There are a lot of changes in the NHL’s format for the upcoming 2021 season, which will (hopefully) drop the puck on Jan. 13.
There will be fewer games than normal and new divisions for every NHL squad, and there will also be a help to the roster in the form of a four- to six-man taxi squad.
The taxi squad players will be paid their full AHL salaries (or NHL salaries if not a two-way player), and they won’t have a cap hit on the NHL team while on the taxi squad. The downside for the taxi squad players is that they won’t be able to participate in any AHL activities, but the good news is they can practice with the NHL team the whole season.
When a player from the taxi squad is needed for a game, they must be called up to the NHL team before 5 p.m. EST (with an exception for a taxi squad goalie if the NHL team will not have two goalies available).
The taxi squad players can but are not required to travel with the team, with one exception. Each taxi squad must contain a goaltender if the NHL team has less than three goalies on the active roster, and that extra goalie must travel with the team.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at which players may make up the Hurricanes taxi squad:
The Canes will have to carry a taxi squad goalie with only Petr Mrazek and James Reimer on the active roster, and Nedeljkovic is the obvious pick here. Jeremy Helvig and Antoine Bibeau are the other goalies to pick from, but Nedeljkovic already has more NHL experience and is the better prospect.
Nedeljkovic, who has played in six games for the Canes over the past four years, played four times last year after injuries to Mrazek and Reimer. Getting the opportunity to practice full time with the NHL squad could be a good opportunity for Nedeljkovic, and in the situation where he’s needed the Hurricanes know they can trust him some.
Carolina’s first-round pick back in 2016, Bean has just two career NHL games under his belt. In the 2018-19 season with the Charlotte Checkers, Bean had 44 points and followed that up with 48 points in just 59 games for the Checkers last year.
Bean is one of, if not the best of Carolina’s prospects, and he’s probably someone the Canes will want to keep around. There’s a chance that Bean could be rostered instead of being put on the taxi squad, but if he’s not on the active roster he’ll certainly be in the taxi group.
Bean was one of three players mentioned by SportsNet’s Elliot Friedman as a player the Canes are interested in bringing on the taxi squad.
Another defenseman, Keane came to the Hurricanes last year in an exchange for Julien Gauthier. He didn’t play for Carolina at all, but he did have seven points in nine games for the Checkers.
Assuming the Canes will want to keep a couple defenseman on the taxi squad, Keane is a decent bet to be on the taxi squad regardless of whether or not Bean has a staying place on the active roster.
Like Bean, Keane was mentioned by Friedman as someone the Canes are considering having on the taxi squad.
The Hurricanes re-signed McKeown to a two-way deal last week. McKeown has been with Carolina’s franchise for six years, playing 10 games for the NHL squad in the 2017-18 season.
McKeown is a good depth blue liner for the Canes, and he’d definitely be a guy worth having on that taxi squad. While limited, he does have some NHL experience to his name.
Bokk is one of the Hurricanes’ top prospects, and if Carolina wants to use the taxi squad as an opportunity to help develop players than he will likely come along.
Like Bean and Keane, Friedman mentioned Bokk’s name as one the Hurricanes are considering bringing up, and it makes a lot of sense to let him get that much time practicing with NHL talent around him.
While he might not be quite ready to hit the ice in the NHL, he’s a good candidate to be on the taxi squad.
The Canes’ first-round pick in 2019, Suzuki is one of Carolin’s top forward prospects. He doesn’t have NHL or AHL experience, but practicing on the taxi squad could be a huge boost for his development.
As mentioned with Bokk, if the Hurricanes are looking to use the taxi squad as an asset to develop players, then Suzuki could be a really good choice to be among that group.
Bishop has the benefit of some NHL experience, with 25 games under his belt with the Hurricanes. If the intended purpose of the taxi squad is to have players available to jump onto the NHL roster if COVID hits, then having someone who has played at the NHl level will be important.
Bishop has that, and he’s someone that the Hurricanes wouldn’t have to hesitate about calling up if he’s needed.
The big thing to look out for with the taxi squad will be how the Canes are looking to use it.
In a year where nothing is guaranteed with the AHL, letting top prospects practice with the NHL team on the taxi squad could be a huge benefit for teams. If that’s the route the Canes go, expect guys like Bean, Suzuki and Bokk to be on the list.
If an AHL season does happen and the Hurricanes feel like it would benefit the prospects more to play there, than the taxi squad will look a lot different.
Nedeljkovic feels like the only sure thing with the requirement to bring along a third goalie.