsin, and got a brief taste of professional hockey for Charlotte. In his 75 games of NCAA hockey, Woods scored just 10 goals and 12 assists. He will need to work hard to earn a spot as an energy player at the NHL level.