Calder contender Jeff Skinner takes top spot among Carolina prospects

By Cory Lavalette
Photo: 2008 first-rounder Zack Boychuk has been a force in the AHL this season and will audition for a full-time spot in Carolina in the very near future. (Photo courtesy of Jamie Kellner)

Even though Jamie McBain has graduated from prospect to NHLer, he would have had to relinquish his place at the top of Carolina’s rankings regardless. That’s because Jeff Skinner, the Hurricanes’ 18-year-old rookie phenom, has taken the league by storm.

1. (2) Jeff Skinner, C, 18, 8.5B
Acquired 1st round, 7th overall, 2010

He is less than 60 games into his NHL career, but Skinner has already made his mark. It’s more than the 21 goals and 45 points he’s put up in just 58 games, numbers that helped make him the youngest All-Star in major sports history. Skinner has shown a resilience and competitive fight well beyond his 18 years. Perhaps the most interesting part of Skinner’s game is that it is hard to define. His shifty skating – acquired from his time as a ranked Canadian youth figure skater – makes him unpredictable when the puck is on his stick. Group that with a knack for the being in the right place at the right time, a deadly shot and fierce determination, and you have one of the league’s emerging stars.

2. (4) Zac Dalpe, C, 21, 7.5C
Acquired 2nd round, 45th overall, 2008

The first-year pro earned a spot with the Hurricanes coming out of training camp, but with little ice time available, Carolina opted to return Dalpe to their AHL affiliate in Charlotte in late October. That’s not to say the former Ohio State forward hasn’t impressed during his time in Raleigh. While his numbers with the Hurricanes don’t jump off the page (three goals, one assist in 15 games), Dalpe showed flashes of why he was a second-round pick in 2008. He is an explosive skater who is armed with a hard shot, tools he has used to be a point-per-game player (16 goals, 20 assists in 36 games, tying him for the AHL rookie scoring league despite significantly fewer games than the two players he is tied with) for the Checkers. With spots opening next season among Carolina’s forwards, Dalpe should be ready to make the full-time jump to the NHL in 2011-12.

3. (1) Zach Boychuk, C, 21, 7.5B
Acquired 1st round, 14th overall, 2008

After a disappointing training camp, Boychuk started the season in the AHL needing to re-establish himself as one of Carolina’s top forward prospects. His play with Charlotte has earned him three recalls to Raleigh, where he has – at times – looked like he’s ready for a spot in the NHL. Boychuk has played 23 games with the Hurricanes this season, registering four goals and three assists in roles varying from fourth-line checker to winger to for Canes superstar Eric Staal. Boychuk was at his best when aggressively forechecking and hitting, but also exhibited his speed and hands. With the Checkers, Boychuk has 15 goals and 25 assists in 35 games.

4. (9) Justin Faulk, D, 18, 7.5B
Acquired 2nd round, 37th overall, 2010

The Hurricanes couldn’t be happier with their stable of collegiate defenseman, and one of the cornerstones of that is Faulk. The Minnesota-Duluth defenseman is his team’s top scoring defenseman as a freshman, registering 19 points in 29 games for the fifth-ranked Bulldogs. But it was his play for Team USA at the World Junior Championships that really stood out. Faulk had a goal and three assists in six games at the WJCs in helping the U.S. to a bronze medal.

5. (5) Brian Dumoulin, D, 19, 7.5B
Acquired 2nd round, 51st overall in 2009

Dumoulin was paired with Faulk on Team USA at the World Juniors, perhaps giving the Hurricanes a sneak peek at a future duo on their blue line. While Faulk is stocky and possesses a cannon shot, Dumoulin uses his size (6’4, 210 pounds) and skating to shut down defenders. But that doesn’t mean Dumoulin is lacking offensive skills of his own. The Boston College sophomore has piled up assists for the Eagles, matching his 2009-10 total of 21 in just 26 games, this season plus has scored twice already this year for the NCAA‘s defending champions and top-ranked team. Furthermore, Dumoulin has taken just one penalty all season. Dumoulin had two assists at the WJCs in six games.

6. (3) Drayson Bowman, LW, 21, 7.5C
Acquired 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2007

Like Dalpe, Bowman won a job in Carolina to start the season. But after eight games without a point and little ice time to be had, the Hurricanes sent Bowman back to the AHL where he has spent the remainder of the 2010-11 season. Bowman had 12 points in 14 games in November, but he had a 12-game goal-scoring drought in January that stalled his season. But Bowman had 37 shots in that span, finally breaking through Jan. 23 with a goal and an assist. Bowman continues to run hot and cold – he scored twice against Providence on Feb. 6, but has just three goals overall since 2011 began – but he continues to shoot the puck at a high frequency in an attempt to get back to his goal-scoring ways. After scoring 17 goals last year, Bowman has just eight through 40 games this year, but has already surpassed his assist total from 2009-10 by one by registering his 16th helper in early February.

7. (7) Riley Nash, C, 21, 7C
Acquired via trade on June 26, 2010

Nash’s professional career got off to a slow start with an uneventful training camp with Carolina and no points in his first nine games with Charlotte, but Nash has since notched 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 46 games for the Checkers. Outside of a rough stretch in late December and January when he had just two points in 14 games, Nash has provided consistent secondary scoring for Checkers coach Jeff Daniels. He is currently tied for 16th in AHL rookie scoring, but Nash’s contributions go beyond the scoresheet. He is a capable faceoff man and can play a gritty game when needed.

8. (8) Bobby Sanguinetti, D, 22, 7C
Acquired via trade on June 26, 2010

Sanguinetti thought he was getting a new start and perhaps an NHL shot when Carolina acquired him at last summer’s draft. Instead, the defenseman’s season never really got on track, and he was finally shut down for the regular season following hip surgery Dec. 9. Sanguinetti had nine points in 19 games before being lost for the campaign. At the time of the surgery, the Hurricanes’ Web site reported that Sanguinetti could possibly return in time for the AHL postseason if surgery and rehab go as expected.

9. (12) Oskar Osala, LW, 23, 7C
Acquired via trade on March 3, 2010

Once he’s ready for the NHL, Osala could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Carolina forwar
d corps. The big Finn possesses the size and willingness to get to the front of the net that is lacking in Carolina. On top of his ideal power forward size, Osala possesses the hands needed to convert opportunities and set up teammates, as exhibited in his career-high and team-leading 28 assists through 53 games. His 41 points match his career high from last season when he split the year between Hershey and Albany.

10. (10) Justin Peters, G, 24, 7C
Acquired 2nd round, 38th overall, 2004

It’s hard to know where Peters stands in his development because he’s seen little ice playing behind workhorse Cam Ward this season. Peters didn’t earn his first win of the season until Dec. 15, when he relieved Ward and the Hurricanes rallied for a comeback win over Florida. Since then, he’s won two of three starts, but allowed 11 goals in those starts. Overall, Peters has been decent between the pipes, but his numbers have suffered due to some mop-up duty on nights when Carolina was run out of the building. He stands 3-4-1 with an .879 save percentage and 3.88 goals-against average.

11. (15) Chris Terry, LW, 21, 6.5C
Acquired 5th round, 132nd overall, 2007

A proven scorer in junior, Terry came into his first pro season last year needing to show that he had the all-around game to cut it as an NHL prospect. With that accomplished, the 21-year-old forward entered 2010-11 expected to be a top-six forward in Charlotte. He has responded, ranking third on the teams in goals with 20 through 55 games and, with 40 points already, is closing on the 47 points he registered in his rookie season.

12. (11) Mark Alt, D, 19, 7C
Acquired 2nd round, 53rd overall
, 2010

A year ago, Alt was starring at quarterback for his high school football team. Now he’s a defenseman at Minnesota, one of college hockey’s most historic programs, learning on the fly what it means to compete in the WCHA. While Alt’s numbers aren’t eye-popping (one goal, six assists in 27 games), he’s improved as the season has progressed, earning more responsibility from legendary coach Don Lucia. At 6’3 and 194 pounds, Alt has NHL size and isn’t afraid to use it, and he’s already earned a reputation as a big hitter.

13. (13) Mike Murphy, G, 22, 7D
Acquired 6th round, 165th overall, 2008

With Peters in the NHL, Murphy entered 2010-11 with a chance to earn the No. 1 job with Carolina’s top affiliate. Coach Jeff Daniels has said that he plans to lean on one goalie once the Checkers reach a critical point in the season, but for now Murphy and journeyman Justin Pogge have split the job with similar results. While Pogge uses his size and excellent skating to make stops, Murphy is a never-give-up goalie in the Tim Thomas mold who scrambles to make secondary saves. With his fundamentals improving, Murphy – who is 15-9-2 on the season with a 2.95 goals-against average and .907 save percentage – could hold the inside track for the No. 1 job as soon as Daniels decides to name an everyday starter.

14. (16) Michal Jordan, D, 21, 6.5C
Acquired 4th round, 105th overall, 2008

Most expected Jordan, a first-year professional, would be eased into a role with the Checkers. But the Czech defender has fast become one of Charlotte’s most reliable defensemen. He has three goals and nine assists through 48 games, only behind veteran AHLers Brett Carson and Bryan Rodney among Checkers defensemen, and his plus-11 rating was behind Carson for the team lead.

15. (NR) Justin Shugg, RW, 19, 7C
Acquired 4th round, 105th overall, 2010

Shugg was a complementary player on the Windsor teams that won the last two Memorial Cups. But with Taylor Hall (EDM), Cam Fowler (ANH) and others out of the picture this season, Shugg hoped to emerge from their shadows and go for a Spitfires three-peat. He will be returning to the Memorial Cup tournament, but not with Windsor. Memorial Cup host team Missassauga, who traded for Shugg before the season, has seen Shugg take the opportunity and run with it. Through 51 games, Shugg has 29 goals and 64 points for the Majors, the OHL‘s top team. His four shorthanded goals are one behind the league leaders, and he has six game-winning goals for the Majors. (tied for 6th in the league).

16. (17) Danny Biega, D, 19, 6.5C
Acquired 3rd round, 67th overall, 2010

Biega has been a bright spot in an otherwise dark season for Harvard. The third of three brothers to play for the Crimson, the sophomore defenseman leads all Harvard blueliners in points and is second on the team in scoring with seven goals and 12 assists in 24 games this season. He’s been at his best in conference play, notching 15 points in 17 games against ECAC opponents, including a team-high six goals.

17. (18) Mattias Lindstrom, LW, 19, 6.5C
Acquired 3rd round, 88th overall, 2009

Lindstrom lost almost all of the 2009-10 season to injury, so Carolina has a big decision to make regarding the Swedish power forward. The Hurricanes have just two years to sign Lindstrom or they will lose their rights to him, but the injury coupled with the difficulties in keeping tabs with an overseas player mean the Canes have little evidence on which to make their decision this summer. Lindstrom, who has jumped around various divisionsin Sweden this year, will need to prove he has recovered from his knee injury if Carolina is to offer him a contract.

18. (20) Jerome Samson, RW, 23, 6C
Signed as an undrafted free agent on July 2, 2007

Samson picked up where he left off last season as one of the AHL’s top scorers and unstoppable forces. It took 53 games, but Samson finally earned a promotion to Carolina in mid-February, playing in Carolina’s bottom six while Ryan Carter recovers from injury. Samson thrives in the offensive zone, and he has 26 goals and 28 assists with the Checkers after scoring 78 in 74 games in the AHL last season. Samson will likely return to Charlotte once Carter is healthy, but his play with Carolina so far has him in the running for a bottom six role next season.

19. (NR) Casey Borer, D, 25, 6.5D
Acquired 3rd round, 69th overall, 2004

Once upon a time, Borer looked like he was on the fast track to the NHL. He was recalled from the AHL during the 2007-08 season and played well in an 11-game stint. But Borer suffered a season-ending knee injury that year, then followed that with a broken neck suffered during a bus crash the next campaign, putting a hold on any NHL aspirations. While it’s hard to say Borer is back to where he was in 2007 when his future looked so promising, one can see glimpses of a return to form. Compared to recent seasons, Borer has been healthy this year. In 47 games, he has two goals and seven assists for the Ch

20. (NR) Austin Levi, D, 19, 6C
Acquired 3rd round, 85th overall, 2010

Levi was a bit of a surprise selection in the third round, but his raw athleticism and work ethic was lauded by Plymouth Whalers coach and GM Mike Vellucci, giving Carolina the inside information they needed to land what they hope will be a future stay-at-home NHL defenseman. While most of Carolina’s defensive prospects are two-way or offensive blueliners, Levi’s future is as a defense-first rearguard.