It wasn’t long ago that the Carolina Hurricanes prospect pool looked ankle deep. Straight-to-the-NHL first rounders and struggles developing middle and late-round draft picks kept the Hurricanes at the bottom of the NHL standings.
As a result, GM Ron Francis has made it a priority to build the Hurricanes from the bottom up, trading away expiring contracts for draft selections and prospects while also refusing to patch up the NHL roster with the kind of quick fixes that costed the team assets under the previous regime.
While Carolina is still searching for help at forward, the team has loaded its back end with top-level talent, using each of their past two first-round picks on defensemen, while slowly grooming some CHL and collegiate blueliners for future duty in Raleigh.
20. (NR) David Cotton, C, 7.0 D
Drafted 6th round, 169th overall, 2015
Francis continued to bulk up the Hurricanes with the selection of Cotton, a 6’3, 200-pound center who is bound for Boston College in 2016. Cotton, like most young players his size, has muscle to put on, but already has a graceful stride that one normally does not see at this stage.
He is also a big-time point producer, having registered 120 points in just 65 games the past two seasons with Cushing Academy (Mass). Since Cotton has another year before he heads to NCAA hockey, he will spend the 2015-16 season with Waterloo of the USHL.
19. (NR) Callum Booth, G, 7.0 D
Drafted 4th round, 93rd overall, 2015
With their two NHL goalies set to be unrestricted free agents next July, the Hurricanes added more depth to their goaltending corps by taking the 18-year-old Booth. Booth spent the past two seasons with Quebec of the QMJHL, including going 23-13-2 last season before handing over the starting job to trade acquisition and 2013 Montreal second-round pick Zach Fucale.
Booth wrestled some starts from Fucale in both the regular season and playoffs, and he is now poised to have the No. 1 job for the upcoming season. The 6’3, 201-pound goalie was passed over for Canada’s World Juniors Under-20 evaluation camp, but he will also be eligible for the team in 2017.
In a move the Kings surely regret, the team dealt McKeown and a first-round pick to Carolina for rental defenseman Andrej Sekera. The move backfired for Los Angeles, who missed the playoffs and, as a condition of the trade, will now surrender their first in 2016 instead of 2015. If McKeown turns into an NHL defenseman, it will sting even more.
The 50th overall pick in the 2014 draft, McKeown played four games with Charlotte following the end of OHL Kingston’s season last spring. This upcoming season McKeown figures to be one of many promising faces on Charlotte’s blue line.
17. (NR) Nicolas Roy, C, 7.0 D
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2015
Roy has underachieved after being the first selection in the 2013 QMJHL draft, combining for just 91 points in 131 games through his first two seasons in the most wide open of Canada’s three major junior leagues. But as they say, you can’t teach size—and Roy has it.
At 6’4, 197 pounds, Roy is well on his way to being a big NHL center. The good news for Carolina is, at worst, Roy’s frame and work ethic should propel him to the Hurricanes’ bottom six down the road. He has the skill and vision to be more than that, but will need to have it translate to the ice on a consistent basis. He will return to Chicoutimi for the 2015-16 season.
16. (15) Keegan Lowe, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2011
Like Woods, Lowe earned a two-game promotion to Carolina so the team could get a closer look at one of the more physical defensemen in their pipeline. Lowe didn’t disappoint, fighting Flyers center Vincent Lecavalier twice in his NHL debut on April 9.
Lowe, who finished second on the Checkers in penalty minutes (106) and tied for third in fighting majors (eight), will need to continue his physical play if he hopes to make the full-time jump to the NHL in the future. In two professional seasons, Lowe has just 23 total points in 121 games, but his rugged defensive play makes him an asset on the back end.
15. (13) Lucas Wallmark, C, 6.5 C
Drafted 4th round, 97th overall, 2014
The entire NHL passed on Wallmark at the 2013 NHL draft, but Carolina is certainly glad they circled back the next summer and took a chance on the Swedish pivot. Wallmark put together a second consecutive solid season with Lulea of the Swedish Hockey League, scoring five goals and adding 13 assists in 50 games in 2014-15.
Wallmark signed an entry-level deal this summer and is eligible to play in either the NHL or AHL, but could also opt to return to Sweden for the upcoming season.
14. (NR) Luke Stevens, LW, 6.0 B
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2015
The Hurricanes have never shied away from drafting a familiar face. In Stevens, Carolina drafted the son of former Francis running mate and ’90s power forward extraordinaire Kevin Stevens. The younger Stevens (6’3, 195 pounds) boasts his father’s frame, but he is a long way from being the point-per-game player his dad was in the Penguins’ heyday.
Still, you can’t discount Stevens’ pedigree and style of play. The 18-year-old winger—who is committed to Yale but will not join the Bulldogs until 2016-17—figures to be a bottom-six grinder if he makes the pros—so any scoring Stevens can contribute at the next level will be a bonus.
13. (19) Danny Biega, D, 6.0 B
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2010
Biega got his first taste of the NHL last season, playing 10 games with the Hurricanes and notching two assists to go along with 14 points he had in 69 games with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers in 2014-15. At six feet tall, Biega is one of Carolina’s shortest defensive prospects, but he’s also arguably its strongest. That physical maturity makes Biega a candidate for a spot in Carolina’s defense corps despite the fact he is entering just his third professional season.
The team has just five blueliners signed to one-way deals, so Biega will likely compete with Ryan Murphy, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Rissanen and a few others for the chance to make the Hurricanes out of training camp.
12. (18) Brendan Woods, LW, 6.0 B
Drafted 5th round, 129th overall, 2012
Woods has never been known as a scorer—he had just 22 points in 75 games over two seasons with the Wisconsin Badgers—but the big winger blossomed in his second professional season, finishing fourth on the Checkers in points with 30 (13 goals, 17 assists) in 68 games.
Toss in the fact that Woods already has an NHL body (6’4, 210 pounds) and comes from a hockey family, and it is no surprise that he received a two-game look last December with the Hurricanes. Woods—who was second on Charlotte with nine fighting majors last season—will be one of the players battling for a spot in Carolina’s bottom six this fall, but would likely have to play on his off wing since the team is lacking on the right side.
11. (12) Clark Bishop, C, 6.0 B
Drafted 5th round, 127th overall, 2014
Bishop’s credentials as a hard-working, on-ice leader were well known. But 2014-15 saw the Cape Breton captain up his production, registering career highs in goals (19) and points (35) despite playing in just 38 games due to injury. That carried over into the postseason, where Bishop was tops on the Screaming Eagles with five goals and eight points in their seven-game series loss to Quebec.
Cape Breton could be one of the QMJHL’s top teams in 2015-16, and Bishop should be able to set career marks it what figures to be his final junior season.