I would assume that most of us would love for the Hurricanes to go out, spend to the Salary Cap and acquire all the players we need to become a Playoff team through free agency and trades. But the truth is that while the Canes will spend more money this year than last, they are still a budget team. Acquiring all quality, proven NHL players requires money and PK has never been that generous with his wallet. So the next thing to look at is what prospects might be able to fill some holes in the Canes lineup. If a couple can fill in here and there, then maybe some of the limited budget could be directed to fill a certain hole?
So with the free agent period right around the corner, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at some of team's upper-end prospects; one's that might be able to contribute over the next couple of seasons or one's that might be called up if an injury were to occur. All of the "kids" that I will take a look at have under 82 NHL games played. I will try to summarize how they are doing in their respective leagues, what they are expected to eventually become, and when they might see some NHL competition. The players are not listed in any particular order, so don't consider this list a ranking, it is just a list of players that I expect to contribute to the Canes over the next season or two. I hope you enjoy and please feel free to make comments about these players and any that you feel I left off.
Justin Faulk - D
I included Faulk in this list because he has only played 66 NHL games, but he is almost assured a roster spot on the 2012/2013 Hurricanes. Faulk had an incredible rookie season that saw him register 22 points and log huge, important minutes. He finished 7th in the Calder Trophy voting and was selected to the NHL's All-Rookie Team. He really displayed a very solid all-around game, but still needs to work on his defensive zone coverage. There is always the possibility of a "sophomore slump", but I expect Faulk to have a solid 2nd season and continue to progress into a top NHL defenseman. I truly believe that Faulk will cement his case as a "core" player for the Hurricanes this upcoming season and will eventually be a solid top 2 defenseman in the league.
Zac Dalpe - RW/C
i'm a big fan of Dalpe and still believe he is going to be a good player for the Canes in the near future. But 2011/2012 was a season Dalpe would probably like to wash from his mind. He started out with the expectations of playing with the Hurricanes and being a potential Calder Finalist. He never really got it going in the NHL and struggled some when he was returned to Charlotte. His production in the AHL dropped pretty considerably from 0.93ppg to 0.57ppg. I believe that Dalpe still has it in him to become a good top 6 NHL player that can score 20 goals and produce 50 points, but he is going to have to work very hard to get to that level. I imagine that he will be fighting for a roster spot in training camp and will see some time in both the NHL and AHL this upcoming season. The biggest question I have is whether he might be given a shot at center with the departure of Brandon Sutter?
Drayson Bowman - LW
Bowman had a good run with the Canes last year and definitely had his most productive time in the NHL. He has learned how to be a responsible defensive forward that can also provide a little bit of offense. While he was drafted as a scorer, he has never really been able to live up to that at the pro level. He has flashes every now and then, but he is probably considered more of a two-way player now than scoring forward. Bowman probably projects as a strong 3rd line winger that can move up on occasion and that is the position the Canes will probably use him in. He might move around a bit and might even go down to the AHL for some time, but I expect Bowman will spend most of his upcoming season with the Canes. I also expect to see a little more offensive out of him, maybe he can get to the 30+ point area this season.
Zach Boychuk - W
The enigma that is Zach Boychuk! Boychuk has the skill to be a solid top 6 NHL player, but he just doesn't seem to have the drive. At times he looks good and at other times he looks lost on the ice. He has 72 games of NHL experience, but each season he is getting less and less games with the Hurricanes. He also saw his production drop pretty significantly in the AHL, going from 1.08ppg to 0.69ppg. I would say that Boychuk still has a chance, but I don't really believe it. He needs someone or something to light a fire under him! I suspect that the Canes will keep him around for a while and he might even see a little NHL action, but most of his time will be spent in the AHL. I also think that he will be traded at some point during this season. If any player could benefit from a change of scenery, it would be Boychuk. If he can figure himself out, I think he still have a chance of being a 2nd/3rd line NHL winger, just not for the Canes.
Ryan Murphy - D
The last 1st Rounder picked by the Hurricanes somewhat made the team out of camp last season and he is expected to stick around all season this year. He is an offensive dynamo that continued to pour it on in the OHL despite missing some games due to a concussion. He was 3rd among OHL defensemen in scoring in both the regular season and the playoffs this past year. Murphy is definitely undersized, but he offensively creative and should help the Canes out on the PP. I think Murphy will see NHL action against particular opponents until he is deemed ready for full-time duties. I would suspect that he will get 35 to 50 games this year and probably register around 20 points, the majority coming on the man-advantage. But the Canes need to find him a solid, physical playing partner to make up for his shortcomings.
Riley Nash - C
I think my opinion of Nash is different than a lot of yours. I look at Nash and see a former 1st round pick that is a little older than most of his competition and he still isn't very dominate at the AHL level. This was a guy I expected to play a year in the minors and make the jump to 4th line center, eventually moving his way up the ranks. His first AHL season wasn't bad and he did make a lot of noise at training camp last year, but he returned to Charlotte and had a pretty bad year (20 points & a -15 in 58 games). Nash is a hard worker and he has good size, but I'm not sure if he's going to make it as an NHL player. I think he could eventually become Tim Brent's replacement, but he is going to need to show something this season. He will spend most of the year in the AHL, but he should get a call-up at some point. When he does, he needs to take advantage of it.
Bobby Sanguinetti - D
Sanguinetti is a guy with all the talent to become a good NHL player, but for whatever reason, it just hasn't happened for him yet. He's got size and offensive abilities, but he still does need to work on his play in his own zone. But while most of the players in Charlotte took a step backwards last season, Bobby took a big step forward. He had his most productive season (0.83ppg) and even got to see 3 games with the Canes. At this point, he is probably nothing more than a bottom pairing/depth defenseman, but the kid still has some potential. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a good number of games with the Canes his season. While Ryan Murphy is all-the-rage, a bottom pairing of Harrison/Sanguinetti might be a good mix of offense and defense with a little bit of size. He will still have to work hard to round out his game, but it is possible.
Victor Rask - C
Rask is one of our more interesting forward prospects. A guy that fell in the draft in 2011, he came over to North America and had a very good season in the WHL. He averaged about a ppg and was a + player. He probably more of a 2nd line NHL center than a 3rd line NHL center, but this guy has game. I'm not really sure what the Canes will do with him this upcoming season, whether he will go for a trail run, go back to the WHL or center a line in Charlotte. But either way, I foresee this guy being on the Canes roster pretty soon. I wouldn't be surprised to see him center a new look Canes 3rd line this season. It most likely wouldn't be all year, but for a time.
Jerome Samson - RW
Right wing is one of the Canes and the systems weakest positions and Samson is probably the Canes best prospect at that position. He has never really projected to be anything more than a depth NHL player, but Samson showed he had some game last year. He is quite a skilled goal scorer, works hard, and does a good job along the boards. Add to that, he is built solidly and has a wonderful attitude. He is a guy that could work in the Canes bottom 6 if the bottom 6 ranks weren't already so full. I would expect that he will spend most of his time in Charlotte, but he will get a call-up at some point. If a player like LaRose or Dwyer were to be traded or injured, I think Samson would be a decent replacement for them.
Danny Biega - D
Biega has probably taken over for Brian Dumoulin as the Canes top two-way defensive prospect. He is not exactly a big guy, but is solidly built and plays tough. But don't let me steer you wrong, Biega is also has some offense. He has seen his numbers improve for 3 straight seasons at Harvard and will be making the jump to the pro soon enough. He is very smart, skates well, and is very strong. He did very well at the NHL Draft fitness tests in 2010. While he won't be contributing to the Canes this upcoming season, I think you can expect him to be flirting with an NHL roster in 2013/2014. He will probably spend most of that season in the AHL, but should see some time at the NHL level. He could become a 2nd pairing defenseman, but will most likely be a #5 or #6 guy.
Evgeni Dadonov - RW
Dadonov is an undersized winger that like Zach Boychuk, just can't seem to get out of his own way. He has tremendous amounts of skill, but his work ethic is questionable. He had a solid rookie year with Florida in 2010/2011, but then regressed and was traded to Carolina. He never got a chance with the Canes and was actually lackluster with the Checkers. He was qualified, but there are rumors that he might head to the KHL. I would suspect that if he stays, he will spend the majority of his time in the AHL, but might see a couple of games in Raleigh. He is another player that I wouldn't be shocked if he were traded during the season. Again, the guy has the talent to be an NHLer, but I'm not sure if it will happen.
Jeremy Welsh - C/LW
The newest prospect on this list and one that had one unbelievable cap hit last season. Welsh is a big center that has two-way ability and might be one of the reasons that Jim Rutherford felt he could trade Brandon Sutter. If so, then Welsh has some pretty big shoes to fill. Welsh saw his production gradually increase each season in the ECAC. He also displayed an ability to do it all, he can score, distribute, and is defensively responsible. Making the jump from college to the NHL is a big task, but Welsh might be the type of player that can do it. I would think that if he has a really good training camp, he might be given the 3rd line center position. But he also might take over the 4th line and rotate the 3rd line duties with Tim Brent. I think Welsh will come in, work hard, and play a solid rookie season for the Canes next year. I think he can be a 10 goals, 10 assists guy, but I obviously am hoping for more.
Chris Terry - LW
Terry is one of those guys that has some skill, but it probably doesn't translate that well to the NHL. He is a smaller player that doesn't really skate that well. But he knows how to play the game and knows how to put up points. He has been a solid point producer in the AHL, but his goal production dropped better considerable last season. His assist totals did take a nice jump up and maybe that is what he is going to have to do to play in the NHL. While he projects as probably a tweener, he should at least get a look with the Canes at some point. They need to figure out if he can translate to the NHL and the only way to know that is by giving him a shot. I suspect that he will be one of the top players on the Checkers next season and might get a game or two with the Canes (depending on their results).
In conclusion, beyond Ryan Murphy, the Canes really don't have any high-end prospects. But the Canes do have a number of solid role players that could always go beyond expectations. I believe Dalpe and Rask have the highest offensive potential of the group, but Murphy, Welsh, and Sanguinetti are probably the safest prospects. Boychuk and Dadonov have all the potential in the world, but whether they make it to the NHL is still in question. It's a solid group of prospects, but much like the NHL squad, they are missing top-level forwards, defensive defensemen, and quality goaltending.