With the Chicago Wolves clinching a playoff spot this past Tuesday, I felt that it was time to take a look at how each Hurricanes prospect has developed over the course of the season. I’ll be taking a look at each drafted prospect as well as some of the free agent prospects and prospects that were included in trades. Over the course of the season, I’ve paid a lot of attention to the Wolves because I’ve been excited about a number of the prospects in the pipeline. And since Pyotr Kochetkov joined the team, I’ve made it a point to watch as many Wolves games as I can. It’s must-see TV, folks, and I would highly recommend an AHLtv subscription for the remainder of the season as well as playoffs. This article will include brief summaries of what I’ve noticed from each prospect this season.
Jack Drury - Drury has been outstanding this season and currently sits fourth on the team in scoring with 40 points in 53 games. Drury’s emergence as an offensive force this season is something to keep an eye on if you’re looking towards next season. In his brief NHL stint, Drury proved that he belonged at the NHL level and his entire season has proved the same thing. Drury is ready to take the next step and his speed, work ethic, defensive play and killer instinct in the offensive zone will give the Hurricanes yet another forward to add to their arsenal at the NHL level.
Joey Keane - Keane’s offensive game is as good as ever, with his puck control and ability to quarterback a power play standing out. What I’ve been most impressed with this season, however, is Keane’s ability in the defensive zone. He’s strong on the puck and confident in all aspects of his game, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Hurricanes look to give him a shot at the NHL roster next season. Keane’s strength and offensive ability would make him an option for the second power play unit if the Hurricanes need one.
Jesper Sellgren - Sellgren is one of those players that will fly under your radar. He doesn’t dazzle with his puck skills, nor does he make any phenomenal plays, but he’s always reliable in his own end and he’s arguably the best skater on Chicago’s blue line. He’s gaining more confidence with the puck and I’ve seen him take great strides this season. A while ago, Eliteprospects’ transfers account rumored that Sellgren will be heading back to Sweden next season, which would be a shame. Sellgren has NHL skills, but he’s lower on the depth chart here.
Spencer Smallman - Smallman has nearly aged out of being considered a prospect, but he’s worth mentioning because of the role that he has carved out for himself this season. Smallman is going to be one of the favorites among the coaching staff wherever he winds up because of his grinding, never give up attitude. He’ll be one of the hardest workers on the ice and he makes an impact any time he steps on the ice. Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky believes that Smallman will be an NHL player, and who am I to argue with one of the best coaches in the AHL?
Jamieson Rees - Rees struggled for the early parts of this season but has been fantastic over the past 10-15 games for the Wolves. He’s adjusting to the pace and high intensity of the AHL and finding ways to thrive under pressure. His offensive skillset has shown flashes all season long, but Rees is now able to create offense in most situations and adapt to changes in the defense. Overall, I’m seeing a player who is growing more comfortable at this level and playing his brand of hockey. He’s strong, a pest and highly skilled with the puck on his stick.
David Cotton - Cotton is also a player that is aging out from being considered a prospect, but he’s included because this is only his second professional season. Cotton has largely been a depth player on the Wolves this season, showing some nice work along the boards and a few strong offensive plays. For the most part, I’ve found Cotton to be average at the AHL level, but he’s a player that could have a long AHL career due to the fact that he’s a hard working power forward.
Ryan Suzuki - Suzuki has struggled with injuries this season, but when he has been in the lineup, I’ve liked his play. The offensive part of his game is still a little too perimeter focused for me, but his play in the neutral and defensive zones has been the biggest improvement. As Suzuki continues to gain experience at this level, the points will start to come. The “points = good” crowd will be disappointed with Suzuki’s play this season, but I’m happy with what I’ve seen from him. As we’ve seen with Rod Brind’Amour over the years, if a player isn’t able to hold their own defensively, they’re not going to succeed in his system.
Dominik Bokk - Bokk was a disappointment this season. He has all the individual skill in the world, but when it comes to utilizing his teammates, Bokk was horrible. I’d argue that Bokk was the most frustrating player on the Wolves this season and it seems that the Hurricanes would tend to agree. They loaned him to Germany to finish out the season and it wouldn’t surprise me if they try to find a new home for him in the offseason.
Artyom Serikov - Serikov isn’t a Canes prospect, but he’s 21, so I felt the need to include him. I’ve liked Serikov at times this season. His willingness to jump in on the play has been great and he makes the occasional defensive gem that makes you wonder if he has a future in this league. But overall, there hasn’t been a ton to convince me that he has NHL upside. There are a few tools, such as his skating and defensive play, but he’s a long shot for sure.
Stelio Mattheos - Mattheos has been a gritty presence for the Wolves this season, but I haven’t seen the dominant offensive player that I saw when he was playing in the WHL. There have been moments, sure, but Mattheos hasn’t had more than a depth role for the Wolves. I’d like to see what he can do in an increased role, but I don’t believe he’ll get that opportunity with Chicago this season.
Eetu Makiniemi - Makiniemi was outstanding before he got hurt. At the time, he looked like a legitimate NHL prospect and one that could have potentially competed with Kochetkov for the title of top goaltending prospect. He hasn’t played since his 1-0 shutout victory over Milwaukee on December 17, so it’s hard to say what will happen if he returns this season. Makiniemi’s athleticism and agility made him another prospect that I would have considered must-see TV.
Pyotr Kochetkov - What more can we say about Kochetkov? He is 8-0-1 through his first nine AHL starts and has a .934 save percentage. Kochetkov’s last six games have been nothing short of absolute dominance in net, and he’s proving why the Hurricanes believe him to be the goaltender of the future in Raleigh. Kochetkov has it all: athleticism, agility, great puck tracking and recovery. There’s nothing stopping him from becoming one of the top goalies in the NHL someday and this brief stint at the AHL level should make things interesting at training camp in the fall. I still see Kochetkov spending another year in the AHL since both current Hurricanes goalies are under contract for next season, but he’ll at least make things interesting.
Jack LaFontaine - Finally, we’re going to talk about Jack LaFontaine. LaFontaine’s professional career has had a rocky start and I’ve developed some concerns about his game that I may have overlooked when he was in the NCAA. His rebound control is the biggest concern that I have. LaFontaine gives up rebounds and his recoveries aren’t as quick as Kochetkov or Makiniemi, meaning he’s slower to get to rebounds and they usually wind up in the back of the net. LaFontaine tracks the puck well and is able to take up a lot of net, so there’s still hope, but I need to see his agility and recoveries improve before he can make it to the NHL.
The Wolves are an exciting team and are only going to get more exciting with the addition of Noel Gunler, who is joining the team on an amateur try-out after signing his entry-level contract with the Hurricanes. The Wolves added Tarmo Reunanen, Richard Panik and Chris Bigras at the AHL trade deadline and signed college free agent Griffin Mendel to an ATO. There’s the possibility of more additions if the Hurricanes sign other prospects, and players such as Heimosalmi, Koivunen, Seeley, Ponomaryov and Tieksola could join the team once their seasons end. The Wolves’ roster is already chock full of talent and will only get better heading into the playoffs.