Seemingly once per draft, the Hurricanes pick a player that not many people know about. Then, out of nowhere, they start to turn heads for one reason or another. Kevin Wall was that player back in 2019 when I first saw him at rookie camp and I’ve been impressed ever since. Wall flies under the radar in the Hurricanes’ system but should be getting recognition as a possible middle-six option for the Hurricanes two or three years down the line.
Wall stands at 6-foot tall and 187 pounds according to EliteProspects and had 19 points in 22 games during his sophomore season with Penn State. It was a 12-point improvement over his totals in his freshman year, where Wall recorded seven points in 26 games. Wall’s emergence this past season was due to a dramatic increase in ice time, where he was put in Penn State’s top six. In this profile, I’ll break down Wall’s game and give you all an idea of why I like Wall’s odds at becoming an NHL player, along with what a realistic projection could look like.
You can’t talk about Wall without first bringing up the fact that he absolutely loves to shoot. In fact, Wall averaged close to five shots on goal per game last season, according to the broadcast in the Big Ten playoff game that I watched while doing some scouting work on Wall. If I shot the puck like Wall does, I’d be a volume shooter as well. Wall gets a ton of power behind his wrist shots and if they don’t go in, there’s a good chance that there will be a rebound for someone to clean up. I hesitate to call Wall a pure sniper because there are other ways that he can score, too. He’s dangerous on the rush and a breakaway expert, using his quick wrist shot to surprise goalies and score goals. His backhand is a thing of beauty and he has some soft hands to go along with a wicked shot. Simply put, Wall has a nose for the net. If he can find a way to put the puck in the back of the net, you’d better believe that he’s going to do it.
I came away from the four game sample of Wall feeling impressed with his strength and poise with the puck. Wall is a lot stronger than he lets on and is able to power through the competition. The NCAA is physical, and Wall can maintain possession while getting hit and shoved. That will translate to the NHL, especially against teams that play a more physical brand of hockey, such as Boston. Limiting turnovers that are caused by physical contact will help carry Wall to the NHL.
While I firmly believe that Wall will be more of a scorer than a playmaker moving forward, I did find that he is a confident passer. Wall sees the ice well in the offensive zone, evaluating his options and making passes in order to create scoring chances. He seems to have the timing of his passes down, waiting for the defender to make the first move before striking and finding an open patch of ice.
There are two aspects of Wall’s offensive game where I feel that he could stand to improve. First is the speed at which he makes decisions in the offensive zone. Whether it’s a decision of where to position himself, when and where to pass the puck, or when to shoot, I feel like Wall’s timing is a little off. If he were to make the decisions a split second faster, then I believe that he would be able to improve his effectiveness in the offensive zone. Hockey is a game of inches and that split second decision could be the difference between a goal or a blocked shot or pass. Secondly, I would like to see Wall become a consistent offensive threat. I love the way that he forechecks and there’s no denying his skill when the puck is on his stick and when he’s shooting, but there are times when he can disappear in the offensive zone. Every player has those moments, but if Wall can continue to move around and seek out offense, he’ll wreak havoc in the NCAA.
To sum up Wall’s offensive game, he has an elite shot with NHL speed and above average playmaking skills. Wall is a dangerous forechecker that will ensure that possession stays with his team when the puck is in the offensive zone. Once he fine tunes a few aspects of his game, I believe he could be one of the NCAA’s top scorers.
Wall needs some work defensively, but as is the case with every player, there are positive aspects of his defensive play that he can build on. First is his ability to create turnovers. Wall has an active stick which usually allows for him to intercept a pass and spring himself for a breakaway. He can also disrupt the play with physicality and he isn’t afraid to play along the boards and get involved in puck battles. There are times when I was able to see Wall make things difficult for opposing forwards and he would be able to change possession quickly.
As is the case with Wall in the offensive zone, I did notice that he can disappear at times in the defensive zone. These lapses happen more frequently defensively, however, leading to scoring chances against. Wall seemed to be unsure of where to position himself in the defensive zone, often getting caught out of position. He’d react in time to try and make a defensive play but would often get caught flat footed. You can help Wall improve his defensive positioning and vision, however. Coming from the BCHL and spending the majority of your freshman year as a fourth line forward or extra forward can be tough for a forward, especially defensively. The NCAA is a big step up from the BCHL and it’s possible that Wall needs extra time to adjust. I noticed gradual improvements in terms of Wall’s defensive positioning throughout the season, too.
What Wall’s defensive play boils down to is how quickly he can get to a player and strip them of the puck. Wall creates lots of turnovers and should be less of a negative in the defensive zone in a few years. Getting top six minutes for a second year in a row should help Wall smooth out some of these areas.
Wall has an interesting skill set and I wouldn’t be surprised if he sees some NHL games someday. The shot alone is enough to at least warrant a game or two, and given how much he improved this past season, I wouldn’t be surprised if he quietly moves up the depth chart over the course of the next two seasons. I’m expecting Wall to score at least 15 goals this season and finish top three on his team in scoring. Penn State is still a relatively young team with a lack of top recruits right now, so it’s likely that Wall will be given a lot of offensive zone starts this season.
As for Wall’s NHL projection, I believe that he could be a third line scorer capable of 20 goals if developed properly. The speed, shot and work ethic on the forecheck are enough to earn him some NHL games, and as I stated earlier, continued development should propel Wall to a longer NHL career. Wall’s ceiling is that of a third line forward capable of about 40 points at the NHL level, give or take. The playmaking is still a question mark for me, but I’m willing to wait and see if it pays off for the Hurricanes. Canes fans should start to familiarize themselves with Wall, because in two short years, he could be signing his first NHL contract.