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Hurricanes Prospect Mailbag

It’s time to answer your burning questions about the pipeline.

Los Angeles Kings v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

Occasionally, I’ll send out tweets saying that I’ll answer any prospect questions that people might have. Usually, I respond via quote tweet, but this week, I’ve decided to turn it into a mailbag article. I understand that not everyone here has Twitter for a variety of reasons, so I’ll go into a little more depth here since I’m not limited to 280 characters.

This has been an exciting season for the Canes’ prospects and should only get more exciting as we conclude with some playoff games. Let’s get started with some of the questions (or topics) that folks sent in.

Jack Drury has been gritty and seemingly in every scrum this season, even participating in a couple of fights. I wouldn’t call him a menace to society yet, though. He’s no Tom Wilson, that’s for sure. Drury plays a very disciplined game but isn’t afraid to get to the dirty areas or get under the skin of the opposition. Usually, if Drury gets hit behind the play or gets a few whacks during a scrum, it’s because he’s doing his job. Drury frustrates the opposition into taking shots at him.

When that happens, Drury isn’t going to relent. Part of what has made Drury so effective this season is his ability to get to the dirty areas, win puck battles and frustrate the opposition. Drury’s play on the forecheck is a great example because he’ll hound the puck and force the opposition to turn the puck over. In a way, Drury can be a menace due to how effective he is on the forecheck. He’ll fit in nicely under Rod Brind’Amour next season.

I haven’t raved about how good Scott Morrow is lately, and for that I am truly sorry. The obvious and correct answer is Scott Morrow. He’s the only prospect in the system that has a realistic shot to make the same impact at the NHL level. No disrespect to Anttoni Honka, who has been a productive player in Finland since he was drafted by the Hurricanes, but my money is on Morrow being the better of the two. There aren’t many players that truly dictate the way the game is played the way Morrow can.

He’s the catalyst of his team’s offense and can do things with the puck that very few defensemen can. At some point in the next month or so, I’ll be doing another deep dive on Morrow to dissect the aspects of his game that made him such an effective player at the NCAA level as a freshman coming out of high school. From what I’ve watched, I can already tell you that Morrow’s skating and puck skills rank among the best in the NCAA among defensemen, and he’s probably better than most forwards too. Simply put, Morrow is a special prospect that has the highest ceiling out of any of our current prospects.

I love this question and it’s something that I’ll definitely consider writing about as we get closer to the draft. From what I know about scouting based on my own experiences and what I’ve heard from our scouting staff, every person is going to view players differently and value different aspects of the game. For some, the most important trait might be a player’s hockey sense. Others might value skating more than the rest. For some scouts, playing with an edge is important. There’s no one right way to evaluate players, especially as you get later into the draft. You’re just as likely to find a gem as the other 31 teams in the league, and more often than not, the player you draft won’t work out.

As for the Hurricanes’ draft strategy, they’ve been pretty open about the fact that they look for hockey sense as their number one trait. Take a look at the players they’ve drafted and you’ll notice a pattern, too. Sebastian Aho is one of the smartest players in the league and sees the ice better than most players I’ve seen in a long time. Tied for second in terms of importance are skating ability and puck skills. You want a player that can gain separation in a variety of ways, not simply through pure speed or dekes. The best players are able to do both in some capacity. As for a certain profile or build, I wouldn’t say the Hurricanes have a type. They selected Zion Nybeck, who is able to reach 5-foot-8 on a good day, and Lucas Mercuri, a 6-foot-4 center, in the same draft. Since Darren Yorke took over, the Hurricanes have taken maybe one or two players whose hockey sense wasn’t elite.

Another reason why the Hurricanes might be considered better at drafting and player development than some other teams is their ability to identify players with high upside and play to their strengths. Players such as Noel Gunler, Anttoni Honka and Scott Morrow may have been viewed as “flawed” by some other teams, but the Hurricanes were willing to bet on their upsides. And if just one of those players makes it to the NHL, they’re more likely to play top six or top four minutes. That brings more value to the team.

There’s no “right” way to draft or evaluate talent. The Hurricanes prefer to have as many draft picks as possible in order to increase their odds of drafting an NHL player. Other teams, such as Toronto, prefer to have less picks but higher upside players. The Boston Bruins have leaned towards the more physical, gritty players in recent years. The Bruins and Penguins also sign a lot of NCAA free agents in order to fill some needs on the NHL team. It’s hard to say which method is better. Selfishly, I love the way the Hurricanes identify talent because it gives me more exciting players to talk about. I don’t have to pretend to get excited about a player that might play on the third or fourth line. Instead, I get to look at our pipeline and get excited about a possible starting goalie, possible top six forwards and more.

A twofer! My answer for both is pretty much the same, to be honest. Kochetkov could make things interesting when we get to training camp in the Fall, but ultimately, I see the Hurricanes giving him another season in the AHL. Who knows, though. If the Wolves end up having a deep playoff run led by Kochetkov, he could force their hand into at least considering him for the backup role. As of right now, though, I’m leaning towards Kochetkov starting next season with Chicago. Getting 40-50 AHL starts is going to be better for his long-term development than 10-20 NHL starts would be. With the Hurricanes in win-now mode, they likely don’t want to risk having an unproven backup goaltender in charge if Andersen gets hurt.

For the record: resign = quitting and re-sign = signing a player to a new contract. Anyway, this is a difficult question. LaFontaine is now 24 years old and close to entering his prime as a hockey player. He only has a year or two of development before he essentially is what he is. Given his performance this season, I’d imagine that it would be tough to trade his rights, but I don’t believe the Hurricanes would want to give up his rights for essentially nothing. To me, it all depends on the severity of Eetu Makiniemi’s injury and his recovery. If Makiniemi returns before the season ends and looks like he hasn’t missed a step, then the Hurricanes might choose to move on from LaFontaine.

LaFontaine has proved me wrong before, so I hesitate to write him off. Playing in Norfolk will be good for LaFontaine, as it gives him an opportunity to string together consistent starts and playing time. In Chicago, he could go weeks without playing in a game. This will be a good opportunity for LaFontaine to get back on track before he gets called back up to join the Wolves once Norfolk’s season is over.

For this one, I’ll give a current prospect and a draft eligible prospect, as a treat. There are a lot of prospects that have flown under the radar this season. Massimo Rizzo had a great freshman season with Denver, winning a National Championship in the process. Ronan Seeley developed a ton over the course of the season and has been a big part of Everett’s success. Joel Nystrom was quietly very good in the SHL this season. I’ve always been high on Tuukka Tieksola, but I think I’m going to go with Noel Gunler here. Gunler has the ability to take over a shift with his skill and strength on the puck. He’s so much more than a good shooter and I think that with enough development time, he could be a great addition to the NHL roster. We’ve talked a lot about guys like Nikishin, Morrow, Kochetkov and Koivunen this season, but I think we’re all forgetting just how much of an impact Gunler could have when he reaches his peak.

As for my draft eligible prospect, I’ve been loving Portland’s Marcus Nguyen this season. I recently wrote about Nguyen for Smaht Scouting, the site that I scout the WHL for. I absolutely love Nguyen’s skill with the puck, pace he plays at and overall upside. He’s a raw prospect that will require a lot of time to develop, but the payoff could be quite nice. I feel that the public scouting sphere isn’t putting enough attention on how good Nguyen is, especially considering the fact that he’s one of the younger players in this draft class.

Ethan specified “realistic,” so I don’t think I can say Shane Wright. A few names come to mind as players that I believe could be available. Sam Rinzel, Matthew Seminoff, Matyas Sapovaliv, Vladimir Grunidin, and Reid Schaefer are all players that I like for one reason or another. I’ve mostly watched WHL skaters this year, so it’s a little hard for me to speculate on other players. Rinzel, Sapovaliv and Grunidin are players that I’ve watched with some of the people I scout with and they’ve stood out to me. I think Grunidin could be right up the Canes’ alley.

Thank you to everyone who submitted questions for the mailbag! As always, if you have any questions about the prospects in the pipeline, you can shoot me a message or mention me on Twitter @CanesProspects. If you don’t have Twitter, you can always leave your question in the comments here.