We’ve nearly reached the end of the season, so now is a great time to talk about some prospects that rose up the depth chart this season and some that fell a few spots. We all know that the Hurricanes are one of the best drafting teams in the NHL, but where they stand a cut above the rest is developing their drafted players.
The Chicago Wolves play a near identical system to that of the Hurricanes, which helps to prepare the prospects for a call up or future role with the team. Development starts the second a player is drafted by the Hurricanes and continues throughout their tenure with the organization. The end of the year is a great benchmark to evaluate the state of players in the pipeline and which ones have risen up the depth chart, so let’s get started.
Kochetkov rising up the depth chart isn’t a shock, especially when you consider the fact that he was drafted to be the goalie of the future for the Hurricanes. He had a great season in the KHL before dominating the AHL for a few months. He was even able to get in a few NHL games when Andersen and Raanta went down with injuries. Kochetkov looks like he’s nearly ready for a full-time NHL role, too.
He’s capable of making the dynamic saves and stealing games for his team when need be. The big question for next season will be if Kochetkov is ready for the backup job with the Hurricanes or if they’ll leave him in Chicago for another year. With how Andersen and Raanta have played, I would imagine that Kochetkov begins the season with Chicago. Still, he’s one of the top prospects in the system and has a bright future ahead of him.
Morrow looked confident as a freshman defenseman in the NCAA, finishing as one of the best offensive defensemen in the college ranks this season. Morrow still has a lot of raw areas of his game, but he was able to adapt to the higher level of competition in the NCAA. His offensive game is elite, but the defensive side of his game needs a lot of work. Morrow has the size and strength to be better physically, and I’d like to see him utilize his strength in puck battles along the boards. Still, we’re only starting to see what Morrow is capable of. He was named a first team All-American as a freshman and should come back even stronger next season.
Drury shouldn’t be in the AHL, that much is clear. He’s an NHL player and should be with the Hurricanes next season. Drury’s game keeps improving and is a perfect fit for the system that Rod Brind’Amour implements. He’s similar to Jordan Staal in terms of his reliability in the defensive and neutral zones, but I believe there’s more offensive upside in Drury’s game. I don’t see any reason as to why Drury shouldn’t be in the NHL this fall.
Massimo Rizzo was a bit of an unknown heading into this season. He had battled injuries in each of the previous two seasons and I wasn’t sure how he would perform after missing a substantial amount of time. Boy, did Rizzo impress. He was one of the best freshmen playmakers in the NCAA and was a top player on the National Championship-winning Denver Pioneers. Rizzo’s pace, tenacity on the forecheck and elite hockey sense make him a pain to deal with in the offensive zone, and I thought that he showed some legitimate top six upside at times this season. He’s still a bit of a raw prospect, but the potential there is tantalizing.
Makiniemi was one of the top goaltenders in the AHL before he got hurt, making me believe that he has a shot at the NHL someday. Injuries have been a concern as this is the second long-term injury that Makiniemi has sustained since being drafted, however. His athleticism and strong pushes give him the ability to make key saves that some other goalies can’t.
Bokk’s performance this season was less than ideal, and I’d go so far as to say it was flat-out awful. He looked lost out there and failed to utilize his teammates. The Hurricanes loaned Bokk out to Germany and it wouldn’t surprise me if his time with the Hurricanes comes to an end this offseason. It’s a shame since the Hurricanes have next to nothing to show for the Justin Faulk trade now, but these things happen.
Nybeck didn’t produce as much as I thought he would this season, but part of that is due to the fact that HV71 signed a whole lot of forwards that kept pushing him further down the lineup. Given the right amount of time, Nybeck could be a great offensive player. I feel like he was passed on the depth chart due to injuries and a lack of tangible growth this season.
Slepets failed to establish himself on one of the KHL’s worst teams and did the same thing in Finland during his brief stint with Karpat. Slepets has some upside, but I haven’t seen a lot from him since he was drafted by the Hurricanes.
All in all, there’s a lot of good in this system that vastly outshines the bad. I haven’t even mentioned players such as Koivunen, Hamrla, Nikishin, Guslistov and Blake. I also didn’t include Jack LaFontaine in the “fallers” section because I feel that we’ve mentioned it enough at this point. Since this will be the second straight draft where the Hurricanes do not have a first round pick, it’s all the more important that they develop the prospects they do have. There’s a reason why this team is poised to be competitive for a long time, and a lot of it has to do with player development.