Breakthrough campaigns propel Carolina Hurricanes prospects up the top 20

By Cory Lavalette
Photo: Jaccob Slavin has established himself as an importan piece of Carolina's future during his rookie season. (Courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: Jaccob Slavin has established himself as an important piece of Carolina’s future during his rookie season. (Courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)



2011 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner may be the most accomplished rookie in Carolina Hurricanes history, the progress made by several prospects this year—including some at the NHL level—makes this current crop of prospects intriguing and promising.

Slowly but surely, the Carolina has added depth to their organization, largely due to their success drafting after the first round in recent years. All but one of the Hurricanes’ five first-round picks from the last six drafts has graduated from the prospect ranks, but the team still manages to have an impressive list of young players thanks to the emergence of several prospects.

20. (12) Brendan Woods, LW, 5.5 B
Drafted 5th round, 129th overall, 2012

Woods has taken a step back this season in offensive production after a breakthrough AHL campaign in 2014-15 that saw him score 13 goals, add 17 assists and finish with 101 penalty minutes in 68 games. The big winger (6’4, 201 pounds) hasn’t had as much success this year, managing 18 points (eight goals and 10 assists) through 53 games.

But the numbers aren’t everything for Woods: his size is a dimension lacking in much of Carolina’s system, and when he’s willing to play a physical game and keep his feet moving he has the makings of a solid energy player. His three-game audition following the 2016 trade deadline was mostly pedestrian—the highlight was a predictable fight in his second shift with noted tough guy Chris Neil after the Senators jumped out to an early lead—but with confidence and consistency, he could be a fourth-line NHLer.

19. (NR) Brody Sutter, C/RW, 5.5 B
Drafted 7th round, 193rd overall, 2011

A member of the noted Sutter family and son of Duane, Brody Sutter is also a fourth-line option down the road for Carolina. Sutter is rangy (6’5, 205 pounds) and plays with the defense-first mentality required of a depth forward. Now in his fourth professional season, Sutter has added some scoring punch to his repertoire (12 goals last season, 11 through 63 games this year), but if he makes his mark in the NHL it will be as an energy player and penalty killer.

Like last season, Sutter has gotten a post-trade deadline look with the Hurricanes as they try and establish which players can contribute down the road. Sutter was held without a point in the first three games of his recall and reassigned but was promoted again ahead of the team’s March 24 game in Columbus.

18. (20) David Cotton, C, 7.0 D
Drafted 6th round, 169th overall, 2015

Cotton is your prototypical late-round project. He has the size and skill to be successful down the road, but he is a raw player who has yet to play beyond the USHL level. That said, he has been productive for Waterloo this year, registering 15 goals and 29 points through 46 games.

Cotton (6’3, 200 pounds) will head to Boston College next season, which should make for a good assessment of where his development is compared to his peers from the 2015 class.

17. (NR) Aleksi Saarela, C, 7.0 D
Acquired via trade with New York Rangers, February 2016

Saarela was the lone player acquired from the Rangers in exchange for Carolina captain Eric Staal. The deal also included two second round picks, but Saarela is the one concrete asset for now.

The Finnish center was once considered a top-15 pick in the 2015 draft but slid to the Rangers late in the third round. The 2015-16 season has been his most productive, with him ranking near the top of Assat Pori (Liiga) in scoring with 33 points in 51 games, including a team-high 20 goals through March 23.

Saarela was also a key cog for gold medal-winning Finland at the World Juniors, where he had four goals and three assists in seven games but was often overshadowed by the team’s top line, which was centered by fellow Canes prospect Sebastian Aho. Saarela has the makings of a second- or third-line scorer, but consistency and effort should determine whether or not he makes it.

16. (NR) Andrew Poturalski, C, 6.5 C
Signed as a free agent, March 2016

After a sophomore season that saw him rank among the NCAA’s top scorers earn a finalist spot for the Hobey Baker Award, the undrafted Poturalski opted to forgo his final two collegiate seasons and sign a two-year deal with Carolina.

Poturalski, 22, is a proven scorer, having compiled 52 points (22 goals, 30 assists) in just 37 games for New Hampshire this season. Undersized at 5’10, 190 pounds, Poturalski will need to prove he can score at the professional level in order to succeed. He notched a goal in his AHL debut March 12, a 6-3 Checkers win, but was held off the scoresheet in his next six games heading into Easter weekend.

Poturalski is on an AHL tryout deal for the balance of this season and his contract will kick in starting with the 2016-17 campaign.

15. (15) Lucas Wallmark, C, 6.5 C
Drafted 4th round, 97th overall, 2014

The success of Sebastian Aho and acquisition of Saarela have overshadowed fellow European Wallmark a bit this season. The Swedish center, still just 19 years old, is among the top scorers for Lulea (SHL) with eight goals and a team-high 24 assists in 48 games, and had a goal in each of his team’s first four playoff games.

Wallmark signed an entry-level deal with Carolina in June and was loaned to Lulea for the 2015-16 season. Wallmark is a solid two-way pivot who can contribute offensively, and he should be North America-bound for next season and is likely earmarked for Charlotte.

14. (NR) Daniel Altshuller, G, 6.5 C
Drafted 3rd round, 69th overall, 2012

A year ago, Altshuller didn’t have the look of a potential NHL netminder. Stuck in the ECHL battling for backup minutes, the former Oshawa Generals goalie played just 14 games in his first pro season.

What a difference a year can make. Altshuller again started the season with the ECHL’s Everblades, but earned a promotion to Charlotte and seized his opportunity in net. His play with the Checkers—9-1-1 in his first 11 starts—led to him being recalled twice to Carolina, though he didn’t see any playing time for the Hurricanes.

Overall, Altshuller is 10-8-4 with a 2.69 goals-against average and .912 save percentage through March 23 with the Checkers, and he has entered the conversation on who could hold one of Carolina’s two spots in net down the road.

13. (NR) Valentin Zykov, LW, 7.0 C
Acquired via trade with Los Angeles Kings, February 2016

Zykov was another deadline addition for Carolina, acquired along with a fifth-round pick from Los Angeles in exchange for veteran Kris Versteeg. The 6-foot, 209-pound winger is strong on the puck and in the corners—assets that have proven essential in coach Bill Peters’ puck possession system—but has struggled to replicate his draft year success in the QMJHL.

Zykov is in his first pro season, having played 43 games (seven goals, seven assists) for the Kings’ AHL affiliate in Ontario, but has not played for the Checkers since the trade due to injury. While Zykov’s numbers dipped from 75 points in 2012-13 to 63 and 46 the next two seasons, he is known for having a good attitude and work ethic. The Hurricanes are hopeful that a change of scenery will get the Russian-born winger’s career back on track.

12. (10) Warren Foegele, LW, 7.0 C
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2014

Foegele moved from NCAA hockey to the OHL midseason, joining Kingston after just five games of his sophomore season at the University of New Hampshire. He has been among the Frontenacs top scorers in 2015-16, registering 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists) in 52 games since heading to the junior ranks.

Foegele is big (6’2, 191) and fast, and Carolina envisions him as a speedy forechecker who will hound the puck and contribute on offense. The 19-year-old forward will be a key part of Kingston’s push toward the Memorial Cup as the OHL Eastern Conference’s top playoff seed.

11. (18) Roland McKeown, D, 7.0 C
Acquired via trade from Los Angeles Kings, February 2015

McKeown, Kingston’s captain for the past two seasons, leads the Frontenacs into the postseason as one of the OHL’s top all-around defensemen. The 20-year-old McKeown—who was acquired by Carolina at the trade deadline from the Kings last season—has 42 points in 59 games for top-seeded Kingston, a team looking to win a playoff series for the first time in 18 years.

McKeown made Canada’s World Junior team this past year, and he doesn’t have many holes in his game. While he is lacking a defining skill, McKeown is capable of contributing in all situations, be it playing a finesse or physical game, and is a solid on- and off-ice leader.

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