In this edition of Prospect Corner, we check in on a few of the Hurricanes top prospects in the Junior/NCAA ranks, and what their paths may be following the completion of their seasons, as well as one storyline to keep an eye on.
Brandon won’t be participating in the WHL playoff this year after finishing just two points out of a playoff spot, however it certainly had nothing to do with the play of their captain. Mattheos led the club in scoring with 96 points in 66 games, and took home plenty of the team-awarded hardware on the final night of the season. The 19-year-old center piled up honors as the Wheat Kings top scorer, top Manitoba born player, and team MVP, as well as receiving an award for receiving the most Three Star nominations throughout the season. The third-rounder posted his best statistical season of his young career, finishing sixth in the WHL scoring race, and increasing his points-per-game total from 1.32 in 2017-18 to 1.48 in 2018-19.
As a player who has nothing left to gain in Junior moving forward, expect Mattheos to be in Charlotte for the remainder of the 2018-19 season, and on their roster next year. I would expect to hear news of a signing in fairly short order.
Fox is the 5-10, puck moving elephant in the room for the Canes this offseason. Can they get the Harvard junior to sign on the dotted line following his terrific season for the Crimson?
We all know the accolades – First team all ECAC. Led all scorers in the ECAC with nine goals and 37 assists. First among defensemenin all of Division 1 with 1.48 points-per-game. So how do the pieces fit for the end of the season? Harvard won both of their games this past weekend over Dartmouth in the ECAC quarterfinals, and will play Clarkson on Friday night in the semi-finals in Lake Placid. Their path to an automatic bid got a bit less bumpy as top seeded Quinnipiac was bounced from the tournament by upstart Brown.
The two remaining teams in the semis are Cornell and Clarkson, both of whom are likely in the NCAA tournament as at large bids regardless of the results of this weekend. Harvard, a bubble team, could improve their position with any wins. Once their season ends, that’s when the proverbial fun and rumor mill will really start to heat up.
Unlike Harvard, Boston College won’t have a chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament without a Hockey East tournament victory. After taking down Providence in the tournament’s quarter-finals, a three-game series that included 8 total overtimes, Cotton and the Eagles will face top-seeded UMass and uber-prospect Cale Makar in the Hockey East semi-finals in Boston on Friday.
Cotton put together a very good 2018-19 campaign leading Hockey East in goals scored and power play goals this season, and was the only player to eclipse the 20-goal mark. The junior continues to develop, and has handled the change in role in each of his three college seasons well. Cotton could be another addition to Charlotte, if they are able to get him signed following being eliminated from post-season play. Personally, I feel better about the former sixth-round pick being inked this offseason then I do about his Boston-based counterpart, as the potential draw to playing in a certain region and the necessary step of AHL development are not as big of a hurdle with Cotton as they may be with Fox.
Everyone will be tuned in to Fox’s decision following the NCAA season’s closure, but Luostarinen’s decision is also a big one for his development and for the Hurricanes. Despite winning four of their last five games, KalPa’s bid for a playoff berth fell six points short, which means that Luostarinen could start planning where he is going to be playing in 2019-20.
His season included an offensive breakout performance for KalPa, setting career high totals in all offensive categories. The second-round selection may follow a similar path to current Hurricanes forward Lucas Wallmark in his decision of when to move from Europe to the AHL. Wallmark had an offensive breakout in his draft plus-two season, and made the move to the AHL following that season, where he was a positive contributor for the Checkers upon arrival. Luostarinen is a candidate to make a similar jump.
For what it’s worth, his teammate with KalPa, Alexandre Texier made the move from Finland to the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters and was in the lineup on Saturday. Texier was selected three spots behind Luostarinen in the 2017 draft.
A byproduct of Boston College’s elimination of Providence is that Raleigh native Josh Wilkins is available to be signed as an NCAA Free Agent. The 21-year-old forward played his youth hockey locally before moving on to TPH, the NAHL/USHL and a college commitment. He has been an invite to Canes prospect camp in the past, so they certainly know the forward both on and off the ice.
Wilkins was fourth in Hockey East in scoring with 40 points in 37 games, and led Providence offensively both at even strength and on the power play all season. Carolina hasn’t been known to dip their toe into the NCAA free agency pool as much as the Pittsburghs and the Chicagos of the world, but this would be a situation where the skill-set, production and the story line match. Not surprisingly, as they do with most top NCAA free agents, the Penguins have already shown interest.