The Hurricanes’ goaltending situation at the present feels like an episode of The Simpsons. You know, the one where Homer’s company softball team brings in nine MLB players in order to win a bet? I’d imagine this is how it played out.
It may not be nine separate misfortunes, but the Hurricanes currently have three goalies out with an injury, a goalie in Norfolk in COVID protocol and the Wolves brought in five goalies on PTOs this weekend. On top of that, one of the guys brought in on a PTO got hurt on Saturday because of course he did. Jack LaFontaine is coming to the rescue and we should all hope and pray that he doesn’t go to Chicago since that franchise apparently has a curse on it right now.
Last week, I mentioned that signing LaFontaine would be difficult given the Hurricanes’ depth in goal, but I couldn’t have predicted this sort of thing happening to the goalies. I’m sure there was plenty of interest around the league and I’m sure there would have been a handful of teams that envisioned him as one of their NHL goalies next season. Nevertheless, LaFontaine is a Hurricane for the remainder of this season and an RFA once his contract expires.
It’s rare to see a player leave his college team in the middle of their season, but these are strange times. Carolina can’t call upon Pyotr Kochetkov due to there not being a transfer agreement between the KHL and the NHL, and without any healthy options in the AHL, LaFontaine was the only option. Patrik Hamrla has had his moments in the QMJHL this season but isn’t ready for the pros just yet. Jake Kucharski has been fine for AIC but Atlantic Hockey isn’t the strongest competition and I’m not sold on his upside. That leaves Nikita Quapp, who has only appeared in eight games this season, and Yegor Naumov, who has yet to prove that he is, in fact, a real person.
This paved a path for LaFontaine to reach the NHL this week, as he appeared in relief in Thursday’s loss to the Blue Jackets. It’s a strange situation that you don’t see happening, but it is what it is. Besides, LaFontaine has his degree, a Mike Richter Award and a fast track to the pros. Gophers fans are understandably upset, and I’d imagine that I would be too. After all, Minnesota loses its best goaltender in the midst of a playoff push. But the fact of the matter is that Minnesota is going to have a tough time against the top teams in its conference and it’s difficult to see them making a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament.
I see people complaining about LaFontaine’s decision to leave Minnesota. Idk man, it’s a hard decision. Get paid and play in NHL games or get dog walked by Michigan for free. Tough choice.— Canes Prospects (@CanesProspects) January 10, 2022
Minnesota fans are calling LaFontaine a traitor as if he owed it to his program to finish out the year after he earned his degree and was offered an NHL deal. Saying he let his teammates down is insinuating that these players are all selfish. They all play for the same goal, and that goal is to get to the NHL. Every teammate of LaFontaine’s that I’ve seen has been thrilled for him, including his roommate.
Nobody more deserving than Jack! I couldn’t be more proud of my roommate and I’m so appreciative of everything he’s done for @GopherHockey , he’s truly made me into a better person and player. Thank you to jack for your contributions to gopher hockey, I love you with all my heart https://t.co/n40K6tugAp— Matt Knies (@Matthew_Knies) January 9, 2022
But of course, “selfish” Jack LaFontaine hates his teammates and now his teammates will hate him as well. Or something like that, anyway.
Hockey fans will complain about nobody liking their sport while also gatekeeping people in smaller markets, saying that they’re not real fans and that they don’t deserve a team. Ask any Canes fan and they’ll tell you that this market deserves hockey. Hell, this is the only thing in the state that can unite Duke, Carolina and NC State fans. We can’t even agree on barbecue and yet we all get together and cheer on the Hurricanes. Those hockey “fans” that claim southern teams don’t deserve hockey are ignorant and mad that hockey is able to succeed outside of a “traditional” space.
The last thing I’ll say about LaFontaine is how happy I am for him. He was picked 75th overall in 2016 after playing in the NAHL, a tier-two junior league in the US that doesn’t produce a lot of NHL prospects. After two years as the third string goalie for the University of Michigan, LaFontaine decommits. He plays for Penticton in the BCHL, another tier-two junior league, before transferring to Minnesota. LaFontaine takes over as Minnesota’s starter, and in his second year with the team, earns the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s top goaltender. Now, he’s under contract with an NHL team and made his NHL debut Thursday night. NHL development is never linear and LaFontaine’s story should be an inspiration to many.
Blake has 10 points in his last four games, including a hat trick in his most recent game. Blake is tied for first in scoring in the entire USHL with 49 points in 31 games. His 31 assists are also tied for first in the league, and he has been held scoreless in just one of his last 10 games. Over that span, Blake has 21 points. I don’t want to hype up Blake too much because when I’ve watched him, it’s clear that he’s a long way out. He can dazzle you with his hockey sense and puck skills, but he’s still very raw without the puck and in the defensive zone. Give him time and he could turn into a really nice value pick for the Hurricanes, though.
Morrow Needs Another Year
Scott Morrow is one of the Hurricanes’ best prospects. That’s a fact. He’s the best offensive defenseman in the system and can change the game on a whim. I’ve been impressed with his offensive game this season and feel more confident in his odds of making it to the NHL, but this past weekend’s series at Michigan showed me that Morrow isn’t ready. While watching tape on those games, I noticed that Morrow still panics and turns the puck over in the defensive zone. His positioning is off and he struggles to get the puck out of his own end. There are moments where he can be a liability in the defensive zone, and although he has gotten better, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. I saw it during the USA’s preliminary game at the World Juniors as well. He was responsible for the turnover that led to a goal against, so he was scratched during the USA’s only game of the World Juniors.
It’s never a bad idea to get an extra year of development under your belt. Morrow is ready for the pros on the offensive side of the puck, but his defensive game could stand to benefit from another year in the NCAA. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Morrow is in the Hobey Baker conversation next season, either. After his sophomore season, we should be seeing noticeable improvements in his defensive game. Don’t worry too much if the Hurricanes don’t sign Morrow this offseason. It’s not an Adam Fox situation. The Hurricanes will likely want Morrow to improve his all-around game before sending him to the pros.
Kochetkov is playing better than I’ve ever seen him play and his team should be reaping the rewards. The problem is that his team has scored a total of four goals in Kochetkov’s last four starts, resulting in a 1-3 record for Kochetkov. In those four games, Kochetkov has posted save percentages of .929, .947, .957 and .927. All fantastic starts ruined by a complete lack of scoring. Kochetkov has the eighth-highest save percentage in the KHL (.926) and the sixth-highest save percentage among goalies with 20 or more starts.
- Nikita Guslistov (7th/2021) has four points in his last two games
- Ville Koivunen has three points in two games
- Massimo Rizzo missed Denver’s exhibition games versus Alaska Fairbanks earlier this month. Hopefully it’s not too serious. He has had some awful luck with injuries since his draft year and was playing well for the Pioneers.
- Still no word on Ryan Suzuki, who has been out since October with an injury. All that we know is that it’s a lower-body injury and that it’s “longer term”