It’s a bit of an awkward time in college and junior hockey, because league playoffs begin in less than a month and NHL teams are looking at who to offer contracts to when seasons come to an end in the next couple of weeks. Despite that, a couple of Canes prospects earned some recognition over the past week, beginning with a visit to the unofficial QMJHL team of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Smallman Sets an All-Time Mark
Congratulations are in order for Spencer Smallman, who on Sunday became Saint John’s all-time games played leader with 289 appearances. The Sea Dogs captain will have ample opportunity to extend that games-played number, as Saint John currently sit in first place in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with a 43-13-5 record.
On the year, Smallman currently ranks third on the Sea Dogs with 72 points in 56 games, easily surpassing his past career high of 56 points in his draft year of 2014-15. I would assume you will see GM Ron Francis sign Smallman to an entry-level contract following the Saint John season, as he has until June 1st to not lose him to unrestricted free agency.
Helvig Ties for OHL Lead in Shutouts
On Friday, Jeremy Helvig finished off his sixth shutout of the season, making 22 saves in a 4-0 win over the Ottawa 67’s. The shutout tied Helvig with 2017 draft eligible Michael DiPietro and Owen Sound’s Michael McNiven for tops in the Ontario Hockey League this season.
Carolina got an up close and personal look at Helvig pre-draft last season while keeping tabs Kingston prospects Warren Foegele and Roland McKeown. Although he had a smaller sample size than some goalies, playing just 27 games last season for the Frontenacs, the size and raw ability was there. Fast forward a year later, and Helvig has put up a run of 53 of 62 games in net for Kingston, who have clinched a playoff position in the OHL’s Eastern Conference. He has been arguably the team's most valuable player, and could end up being a steal for the organization in the fifth round.
Francis Will Have Options Over the Summer
Prior to the trade deadline, the Hurricanes had plenty of ammo for an interesting summer in 2017. Adding additional second and third round selections when trading away Ron Hainsey and Viktor Stalberg only adds to the options that the front office will have prior to and at the 2017 NHL Draft.
The Canes now have 11 total selections, with seven of those picks coming in the first three rounds. It’s very doubtful that Carolina makes all of those selections, but would instead look to upgrade their NHL roster through trade, potentially including some of their picks as assets to get deals done.
Prior to the draft, there are always more deals to be made, and Francis will likely be a focal point of many of the discussions both in the goaltender and forward markets. A trade for a Matt Duchene or a Gabriel Landeskog-type player was always going to be easier to make happen in the summer, when players under longer term contracts are more likely to be on the move.
For Duchene specifically, the length of his contract and the inability to negotiate a long-term deal was another hurdle for an in-season trade. The team has done a great job over Francis’s tenure of improving organizational depth in the system, and it would be foolish to blow that up for a player that you aren’t sure would be open to re-signing long-term.
Given that the cap is going to stay relatively flat for 2017, Francis has the option of taking on contracts for the 2017-18 season and taking back a prospect or player who is farther along in their development than a 2017 draft-eligible. The Canes have gone to the well with this philosophy in back-to-back seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, netting Teuvo Teravainen and Joakim Nordstrom for taking on the contracts of Bryan Bickell and Kris Versteeg. I also expect Francis to look for organizational depth via college free agency in the coming weeks as the NCAA season comes to an end. As of now, the Canes sit at 45 contracts, with a few that will be dropping off the books this summer.
All-in-all, the Canes should be able to make some real improvements to the roster both at the AHL and NHL level this summer, while still utilizing their bounty of draft picks to continue building the organization from the inside, out. That’s an enviable position to be in.
Once the off-season starts, I’ll have some in-depth profiles of potential prospects that the Canes could add to the fold at the 2017 NHL Draft, so be on the lookout.
Give Kevin a follow @kleblanchockey for prospect talk and happenings.