With the preseason drawing to a close, the Carolina Hurricanes’ opening night roster appears to be taking shape; it might even be all but revealed by the time this column is posted. And while the regular NHLers have taken their deserved spots already, there remains room for a few fresh faces to make their mark in the new season.
Some prospects have helped their cases to see regular-season NHL time, while others have hurt theirs with mistakes or been leap-frogged by another outperforming expectations of himself. A few in both directions have stood out,
Speed, speed, some surprisingly good instincts, and more speed. Necas’ scouting report spoke of a skilled center with an elite offensive mind, but most figured to see him playing another year in the Czech Republic before making the move to North America. Instead, Necas has impressed coaches and fans alike by slotting in seamlessly alongside, and even improving, some of the Canes’ best. His ability to almost always be in the right position to provide support or a passing option may be his most underrated characteristic and will serve him well as he begins to transition to the NHL.
It’s probably still too soon for him to see a full year in the NHL, but there is a realistic scenario in which Necas plays on opening night. A <10 game stint (to avoid burning a year off of his ELC) while Lee Stempniak recovers seems the likely case now.
After a taste of the AHL at the end of last season, it seemed that Kuokkanen would be a lock to help the Checkers turn their playoff appearance into a streak. And while Brock McGinn’s one-way deal all but ensures that Kuokkanen is headed that way, his performance thus far in the preseason has shown an NHL-readiness not previously seen from the young Finn.
Like Necas, Kuokkanen’s chemistry with his Canes teammates is clear, and he continues to show an impressive playmaking ability and offensive understanding. His time in Charlotte could easily be cut short in the event of an injury in Raleigh.
The 2012 fourth-rounder hasn’t been quite as heralded as the others in the Canes’ young defensive crop, but has certainly made his presence felt this month. While Haydn Fleury seemed the most suitable option to compete with Klas Dahlbeck for the third-pairing spot alongside Trevor van Riemsdyk, Carrick has scored, fought, and shown an ability to play Bill Peters’ quick puck movement style to a “T” to ensure that his name is thrown into that conversation too.
The battle between him and Fleury came to an end with Carrick being placed on waivers earlier this afternoon, but Carrick’s impressive preseason has likely earned him first dibs on a call-up this season (assuming he isn’t picked up by another team tomorrow).
Bean’s “falling” status is almost entirely due to his youth showing through. His raw talent is undeniable, but he will need more time to adjust to the professional level. What works for Bean in juniors hasn’t worked for him in the preseason, and his learning curve is only just beginning.
While it’s somewhat disappointing to see a player with his skill clearly struggle against the challenges of jumping to the pro game, it’s not unexpected. Another year of juniors and some time in the AHL will do him well in his development.
This one might be a bit unfair; it’s not to say he was expected to surpass Cam Ward, but his departure from training camp seemed soon, especially given that Jeremy Smith remained with the big club. The increased difficulty for a goaltender to turn pro rather than that of a skater is rather well-known, which is why Nedeljkovic’s disappointing 2016-17 season should raise no red flags.
Nedeljkovic still figures to start for the Checkers, where his development will likely ramp up in difficulty. His response to such adversity will be the true marker of where he is on the growth curve.
Perhaps overshadowed by Trevor Carrick and Haydn Fleury, McKeown’s camp left a bit to be desired. McKeown’s name has floated around in the Canes’ pool of impressive young defensemen for a few years now, but his training camp performance didn’t represent a player looking to make a statement.
McKeown lacked the kind of desperation seen from his counterparts, something that has separated them both ahead of him. Expect a full year in Charlotte for him, barring a slew of injuries in Raleigh.
Bonus Round: Static
Coming into training camp, Fleury seemed the easy choice for third-pairing minutes, or at least a share of them. And though Trevor Carrick’s impressive preseason will certainly add him into the mix, Fleury didn’t lose the inside track to an NHL spot with his preseason performance. Bill Peters himself acknowledged that Fleury is “telling (us) he’s done with the AHL” after the initial home game against the Lightning.
Fleury has done everything asked of him and then some, and even with Carrick impressing just behind him, looks to have earned his spot permanently.
While this is a mere glimpse into the Canes’ prospect situation, the bigger picture is constantly evolving. Feel free to hop into the comments section below with your take on these prospects or one not mentioned.