With the lack of high-end talent in their farm system and an urgent need for game changers at the professional level, the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves in a familiar position. The organization made bold moves by putting top prospects Ryan Murphy and Elias Lindholm on their NHL roster to start the 2013-14 season. Now once again, the minor ranks are depleted of high-end talent and the Hurricanes' success relies on several rookies making an immediate impact.
The good news for the Hurricanes is that there are actually quite a few decent prospects on the left wing. Phil Di Giuseppe remains the top winger in the system and becomes their top scoring prospect after the departure of Zac Dalpe to the Vancouver Canucks. Di Giuseppe is a talanted winger who is currently in his third season with the University of Michigan.
Di Giuseppe is followed by a nice pickup in Russian prospect Sergey Tolchinsky, who went undrafted in 2013. Tolchinsky will be looked upon to bring speed and scoring, but will need to develop into a top-six winger, as his lack of size may hold him back from being an effective grinder or energy player.
Meanwhile CHL players Brock McGinn and Brent Pedersen's physical games are under the microscope. Both bring an evolving scoring touch to the game, but they are valued more for their grit and tenacity.
The Hurricanes have a rather decent top-six capable of scoring goals and their core is on the right side of thirty. The team does however need wingers who can hit, play stellar defense, and add energy at opportune times.
Elias Lindholm is the future linchpin of the Hurricanes offense and the highest quality prospect they have had in years. An elite playmaker from Sweden, Lindholm has officially logged his first five games in the NHL and has been somewhat of a letdown from what management expected. The former fifth overall pick at times looks lost on the ice and is often invisible for the 10 minutes or less he has averaged thus far. A fluky goal against the rival Washington Capitals may have bought the youngster some time with the team, but as the season wears on, management might second guess their decision to play him in the NHL right away.
If Lindholm continues to struggle with the big boys there is AHL veteran Victor Rask waiting in the wings, eager to claim a role in Raleigh. At this point in time, it might be a better idea to start the older more experienced Rask over Lindholm.
Starting Rask does two things for the Hurricanes; it allows a player who has paid his dues and is more suited for bottom six minutes a real shot in the NHL. Second, it allows management to save face. Other than Jonathan Drouin who was sent back to the QMJHL by Tampa Bay, the top six 2013 draft picks other than Lindholm have been very successful very quickly. It may be time to cut losses for this season and try again next year when the Hurricanes are ready to put a more successful product on the ice.
Erik Karlsson will continue to play in Europe for the entire season and it seems that the Hurricanes have decided to give young Brody Sutter a shot at the big leagues. What Sutter can bring in the immediate future to the Hurricanes will likely determine his career with the team.
Fortunately for Carolina, they have Alexander Semin signed to a long-term deal and will not have to worry about a premier right winger for the next couple of years.
Behind Semin is Jeff Skinner, who appears on the cusp of a breakout season. Behind Skinner and Semin, the future of the club's success at right wing appears rather bleak.
Kellan Tochkin, now the Hurricanes' top rated prospect at right wing came from the Vancouver Canucks in a trade that saw Jeremy Welsh and Dalpe shipped off in the opposite direction. Tochkin, like Welsh and Dalpe, fell out of favor with his prior club and is looking for a fresh start. Whether or not the change of scenery works remains to be seen.
Brendan Woods, the former collegiate prospect is viewed as a project and while he has nice qualities that would make him a great NHL player, it is unclear if he has the skill to back it up.
Jared Staal remains with the team at the AHL level and has much more to prove than his fellow prospects after posting an inexcusable seven points in 52 games last year, which earned him a brief call up to the NHL.
Defense is the major strength of the Hurricanes prospect pool. The organization has selected many defensemen in the early rounds of the NHL draft and they are starting to make an impact at the professional level.
The most NHL-ready of the group appears to be Ryan Murphy, who is currently playing in the NHL. The 12th overall pick in 2011, Murphy has incredible moves that most forwards cannot even duplicate. He is a gifted passer and has shown a knack for being able to handle the powerplay. Murpy's defensive game needs work and he will need to limit his mistakes, but that is common for young offensive defensemen.
After Murphy it appears as if the rest of the Hurricanes defensemen might have to put their dreams of making it to the NHL on hold for at least one year. Recently graduated Brent Bellemore has been elevated to the pro club and has been favored over veteran Mike Komisarek more than once. After Joni Pitkanen was shut down for the year with a nasty leg injury, Carolina signed former Winnipeg Jet Ron Hainsey, who thus far has been a suitable replacement for the big Finnish puck-mover.
With the exceptions of Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin toiling in the NCAA, and defensive defenseman Tyler Ganly playing in the CHL, the mass majority of the farm is playing in Charlotte. This is a double-edged sword for the Canes. While the players will be getting professional experience, it creates a log jam for ice time.
Danny Biega remains the favorite to make the occasional trip north to Raleigh for a game or two but there will be battle for ice time and attention in Charlotte. Vying for time behind Biega are Keegan Lowe, Michal Jordan, Rasmus Rissanen, Beau Schmitz, and Austin Levi.
Whether or not the Hurricanes wish to proceed with all these defensemen will be an ongoing storyline this season. With Murphy and Bellemore appearing to earn their spot, Carolina could explore their trade options. After all, the team has an immediate need for forwards and not too much demand for defenseman anymore, especially a team rolling the dice on playing two rookies at the same time.
Cam Ward is a revered hero in North Carolina and Anton Khudobin has been a serviceable backup the likes of which the Canes have not seen in awhile.
Daniel Altshuller remains the top goaltending prospect and rightfully so. The young netminder has put up very good numbers with the Oshawa Generals thus far this season. Though Altshuller is an attractive prospect that keeps on improving, he has yet to be signed to an entry-level contract. The Canes will have to choose whether or not to sign him by the 2014 off-season.
Behind Altshuller is Ohio State University product Collin Olson. In order to get a more accurate reading on Olson's potential, he will need to be a regular starter for the Buckeyes. The 19-year-old has shown some flashes in the National Developmental program but has yet to provide a clear view on how good he really can be in the NCAA.