As of right now, it feels as if we’re playing the waiting game with a lot of Carolina’s prospects. The KHL has been on a pause due to COVID running rampant through the league. They’ve even had to begin training camps due to how long they’ve been on a pause. The QMJHL will resume their season on Friday after being on pause since Dec. 18.
Every league is facing postponements and cancellations, but there were still some great moments from the past month. In this month’s update, I’ll highlight news and strong performances from the past month as well as provide some insights on what to expect from certain prospects moving forward.
The KHL and The Olympics
LIke I mentioned, the KHL has been on a pause and will likely resume play after the Olympics since a lot of the league’s top players will be attending. With the league quickly approaching the playoffs, one has to wonder if they think about possibly extending the season past their usual end date of April 30. May 1 is normally the first day of the KHL’s free agency period, meaning Hurricanes prospects Pyotr Kochetkov and Vasiliy Ponomaryov would be able to return from loan and join the Chicago Wolves.
If the season is extended, however, it would push that date back. Both Ponomaryov and Kochetkov would be major additions for the Wolves in their quest for a Calder Cup, so that’s something to keep an eye on. The break also affects players like Alexander Pashin and Nikita Guslistov. Pashin should be in the KHL right now but isn’t, and if the KHL had decided to play during the olympics, it’s likely that he would have gotten the call up to the big club. Those few games in the KHL would have been valuable experience for him. Guslistov was playing incredibly well before the pause and had five points during the month of January. He was named the league’s best forward for the month of January, too. We’ll have to wait and see how Guslistov performs after some time off.
It’s not all bad, though. I’ve been keeping up with the Russian Olympic team and it looks as if Nikishin will be on their main roster. He has been playing on their third pairing in practices, which is a great sign. Nikishin is among the best defensemen in Russia and was chosen ahead of players such as Shakir Mukhamadullin and Semyon Chistyakov. Mukhamadullin was a first round pick in 2020 and Chistyakov was a fourth round pick in 2019. Nikishin has outperformed both players in the KHL this season and has earned his spot.
The QMJHL Is Back
Speaking of leagues that had long pauses, the QMJHL returns this weekend. Canes prospects Bobby Orr, Patrik Hamrla and Justin Robidas have been out of action since the middle of December, so expect a little bit of rust early on. Orr was just starting to get into a nice groove offensively and was playing some excellent hockey when the pause was announced. Robidas has been a consistent scoring threat all season long and should be carrying his team to a playoff berth. I’ve been most impressed with Robidas this season and I feel that his work ethic and offensive skill both in the offensive zone and in transition make him a solid prospect. In Orr’s past ten or fifteen games, I noticed that he was as strong on the puck as ever and getting to the middle of the ice better than anyone else on his team. That bodes well for his success. Hamrla was playing well for a team that’s had its ups and downs this season. The QMJHL has never been a league touted for its excellent defense, so Hamrla’s stats can be a little misleading. He faces a lot of high danger chances and his athleticism and recovery allow for him to make saves on a lot of these chances.
The constant postponements and pauses in the CHL have me wishing that the NHL would look to amend the transfer agreement for a year or two. I’m not asking for them to abolish it, but I feel that teams should be given the option to retain a player’s rights for an additional year in order for some of their draft picks to have their overage seasons. A lot of these players have missed out on a lot of hockey over the past two years, so perhaps an extra season in juniors might do these players some good. It won’t happen, but it’s just a thought. Part of me also wonders if certain teams elect to sign their prospects and loan them to their junior clubs for an additional season. Those types of situations are rare, but they do happen occasionally.
Good News for the Wolves
The good news is that Jack LaFontaine has allowed a total of two goals through his first two AHL starts. The bad news is that he is winless in both starts despite shutting out Rockford in regulation and overtime in his second start. I was able to watch LaFontaine’s starts and saw more of what I had seen from him in college. He was steady for Chicago and rarely caught out of position. Most of his saves were routine because he was always square to the puck. The two goals he did let in were high danger chances, which is to be expected given the amount of high danger chances that Chicago’s defense can tend to give up. Once again, this is the level that LaFontaine should have started at after turning pro. He wasn’t going to be ready for the NHL right away and it’s nice to see him performing this well already. It’s a small sample size, but then again, so was his NHL sample. Y’all were ready to give up on him after that, so maybe simmer down a bit.
Speaking of good news, Ryan Suzuki was back for a game this past weekend. He had missed the past three months due to a lower body injury and didn’t look out of place in his return. Suzuki was creating scoring chances, getting to the middle of the ice and engaging in puck battles, something that I was hoping to see more of when I watched him last year. This is a great sign for Suzuki’s development. Even though he didn’t record a point in Chicago’s 4-1 win over Grand Rapids, you noticed him every time he was on the ice.
This was a nice move by Suzuki that led to a successful zone entry pic.twitter.com/iqFj00rGwe— Canes Prospects (@CanesProspects) January 30, 2022
Dom Fensore and Scott Morrow both had impressive weekends. Fensore was named the Hockey East Defender of the Week thanks to strong performances against UMass and Providence, two top teams in the conference. Scott Morrow was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Month in January after recording nine points in eight games for UMass. Both players have had impressive seasons and have taken major strides in their development. Fensore likely plays his senior season at BU before signing with the Hurricanes and I would imagine that Scott Morrow also plays in one more season in he NCAA before turning pro. An extra year of development is always good, especially considering the fact that both players could stand to improve in the defensive zone.
Additional News and Notes
- Jesper Sellgren looked very confident manning the point on Chicago’s power play. I’ve always felt that his offensive game flies under the radar, so it was nice to see him with some additional responsibility.
- Jalen Chatfield belongs in the NHL. He signed a two year extension on January 21 and I would imagine that he gets another look in the NHL before the season is over.
- I’m very curious to see if the Hurricanes try and clear some room in the pipeline either at the deadline or closer to the draft. It’s getting crowded and we have a number of prospects ready to make the jump to both the AHL and NHL.