Make sure you’re sitting down for this next sentence. The Hurricanes have drafted incredibly well over the past four drafts and it has led to the team having one of the deepest pipelines in the NHL. Although the team did not draft a truly elite talent in this past draft, they did an excellent job of stocking the pipeline with numerous high-upside players. Two of these players find their way into the Hurricanes’ top 10 prospects as well.
In case you forgot, I mostly rank the prospects on three criteria: upside, how they fit the system and how close they are to the NHL. I may like a certain player more than someone else does, but I try not to let personal bias get in the way of these rankings. Therefore, I can safely say that Tuukka Tieksola is not number one even though he’s the most fun out of these prospects. We’ll start with number 10 and work our way to number one, so let’s get started.
10. Anttoni Honka, RHD
2020-21 stats: four goals, 27 assists, 31 points in 58 games
2021-22 team: JYP (Liiga)
Honka improved tremendously this past season and was one of the only good players on his team. He had 31 points and was the only defenseman on his team to reach double digit points, showing how important he was to his team’s offense. Honka improved defensively and while he still struggles in his own end, he’s not nearly as much of a liability as he was in his draft year. I wouldn’t call him a good defensive player, but he’s good enough to hold his own in most instances. I’m putting Honka above Noel Gunler, my 11th-ranked prospect, because of Honka’s development this past season. While Gunler struggled in the SHL, Honka was able to thrive in Finland and emerge as a top offensive defenseman for JYP. His play on the defensive side of the puck improved and I’m a little more optimistic about Honka’s chances at seeing NHL games now than I was at the start of last season. I still have my doubts because of how inconsistent he still is in the defensive zone, but I’m more convinced of his potential.
9. Ville Koivunen, LW
2020-21 stats: 23 goals, 26 assists, 49 points in 38 U20 games
2021-22 team: Oulun Karpat (Liiga)
Koivunen is a hard-working prospect that could be one of the most skilled prospects in the Hurricanes’ pipeline. There’s a ton to like about this prospect in the offensive zone and it’s clear that he’s too good for the Finnish U20 league. His shot is elite, he’s an incredibly smart player and playmaker and has top-six upside. All that Koivunen needs to work on is his skating. He is a weak skater and it can occasionally hamper his effectiveness on both ends of the ice. Still, when you have a player with this much skill and upside, you take a chance on him. You can help a player improve his skating stride and speed to at least become an average skater. Besides, if Koivunen is able to do all of what he can do now, imagine how good he’ll be as soon as he gets faster. This was my favorite pick in the Hurricanes’ 2021 draft because of Koivunen’s pure skill level. He’s a player that could slot into the Hurricanes’ top six in three to four years and make an immediate impact. He’s ranked ninth overall because I believe that Koivunen’s skating is a major barrier. If he can improve on his stride this season, I’ll be more convinced.
8. Pyotr Kochetkov, G
2020-21 stats: 2-2-1 record, .931 save percentage with Torpedo
2021-22 team: Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (KHL)
Kochetkov has been the goalie of the future ever since the Hurricanes drafted him in 2019. A big goalie with high levels of athleticism is going to be given every chance to succeed in the NHL, and Kochetkov is that type of goalie. I’ve been disappointed with Kochetkov’s usage in the KHL since he was drafted because I feel that teams refuse to play him despite some excellent performances in net. Kochetkov faced a high volume of shots on multiple occasions with Torpedo this past season and kept his team in games. As it stands right now, it’s looking like Kochetkov will either be the backup or split starts roughly 50/50 this season. He’ll get an opportunity to prove that he has what it takes to become an NHL goalie and, if everything goes right, could be ready for an NHL role sooner rather than later. He’s the Hurricanes’ best goalie prospect by far and should be in the NHL in the next couple of years.
7. Scott Morrow, RHD
2020-21 stats: eight goals, 40 assists, 48 points in 30 games
2021-22 team: UMass (NCAA)
Morrow is the highest-ranked prospect of the Hurricanes’ 2021 draft picks, but that’s not a knock on the quality of the players that they picked. It’s more of a testament to how well the Hurricanes have drafted in recent years. Give it time and Morrow could easily be a top-five prospect in the system. He does a lot of things incredibly well. He has a great shot, he sees the ice at an elite level, his skating is elite and he’s one of the smartest players on the ice at any given moment. Morrow has the potential to become a true top four offensive defenseman if developed properly. What better school to develop at than UMass? They’ve developed a ton of NHL talent recently, namely Cale Makar, and Morrow will get the chance to see top minutes in one of college hockey’s best conferences.
Morrow and Honka are similar players, although I think that Morrow is more likely to see NHL ice time due to his size and stronger defensive play. I’m ranking Morrow ahead of the Hurricanes’ other two second-round picks in 2021 for two reasons. First is his pure upside. While I don’t know if Morrow will ever be a top pairing defenseman in the NHL, he’s likely to see top four minutes and a ton of power-play time. He could easily have 40 to 50 points in a season given how he plays. The second reason is that he’s the top defenseman in a pipeline that is a little weak on defenders, meaning that he’ll have fewer hurdles to jump over on his path to the NHL. Morrow will take time to develop and we might not see him in the NHL for three or four years, but he’ll be a fun player to watch when he does make it.
6. Tuukka Tieksola, RW
2020-21 stats: nine goals, nine assists, 18 points in 37 games
2021-22 team: Oulun Karpat (Liiga)
Number six in the rankings but number one in our hearts. Tuukka Tieksola is one of the Hurricanes’ most exciting and dynamic prospects. Sure, it was fun to see him bully the Finnish U20 league after his draft year, but what makes me feel comfortable putting Tieksola this high is the fact that he was able to play at that same level in the Finnish Liiga on occasion. He won’t always cut through three defenders and deke past the goalie for an easy goal, but he’ll always make the smart play and play with a ton of pace.
The fact of the matter is that when Tieksola is on his game, he’s the best player on the ice. I’ve said it before on the Tracking the Storm Podcast and I’ll say it again: Tuukka Tieksola skates like Sebastian Aho and sees the ice like Teuvo Teravainen does. I’m not saying that just to say that, either. I believe that Tieksola’s vision is truly elite and his skating sets him apart from other players at the Liiga level. He isn’t able to perform consistently just yet and there are some games where he can tend to disappear, but my goodness is he fun to watch when he’s on his game.
For those of you that are curious, the Red Bull helmet is given to each team’s top U20 scorer.
This goal didn’t count due to goalie interference, but to make this move at top speed and get the shot off is nothing short of impressive.
Just a casual takeaway and deke through the defense to fool the goalie. No biggie.
Tuukka Tieksola (CAR) gets his second primary assist of the game, and it's another beauty. Masks his intentions by looking off his target until the last second. So good. #Canes pic.twitter.com/ZFqRR5oLsL— Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen) March 17, 2021
And this is how well Tieksola sees the ice. The first thing that I noticed when I scouted him back in 2019 was how good of a cross-ice passer he was. He has only gotten better since then.
I could talk about Tieksola all day long, but I think I’ve made my point clear. If Tieksola has another great season in Finland, then I don’t think it’s out of the question to see him in the NHL lineup in the fall of 2022.
5. Jamieson Rees, C/W
2020-21 stats: eight goals, six assists, 14 points in 29 games
2021-22 team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
I enjoyed watching Rees in the AHL this past season. His style of play is a really good fit for the pro game and it’s clear that he’ll be a top contributor for Chicago next season. I’d describe Rees as an agitator with some offensive flair to his game, similar to the likes of Brendan Gallagher and Travis Konecny. Rees is a pain to play against. He’ll chirp you, give you an extra slash after the whistle and get under your skin in an effort to make you take a penalty. He’s damn good at it, too. You can’t sleep on Rees in the offensive zone, either. He works his tail off and has a good amount of skill to his game. Rees has slick hands, an unrelenting motor, a wicked wrist shot and solid playmaking skills. He has the ability to make defenses look silly and tends to strike at opportune times. This following clip is still my favorite since he toe drags a poor defenseman into the Shadow Realm.
He even fooled the play by play commentator, too. Rees’ upside might not be as high as a player such as Morrow or Tieksola but he does have the advantage of playing in the AHL this past season. I believe his game will translate to Rod Brind’Amour’s system and that he’ll be a perfect fit on this team in the near future. Rees will need another year at the AHL level due to the fact that the AHL will be much more competitive this year. The league isn’t losing most of its talent to taxi squads or European clubs this year, so it’ll be better for Rees’ development.
4. Dominik Bokk, RW
2020-21 stats: nine goals, nine assists, 18 points in 29 games
2021-22 team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Bokk turned me into a believer this season. I was worried that after a failed stint with Djurgardens in the SHL at the start of the season that Bokk’s performance in the AHL would be lackluster. He proved me wrong in a big way. Bokk seemed to be everywhere with Chicago and was a constant threat when he was on the ice. Very few players can command the attention that he can in the offensive zone, and fewer players are able to score with as much ease as Bokk. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s amazing what happens when you give a talented prospect top-nine minutes and power-play time. Bokk still has a long way to go and I’d like to see him become less selfish when the puck is on his stick, but you can’t deny the talent. He’s an absolute offensive force and could be a 30-goal scorer at the NHL level if he reaches his full potential.
3. Jack Drury, C
2020-21 stats: ten goals, 20 assists, 30 points in 41 games
2021-22 team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
I’ve admittedly been a little down on Drury in the past simply due to the fact that I wasn’t convinced of his offensive upside. His performance in the SHL this past season proved me wrong. Drury was a force in both ends and was one of the strongest two way forwards on his team. Drury’s skating has held him back in the past and this season with Vaxjo was the first time I had seen it become a strength for him. After a strong campaign in Sweden and an SHL championship, we’re looking at when Drury makes it to the NHL.
It could be as early as this fall given how he developed this past season. I still don’t believe that Drury has the highest upside of the Canes’ prospects, nor am I convinced that he can handle more than third-line NHL duties, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s their most NHL-ready prospect. Drury could be a very good two-way center at the NHL level, similar to the likes of Jordan Staal. I know that won’t mean much to the goals = good crowd, but every team needs a strong two-way center in order to win games. Drury could be that guy as early as this season, although I expect him to start in Chicago.
2. Ryan Suzuki, C
2020-21 stats: five goals, five assists, ten points in 26 games
2021-22 team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Suzuki had a great season despite some okay point totals across the World Junior Championships and his time with the Chicago Wolves. We have to look beyond the point totals and look at Suzuki’s development as a player this past season instead. Suzuki developed an edge to his game and was willing to attack the puck and get involved in board battles, something that he never would have done prior to this season. One of the biggest concerns about Suzuki when he was drafted was that he was a little too passive for some scouts’ liking. I don’t see that as an issue, anymore.
Suzuki isn’t going to wow you with his physicality or forechecking, but the fact that he’s willing to do both things now is a huge development. Suzuki still has elite hockey sense and playmaking ability, he still has a good shot and he’s still a good skater. Now that he’s more aggressive on the attack, he’ll be able to do damage on a more consistent basis in the offensive zone. With some extra development time and a full AHL season under his belt, it’s possible that we’re looking at a much more complete player at this time next year. We could even be talking about Suzuki as a possible middle-six option for the team if things go as planned. I’m fully expecting Suzuki’s offensive game to take off in a big way next year now that he knows what it takes to play in the pros.
Number One: Seth Jarvis
2020-21 stats: 15-12-27 in 24 WHL games/7-4-11 in nine AHL games
2021-22 team: Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Jarvis is still the undisputed top prospect in the Carolina Hurricanes’ pipeline. While other players may have developed and moved up in the depth chart, none of them can match the upside and talent level of Jarvis. Jarvis is the only player in the Hurricanes’ prospect pool that I could realistically see on the first line. Sure, players like Tieksola and Suzuki could be first-line options, but Jarvis is a much more realistic possibility.
There’s not too much to dislike about Jarvis’ game. There are games where he won’t stand out and he’ll still finish with two primary assists and three shots on goal. There are games where he’ll take over every shift and be a constant threat in the offensive zone, scoring goals and making plays happen while making defenses look silly. He’s a tremendously gifted player and while Brayden Point comparisons may be optimistic, it’s still very likely that Jarvis sees top-six NHL minutes.
His brief stint in the AHL this past season showed us how good of a player he could be. I love Jarvis’ stickhandling and shooting ability and think that they don’t get as much love as his playmaking does. Sure, he’s a great passer, but have you seen his shot? It’s lethal. Jarvis won’t see as much development this season since he’ll be back in the WHL, but I’d expect to see him on the penalty kill as well. That should help Jarvis grow as a two-way player. You’d be hard pressed to find a player that works as hard as Jarvis on every shift and I can’t wait to see him in a Hurricanes uniform. After all, look at how excited he is to be here.
Those are the top 20 prospects in the pipeline. I know some folks are going to wonder where Patrik Puistola is since I didn’t rank him. He’s outside of the top 20 for me and needs to have a good season in order to find his way onto next year’s rankings. I haven’t been impressed with his play for two seasons now, so that’s why I didn’t feel comfortable ranking him. Regardless, the fact that the Hurricanes have this good of a pipeline after being a playoff team for the past three seasons speaks to how well the team has drafted in recent years. The future is still bright, folks.