Zac Dalpe ascends to top spot among Hurricanes prospects

By Cory Lavalette

Photo: Zac Dalpe is the new top prospect for the Carolina Hurricanes. (Photo courtesy of Jamie Kellner)

Jeff Skinner made his mark in 2010-11, winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie and cementing his status as the best rookie in Carolina’s franchise history. His official graduation as a prospect leaves a big void at the top of the Hurricanes’ top 20, but the cupboards aren’t bare.

1. (2) Zac Dalpe, C, 7.5B
Drafted 2nd round, 45th overall, 2008

Dalpe made a big impression on the Canes prior to last season, earning a roster spot to start the season. But ice time was hard to come by, and Carolina sent Dalpe back to the AHL for more seasoning. The move seemed to work – Dalpe was among the AHL‘s top players in 2010-11, finishing with 57 points (23 goals, 34 assists) in just 61 games. His point total with Charlotte was good for 29th in the AHL, and he finished third among all rookies.

Dalpe has the inside track for a full-time roster spot in 2011-12, though it’s not clear if he will remain at center or move to the right wing where Carolina has some uncertainty. Either way, Dalpe could see top-six minutes from the get-go, a stark contrast from the 7:56 minutes he averaged in 15 games with the Canes last season when he scored three goals and added an assist.

2. (NR) Ryan Murphy, D, 8C
Drafted 1st round, 12th overall, 2011

Not since the Hurricanes acquired freewheeling defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh in 2000 has GM Jim Rutherford gambled on his defense as he did this offseason. The signing of free agent Tomas Kaberle and subsequent trade of mainstay Joe Corvo certainly raised eyebrows, but probably not as many as Carolina landing Murphy, a speedy offensive-minded blueliner, with the 12th overall pick.

It marked the first time since the team took Jack Johnson third overall in 2005 that the Canes used their first-rounder on a defenseman. And while Murphy’s fall to the Canes was a pleasant surprise, his selection does present high-risk, high-reward potential. Murphy registered 79 points in 63 games with the Kitchener Rangers last season, plus another 11 points in seven playoff games. He will be given an opportunity, like Skinner, to win a job in Raleigh this season, but chances are he will return to the OHL for another season.

3. (4) Justin Faulk, D, 7.5B
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2010

It took only one year for Faulk to reach the top of collegiate hockey. The freshman defenseman was a key cog in Minnesota-Duluth’s run to the NCAA title. He had 33 points in 39 games, including eight goals – six on the power plays – and 25 assists, and had three assists in the Frozen Four semifinal game against Notre Dame.

Faulk turned pro following Minnesota-Duluth’s championship victory, joining the Charlotte Checkers for their push to the AHL‘s final four. In 13 games, Faulk had two assists, and he should be back on the Checkers’ blue line for most, if not all, of the 2011-12 season.

4. (5) Brian Dumoulin, D, 7.5B
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2009

While Faulk fast-tracked his pro career by jumping from college after one season, Dumoulin decided that after two very productive NCAA seasons he would come back to Boston College for a third. It will be tough for Dumoulin to exceed the standard he set his first two years with the Eagles, which saw him win a championship his freshman season and follow that up by being named Hockey East’s top defensive defenseman last year.

All that being said, Dumoulin is a young junior – he will turn 20 Sept. 6 – and still has room to grow into his 6’3 frame. Dumoulin’s combination of size, defensive prowess (more positional and rangy than physical) and emerging offensive skills (33 points in 37 games in 2010-11, 11 more points than he scored in 42 games as a freshman) make him a key part of Carolina’s future on the back end.

5. (NR) Victor Rask, C, 8D
Drafted 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2011

A year ago, Rask was considered a potential high first round pick, but an inconsistent year that included Rask asking for a demotion to his Swedish Elite League squad’s second team so he could have more playing time contributed to his slide in the draft. But 6’4, 194-pound centers who can create plays with slick hands and creativity are hard to come by. Furthermore, Rask was one of the draft’s best faceoff men. All of that contributed to Carolina taking a chance on Rask with its second pick.

But there are concerns. On top of his inconsistencies last season, Rask sometimes avoids the dirty areas one needs to go to score in the NHL. But his improvement in his own end, coupled with the undeniable offensive potential he exhibits, make him an intriguing prospect – and possibly a second-round steal. Rask will be in camp with the Canes, but if he doesn’t make the NHL club there are many options for the Swedish center, including the AHL, WHL, or a return to Europe.

6. (3) Zach Boychuk, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 14th overall, 2008

Boychuk emerged as one of the AHL’s top point-producing threats last season, finishing with 65 points in just 60 games with the Checkers. But 2011-12 could very well be a make-or-break year for the former first-rounder.

Last season, Boychuk was penciled in for a spot in Carolina, but a disappointing training camp and preseason led to his demotion to Charlotte. He did get in to 23 games with the Hurricanes last season, scoring four goals and adding three assists, but he never seemed to put everything together during his time in Raleigh. Still, there were flashes where Boychuk showed the speed and skills that made him such a high pick. But another season that begins without Boychuk in the NHL is another step closer to him never earning a full-time job with the Hurricanes.

7. (6) Drayson Bowman, LW, 6.5B
Drafted 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2007

Once upon a time, Bowman was pegged as a sniper with top-line potential. But with just 29 goals in two AHL seasons, it’s been Bowman’s defensive play, not his shot, that has helped him make in-roads with the Hurricanes. Like Dalpe, he made the Canes’ roster out of camp last season but saw limited ice time and was eventually sent back to Charlotte. And while he managed just one assist in 23 games in Carolina, his energy and solid defensive play proved that he could fill in as a third-liner and, if he regains the scoring touch that made him a great junior player, potentially be a top-six player.

Bowman will be battling for a spot in Carolina to start the season, but will have to have an impressive camp to beat out Dalpe, Boychuk, Jiri Tlusty and others for a spot.

8. (8) Bobby Sanguinetti, D, 7C
Acquired via trade from New York Rangers, 2010

Sanguinetti went to Finland with the Canes as the team’s seventh defenseman to open the 2010-11 season, but from there his campaign went downhill. After being reassigned to Charlotte, Sanguinetti was slowed and later shelved by a hip injury that cost the big, puck-moving defenseman more than half of the season. In the end, Sanguinetti finished the season with 15 points in 31 games, plus two assists in 10 playoff games.

Sanguinetti will likely start camp slotted as Carolina’s eighth defenseman and will be relied on to log big minutes in Charlotte if he’s unable to make his way on to the NHL roster.

9. (11) Chris Terry, LW, 7C
Drafted 5th round, 132nd overall, 2007

When he was picked in the fifth round four years ago, Terry looked like just the next Plymouth Whaler longshot to make his way through the Carolina organization. But two seasons as one of the OHL‘s top scorers followed by two professional years that showcased Terry’s scoring prowess and improved defense have the winger looking more and more like a future NHLer.

Charlotte GM/coach Jeff Daniels used the 2009-10 season to shape Terry into a more rounded player, then moved him into a scoring role last year. The 22-year-old wing didn’t disappoint, scoring 34 goals and adding 30 assists en route to a 17-point increase over the previous season. Terry will likely be back with the Checkers to start 2011-12, but his continued improvement could earn him a call-up.

10. (7) Riley Nash, C, 7C
Acquired via trade from Edmonton, 2010

Nash’s first pro season got off to a slow start, but the former Cornell center improved as the year wore on. Nash’s offensive upside is limited – he’s scored 51 goals over the past four seasons – but his combination of size and defensive awareness make him a prototypical bottom six center. He is earmarked for another season in Charlotte.

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

Harvard’s 2010-11 season didn’t go all that well, but the same is not true for Biega. The rising junior defenseman led the Crimson in scoring, registering 11 goals and a team-high 19 assists for 30 points last year. That more than tripled his nine-point output from 2009-10, giving Carolina another promising, all-around defenseman in its system. While he’s just 6 feet tall, Biega is stocky and strong enough to compete with NHLers. He is returning to Harvard for his junior season.

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

Alt’s athleticism is obvious – not only was he a two-sport star in high school, but his father was a long-time NFL offensive lineman – but he is still raw and needs experience now that he’s dedicated himself solely to hockey. He had 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 35 games last season, good for fourth among Minnesota defensemen, and gained more responsibility as the year wore on. He should get even more ice time during his sophomore season with the Golden Gophers.

13. (13) Mike Murphy, G, 6B
Drafted 4th round, 105th overall, 2008

Murphy battled journeyman Justin Pogge for the starting job in Charlotte last season, eventually winning the No. 1 spot with the Checkers. In 2011-12, he will share the nets in Charlotte with Justin Peters, who spent last season as Carolina’s backup goalie but will be back in the AHL for the upcoming campaign. Murphy went 21-11-3 with a 2.53 goals-against average and .919 save percentage last year, plus helped lead the Checkers deep into the Calder Cup playoffs. While Peters presents stiff competition, Murphy’s steady progression should give him a slight edge against Peters when camp opens.

14. (10) Justin Peters, G, 6B
Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall, 2004

Peters finally got his shot to be an NHLer last season, backing up Cam Ward for the entire year. But the Hurricanes rarely went to Peters in 2010-11, playing him in just 12 games with just eight starts. While his numbers (3-5-1, 3.98 goals against average, .875 save percentage) are skewed by some mop-up play in blowouts, Peters never seemed to earn the trust of the Carolina coaching staff. That point was confirmed when the Canes signed veteran Brian Boucher to a two-year deal this summer, making him Ward’s backup. Peters will battle Murphy for the top job in Charlotte this season.

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

The Hurricanes have never been shy about bringing in players from prominent hockey families. They have two Staals and three Sutters in the system, and the addition of Lowe, the son of Oilers great Kevin Lowe, gives them another player with great bloodlines. Like his father, Lowe is a stay-at-home defender with a similar frame (both are 6’2) who takes care of his own end. Lowe, who totaled 25 points in 75 regular season and playoff games last season, will return to the WHL‘s Edmonton Ice Kings for the 2011-12 season.

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

The fourth of five defensemen taken by Carolina in the 2010 draft, Levi could prove to be a real steal a couple years down the road. The Plymouth defenseman combines size (6’3, 192 pounds) and athleticism to serve as a shutdown defender. Levi also improved offensive numbers in 2010-11, more than doubling his point total with six goals and 19 assists. Levi will be back with the Whalers this season.

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

Jordan transitioned to the pro game better than expected last season, playing 67 games with the Checkers in his rookie campaign. His 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) are the most of any of Charlotte’s returning defenders, and with a lot of defensive turnover from the start of last season, Jordan will have to fill a bigger role in 2011-12.

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

Shugg had a remarkable junior career, winning back-to-back Memorial Cups with Windsor in 2009 and 2010 and reaching the final game with Missassauga last season. After playing second fiddle to Taylor Hall (EDM), Greg Nemisz (CAL), Ryan Ellis (NAS) and Cam Fowler (ANH) during his time in Windsor, Shugg led the Majors in scoring in 2010-11 with 41 goals and 46 assists for 87 points in 66 games. He then registered 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 20 playoff games in falling just one game short of winning a third-straight Memorial Cup. Shugg will be a first-year pro this season, likely winding up in Charlotte.

19. (17) Mattias Lindstrom, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2009

Lindstrom’s future with the Hurricanes was in doubt at the end of the 2010-11 season. Injuries had limited the Swedish forward to a handful of games the past two seasons, and Carolina had to decide whether or not to sign Lindstrom before they lost his rights. In the end, the Canes took a chance on Lindstrom, hopeful he can grow into the power forward they envisioned when they drafted him. Lindstrom’s destination for 2011-12 is uncertain at this point. He will be at training camp with Carolina and, if he doesn’t make the team, will either be assigned to Charlotte or return to Sweden for another season in the SEL.

20. (NR) Gregory Hofmann, C, 6C
Drafted 4th round, 103rd overall, 2011

The Hurricanes used their fourth pick in this summer’s draft on Hofmann, a Swiss center who is good in all three zones and has some scoring potential. The big hurdle for Hofmann will be transitioning to tougher competition – he is set to play another season in Switzerland – but he had success at the World Juniors last season and held his own at Carolina’s conditioning camp this summer.