Lindholm debuts atop Carolina Hurricanes fall Top 20 ranking

By Robert Theodorson

Elias Lindholm - Carolina Hurricanes

Photo: Selected fifth overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, center Elias Lindholm (right) brings tremendous playmaking ability to the Carolina Hurricanes lineup. (courtesy of JUSSI NUKARI/AFP/Getty Images)

An injury riddled 2012-13 season saw the Carolina Hurricanes miss the playoffs for a fourth straight year. The organization finished tied for the fifth worst record in the NHL and struggled mightily to keep the puck out of their own net. Despite their struggles last season, the Hurricanes head into the 2013-14 season with a ‘win now’ mentality.

Aside from a few possible bottom-six forward positions available, the biggest story this preseason will be the battle for one of the final defensive spots. Carolina boasts more prospects at defense than any other position by far, with offensive contributors, physical stay-at-home guys, and many others possessing a wide array of skills.

1. (NR) Elias Lindholm, C, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 5th overall, 2013

In Lindholm, Carolina drafted a player who has the capability to make an instant impact at the NHL level. The former Swedish Elite League forward has all the tools to become one of the NHL’s premier playmaking centers. As soon as he was drafted, the young center instantly became Carolina’s top prospect and the only one who is almost guaranteed to have a successful NHL career. Lindholm comes with high praise and Carolina GM Jim Rutherford has stated on several occasions that he believes Lindholm is fully NHL ready.

Following in the footsteps of former first round pick and Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner, Lindholm looks set to bypass all lower ranks of hockey and go right into the NHL at 18 years old.

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

It is no mistake that Ryan Murphy remains Carolina’s best defensive prospect even in a farm system that has an over abundance of defensemen. Murphy’s skill set contains a knack for setting up plays, moving the puck through all zones, and scoring. Projected to be an offensive dynamo through his career and development, the Kitchener Rangers captain will look to have a healthy career putting up lots of points and being a leader on the powerplay.

Murphy should one way or another make the NHL roster this season either playing as the team’s seventh defenseman or in a lower pairing. He should expect to see plenty of time on the man-advantage whenever he is in the lineup.  

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

There is always a place in the NHL for a skilled center who can play both ends of the ice and play big minutes on special teams. With that being said Rask fits the bill better than anyone else in the Hurricanes’ organization. A smart playmaker with above average defensive skills, Rask figures to be a mainstay for years to come, assuming he can carve out a position on the Hurricanes NHL roster.

With the Staal brothers occupying to the top six for years to come, and Elias Lindholm getting first dibs on the open center position on the third line, Rask might be hard pressed for playing time. Unless the Hurricanes want to try him out on the fourth line or play him on the wing, he should not be expected to see regular NHL duties next season.

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

Dalpe has spent the better part of his young career in the AHL and has proved he has a knack for scoring. While he may not be an instant offensive threat, he does benefit from being the most promising scorer on the Charlotte Checkers’ roster. On a Carolina team that does not have too much scoring ability in the bottom six, Dalpe has an honest shot at making the team, as he has certainly spent enough time proving he can make it in the AHL.

Dalpe has scored 15 or more goals in each of his three AHL seasons and has eclipsed 20 goals two of those years. If he can impress his coaches in camp and score some early goals in the NHL season, Dalpe might finally have found a permanent home with the Canes as a tertiary scoring option.

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

Hurricane fans are excited about a lesser known talent named Di Guiseppe and rightfully so. The sizeable winger has a strong work ethic and puts up numbers as a result. Di Giuseppe is not as established as Dalpe, a player with a comparable skillset, but has just as much or even more scoring potential in him.

The Hurricanes can afford to not rush Di Giuseppe to the pros. He will spend the next few seasons playing in college and refining his game.

6. (NR) Brett Pesce, D, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 66th overall, 2013

In the third round of the 2013 draft, the Hurricanes believe they have found a great defensive prospect in Brett Pesce. A highly freshman in 2013, Pesce is a sound two-way defenseman who is steady in his own end, but has shown a great ability at an early age to move the puck with ease.

Not necessarily a raw talent, Pesce will need to polish his skills at the NCAA level with the University of New Hampshire before he turns pro.

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

The highly touted defensive prospect is finally entering his first pro season and will be watched very closely by the Hurricanes staff. High-scoring by nature, and having sound fundamentals on defense, Biega is a versatile defenseman who can fill a variety of different roles.

His first season in the AHL will be a good indicator as to how far along he is in his development and whether or not he is close to playing in the NHL. Biega will most certainly challenge for a defensive spot on the Hurricanes’ roster this camp.

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

Like his brother Jamie (COL), Brock plays an up-tempo physical game that is intended to break down opponents. The feisty winger is not particularly offensively inclined, but does possess a skillset that will keep him in the professional ranks, so long as he remains the absolute best at what he does.

McGinn’s drive and tenacity should translate into an effective bottom-six pest type player in the professional ranks. While he lacks in size, his mobility and energy could play to his advantage and establish himself as an undersized grinder, who can be anywhere on the ice in a short matter of time.

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

Keegan Lowe has shown tremendous promise in recent years and will be starting his professional career shortly. The son of former NHL defenseman Kevin Lowe, Keegan experienced a dramatic uptick in offense in the 2012-13 season, exploding for a career high 13 goals and 31 points. While he may not be the most NHL ready prospect, he certainly has become one of the most promising and intriguing to watch.

Lowe will likely start the 2013-14 season playing a depth role in the AHL.

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

Altshuller is an up and coming talent and certainly Carolina’s best prospect between the pipes. Last season when NHL starter Cam Ward went down with an injury, the Hurricanes were painfully exposed at their lack of depth in goal. Nobody could hang on to the number one spot and it was clear that there was an apparent need for future goalies.  

With next season looking good for Carolina with a healthy Cam Ward and able backup in Anton Khudobin, Altshuller should not have his development interfered with. That being said, if Ward’s injury problems continue or Khudobin bails after 2013-14, Altshuller will be looked upon to fill some big shoes in the near future.

11. (3) Jeremy Welsh, LW, 7.0D
Signed as free agent, April, 5th, 2012

Welsh has dropped off considerably in Carolina’s prospect ranking since last season. The 25-year-old center from Ontario did himself no favors by posting pedestrian numbers in the AHL last year and did not impress during his limited call ups.

Welsh is a big bodied center who has let other more skilled players in the organization overshadow him as of late. No longer considered a top five forward in Carolina’s farm system, if Welsh hopes to have a future in the NHL, he must prove it this coming season.  

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

Slavin is that rare type of player who shows exemplary leadership qualities at a young age. Though he has not had the best environment to bud in recently, playing in the USHL a struggling Chicago Steel team, Slavin has made the most of his opportunities and makes his entire team better. He defied all odds by being drafted in the fourth round in 2012 when he was not even ranked by some scouting services.

For a defenseman, Slavin will need to pick up his physical game, but he has a promising work ethic, so it should not be a concern. Slavin does possess a fair amount of skill as well, having averaged about half-a-point per game over the past two seasons in the USHL.

Slavin is scheduled to attend Colorado College in the Fall.

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

Participating in just about every tournament that will have him, forward Erik Karlsson has impressed coaches and scouts on the international stage. Though he is a talented playmaker, his job of cracking the Hurricanes roster just got a lot tougher by his fellow countryman Elias Lindholm who holds almost every advantage in the game over him. Still, in addition to skill, Karlsson provides a tough presence and a high compete level that should be considered an asset to just about team he plays on.

He is scheduled to play for Frolunda next season, though he could also see time on their U20 squad as well. Karlsson will have to re-adapt to the higher competition level, as he will be playing against grown men and will not see the amount of quality opportunities he did at the lower levels.

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

Though he was a fourth round pick, Carrick has put up some decent numbers and has shown impressive defensive play in his young career. The tools are there to set himself apart from the plethora of defensemen in the Hurricanes organization, it will just take time to see if they are utilized properly.

In order to succeed at the next level Carrick is going to have to improve his defensive positioning to the point where it becomes an art form. While he is not unwilling to jump in on an offensive play Carrick recognizes that his primary responsibility is his own end, as he will rarely take any chances that might cost his team possession. Carrick is a clever player that can be coached up to par on all his shortcomings.

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

An intimidating player who is doing fine work on his personal discipline Levi enters the 2013-14 season at the same time as many of his fellow prospects are also going pro. Levi is one of the Hurricanes’ more powerful players and that will come in handy when he needs to prove himself in the higher ranks. One reason for Levi’s success at such a young age is due to the immense size advantage he had over his fellow players in juniors. Already standing tall at 6’4 and weighing in at 210 pounds, Levi has the body of a football player. Look for Levi to show off his physicality over the next few years. The hulking defenseman will start next season in either the AHL or ECHL.

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

Jordan is a decent sized puck moving defenseman who can put up plenty of points and has progressed rather nicely over the course of his young career. There is concern however that he may be starting to get bypassed by other prospects in the system. Jordan is good offensively, but his game is one-dimensional and he needs to add weight and improve his positioning. With a one year contract in hand, Jordan will have to prove to the Charlotte Checkers that he can play with the same gusto that saw him rack up plenty of points in the OHL.

17. (NR) Brent Pedersen, LW, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2013

Pedersen is a hulking forward who is an extremely raw talent. He will have to be one of Kitchener’s best players for the next few years to prove he can at least take on a fulltime bottom-six role in the pros.

Pedersen projects to be a third or fourth line energy player who can provide a spark with a big hit, a goal, or a fight. Should he continue to progress on the finer aspects of his offensive game, he could turn into a pleasant surprise for a late-round pick.

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

Woods is a do-it-all type of player who is able to play all forward positions and is quite good in the faceoff circle, an area of the game that Carolina, or any team for that matter, cannot get enough of. He is also big, strong, and loves to drive to the net. He also plays a smart physical game.

Following the end of his sophomore year at Wisconsin, Woods signed an entry-level contract with the Hurricanes and appeared in two AHL games. He is expected to join

19. (NR) Tyler Ganly, D, 6.0D
Drafted 6th round, 156th overall, 2013

Ganley is fairly one-dimensional in his physical style of play, but shows enough promise in that part of his game that he could one day develop into a solid stay-at-home defenseman. He is fairly good defensively, and not afraid to drop the gloves, but he his skating needs work if he is to become a successful stay at home defenseman at a higher level. He could also stand to upgrade his puck-handling, even though he will likely never be a big point producer. He will return to the OHL to play with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for at least one more season, and could see an increase in ice time if teammate Darnell Nurse (EDM) makes the NHL roster.

20. (NR) Jared Staal, RW, 6.0D
Traded with Phoenix Coyotes, May 13th, 2010

The youngest Staal will once again join his brothers, however it may be a long while before we see young Jared crack an NHL roster again if at all. Due to a mounting number of injuries last season and the realization that their season was over once a playoff spot was unachievable, the youngest Staal brother got some NHL ice time over some more highly regarded prospects.

The organization may be running out of patience for Staal, who is entering his fourth full year as a pro. Though he may turn into a fine AHL regular someday, he has not yet proven he is ready to contribute at the NHL level in a regular capacity.