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About Last Season: Pyotr Kochetkov, Jack Drury, Stefan Noesen and more

Seasoned veterans and rookies alike all made big contributions for the Hurricanes and Wolves this season

NHL: MAY 28 Playoffs Round 2 Game 6 - Hurricanes at Rangers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pyotr Kochetkov

  • Age: 23
  • NHL Seasons: 1
  • Stats: NHL — 3 Games Played, 2.42 GAA, .902 Sv % | AHL — 15 Games Played, 2.09 GAA, .921 Sv %
  • Playoff Stats: NHL — 4 Games Played, 3.88 GAA, .869 Sv % | AHL — 6 Games Played, 1.65 GAA, .950 Sv %
  • Contract Status: 1 Year Remaining at $842,500 AAV

It’s safe to say that goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov made a splash in the NHL and AHL both. Kochetkov quickly became a fan favorite at both levels not just for his skill and athleticism in net, but also for his fearless, fiery playing style. Whether it was challenging the entire Iowa Wild bench or staring down known pest Brad Marchand, Kochetkov has made himself a household name.

With the Hurricanes’ goalie depth suddenly depleted thanks to the trade of Eetu Makiniemi and Alex Lyon leaving in free agency, Kochetkov immediately becomes the Hurricanes’ #3 goaltender, one who will likely shoulder much of the work in Chicago and be the first man called up when needed.

Kochetkov’s skill in net is undeniable, but he does need to work on calming his game down some. He often seems to need time to settle into games — early in his AHL tenure, he’d routinely allow goals on the first shot he faced in a game — but when he’s on, he sometimes looks unstoppable. He was thrust into the NHL earlier than expected, both in the regular season and playoffs, but acquitted himself well enough to earn himself some regular NHL appearances next season.

Jack Drury

  • Age: 22
  • NHL Seasons: 1
  • Scoring: NHL — 2 Goals, 0 Assists in 2 Games Played | AHL — 20 Goals, 32 Assists, 52 Points in 68 Games Played
  • Playoff Scoring: NHL — N/A | AHL — 9 Goals, 15 Assists, 24 Points in 18 Games Played
  • Contract Status: 2 Years Remaining at $925,000 AAV

If I’m writing about Jack Drury as a Chicago Wolves player next season, then something has gone very awry. While Hurricanes fans were understandably antsy about Drury’s choice to leave college and play in the SHL last season, when Harvard’s year was canceled, it turned out there was nothing to fear. After capturing a championship with the Växjö Lakers, Drury returned to North America and put on a stellar season with the Wolves.

Playing frequently alongside Josh Leivo and David Gust, Drury’s line caused matchup havoc for opposing teams, who had to decide if they wanted their best players to go up against Drury, or the Stefan Noesen/Andrew Poturalski duo. Drury plays a responsible 200-foot game, saw time on both the power play and penalty kill, and also isn’t afraid to play physical, having been known to drop the gloves to defend himself or a teammate.

Early in the season, when asked about Drury, Wolves coach Ryan Warsofsky declined to set a ceiling or an expectation for the young forward. From Warsofsky’s point of view, Drury is a player who’s smashed through every expectation set for him, so he hesitated to arbitrarily impose a ceiling on him. Drury is one of the Wolves who got noticeably better as each game went on, including in his breakout postseason performance. Common sentiment has Drury penciled into the Hurricanes starting night roster; if so, it will be a well-deserved promotion for him.

Joey Keane

  • Age: 23
  • NHL Seasons: 2
  • Scoring: NHL — 0 Points in 1 Game Played | AHL — 7 Goals, 26 Assists, 33 Points in 62 Games Played
  • Playoff Scoring: NHL — N/A | AHL — 1 Goal, 11 Assists, 12 Points in 18 Games Played
  • Contract Status: Issued qualifying offer, pending new contract

Keane finds himself somewhat in limbo as he awaits a new contract — he was given a qualifying offer, so the Hurricanes retain his rights, but the two sides have not yet come to terms. Keane also finds himself in limbo given that he will now need to pass through waivers if the Hurricanes intend to send him to the AHL next season. While most people are turning to Jalen Chatfield as an option for depth on the blue line, Keane should absolutely be in that conversation as well. He’s only gotten into two career NHL games and has yet to really show how he can adapt his game to play at the next level. He took on a major role with the Wolves this season, particularly in helping man the blue line on the team’s potent power play. Discipline can sometimes be an issue for him, particularly in careless stick infractions, but that doesn’t seem like something that should be holding him back. He’s done just about everything you could have asked of him in the AHL and his play deserves a longer look in the NHL.

Max Lajoie

  • Age: 24
  • NHL Seasons: 4
  • Scoring: NHL — 0 Points in 5 Games Played | AHL — 4 Goals, 29 Assists, 33 Points in 60 Games Played
  • Playoff Scoring: NHL — N/A | AHL — 4 Goals, 4 Assists, 8 Points in 18 Games Played
  • Contract Status: Issued qualifying offer, filed for arbitration for new contract

Originally acquired as a depth player, Lajoie stepped into action in the 2020-21 season for the Hurricanes in the playoffs and acquitted himself well enough in a high-pressure situation. He didn’t get quite that opportunity this season, but he was a major player for the Wolves all season long. Lajoie plays a quiet game, where you don’t often notice him, which is usually a good move for a defenseman. He and Joey Keane spent most of their time paired together and complemented each other well. Where Lajoie really made the most impact, particularly in the playoffs, is on the penalty kill. The Wolves’ PK was practically perfect in the final round against Springfield, and Lajoie was a major factor in its success. While Lajoie may have been passed on the depth chart by Keane and Chatfield, both of whom appear likely to appear on the Hurricanes in some fashion next season, Lajoie’s steady play should at least earn a call-up.

Stefan Noesen

  • Age: 29
  • NHL Seasons: 9
  • Scoring: NHL — 0 Points in 2 Games Played | AHL — 48 Goals, 37 Assists, 85 Points in 70 Games Played
  • Playoff Scoring: NHL — N/A | AHL — 9 Goals, 16 Assists, 25 Points in 18 Games Played
  • Contract Status: 2 Years Remaining at $762,500 AAV

Going through the Wolves top six is just player after player who had a breakout year, and none more so than Stefan Noesen, who obliterated any previous career bests. While he certainly benefited from playing alongside Andrew Poturalski, Noesen was successful away from the team’s 100+ point-scoring captain.

The journeyman player has spent time with six different franchises, getting stints in the NHL along the way, but aside from two full seasons with the Devils, he’s gotten limited looks. In the 2020-21 season, he played just 22 games spread over four different teams, so clearly came into this year looking to prove something.

Noesen is always careful to credit his teammates for his success, but this year saw him really round out his game to become a more complete player. While he does his best work as a power forward, crashing the net, he’s a scoring threat from anywhere on the ice. Speaking to Noesen after games, it’s also clear that he understands the game on a very high-skill level, with an ability to break down plays and on-ice decision in a way that suggest a coaching or broadcasting career could be his if he was ever interested.

While Poturalski was the soft-spoken lead-by-example captain of the team, Noesen truly felt like the heartbeat of the Wolves. He plays with passion, helping motivate and engage his teammates at crucial moments. While discipline has sometimes been an issue, with his passion sometimes crossing the line into unnecessary penalties, he did seem to stay on the right side of the line more easily as the season went on. He led the Wolves with 112 penalty minutes in the regular season, with several 10-minute majors under his belt; in the playoffs, he was tied for fifth on the team with 18 minutes. That’s an impressive decrease given the well-documented penalty and officiating trouble the team experienced in the playoffs. Noesen ultimately appears to have learned the lesson that he can’t help the team while he’s in the penalty box.

It was unclear which, if any, of the Wolves’ big three veterans (Noesen, Poturalski, Leivo) would return next season. All three earned the shot to prove themselves worthy of NHL time, whether with the Hurricanes or elsewhere. While the latter two departed in free agency, Noesen turned his excellent performance into a two-year contract extension with the Hurricanes. With the departure of Steven Lorentz via trade, there is an open spot in the Hurricanes’ bottom six available. A strong camp from Noesen could put him in a strong position to get one more late-career crack at the NHL.

Josh Leivo

  • Age: 29
  • NHL Seasons: 10
  • Scoring: NHL — 1 Goal, 2 Assists, 3 Points in 7 Games Played | AHL — 22 Goals, 24 Assists, 46 Points in 54 Games Played
  • Playoff Scoring: NHL — N/A | AHL — 15 Goals, 14 Assists, 29 Points in 18 Games Played
  • Contract Status: Departed in free agency; signed 1 year deal with St. Louis Blues

If the Springfield Thunderbirds couldn’t beat the Chicago Wolves, then at least they could acquire the team’s top playoff performer. Veteran forward Josh Leivo heads to the Blues organization next season, where he could get another chance to crack the NHL roster — and if he doesn’t, he’ll be working to put up points for the team he just beat in the Calder Cup Finals.

Much like Noesen, Leivo has bounced around the league, with a few underwhelming NHL stints on his resume, including nine points in 38 games with the 2020-21 Calgary Flames. Leivo took advantage of the opportunity to potentially rehabilitate his career by turning in his best performance since 2015-16, where he recorded 48 points with the Toronto Marlies.

Leivo was fairly streaky during the regular season, but with Noesen and Poturalski in the lineup, it didn’t matter so much as there was always someone there to pick up the slack for him. More important is Leivo’s penchant for late game heroics, as he recorded nine game winning goals through the regular season and playoffs, including a number of overtime or buzzer beater winners. “Clutch” isn’t exactly something there’s a statistic for, but however you measure it, Leivo has it. He was a player who would routinely be used in the closing moments of a game where the Wolves needed a goal, and more often than not would come through for his team.

Andrew Poturaski

  • Age: 28
  • NHL Seasons: 3
  • Scoring: NHL — 0 points in 2 Games Played | AHL — 28 Goals, 73 Assists, 101 Points in 71 Games Played
  • Playoff Scoring: NHL — N/A | AHL — 8 Goals, 15 Assists, 23 Points in 18 Games Played
  • Contract Status: Departed in free agency; signed 2 year deal with Seattle Kraken

Andrew Poturalski, who has been an instrumental player at every stop in his career, never seemed to slow down at all this season. The longest stretch of games where Poturalski did not record a point was three — the Wolves still won two of those games. In an 11-game scoring slump in March, Poturalski still managed to contribute 15 assists. He excelled at setting up his teammates, frequently deploying behind the net and wraparound plays that, despite being predictable, were rarely stopped by opposing teams.

He’s never gotten more than a cursory look in the NHL, with his speed and lack of truly explosive skating being a factor holding him back. He worked on that over the last off-season though and showed that he could effectively use bursts of speed to separate himself from opposing teams and create scoring chances.

The Seattle Kraken are going to be counting on Andrew Poturalski to be a late bloomer who can finally make an impact in the NHL next season; worst case scenario is that he helps lead the fledgling Coachella Valley Firebirds in their inaugural season. You could do worse than bringing in a player with a 100+ point season and two consecutive Calder Cups.

Jack LaFontaine

  • Age: 24
  • NHL Seasons: 1
  • Stats: NHL — 2 Games Played, 7.20 GAA, .780 Sv % | AHL — 13 Games Played, 2.89 GAA, .885 Sv %
  • Playoff Stats: N/A
  • Contract Status: Did not receive qualifying offer, current free agent

Jack LaFontaine’s season is a somewhat unique example of the brutal realities of professional hockey. Lured away from the University of Minnesota because of a sudden rash of injuries all up and down the Hurricanes pipeline, LaFontaine was quickly thrust into action with the Hurricanes. He allowed two goals on three shots in his first appearance; nine days later he allowed seven on 38 and was immediately reassigned to the AHL.

LaFontaine didn’t fare much better with the Wolves. His first two games were overtime losses, including the rare double shutout that was decided in a shootout. LaFontaine never seemed to get truly comfortable in the Wolves net, and some struggles that may have been minimized or easy to overlook on his powerhouse NCAA team were hurdles he couldn’t overcome at the professional level.

Alex Lyon

  • Age: 29
  • NHL Seasons: 5
  • Stats: NHL — 2 Games Played, 2.93 GAA, .908 Sv % | AHL — 30 Games Played, 2.16 GAA, .912 Sv %
  • Playoff Stats: AHL — 12 Games Played, 2.03 GAA, .923 Sv %
  • Contract Status: Departed in free agency; signed 1 year deal with Florida Panthers

Lyon fits the stereotype of goalies as somewhat odd individuals. The former Yale goalie has a dry sense of humor, can talk to you at length about likely any esoteric topic imaginable, and goes about his business in net very quietly. It’s rare to see Lyon get rattled, though playing the puck is not his strength. Several near misses and a few goals against in the playoffs happened when Lyon went behind the net to make a play and subsequently mishandled the puck.

That said, Lyon was still one of the top goaltenders in the AHL and turned in a masterful performance in the Cup-clinching game five, stopping all 28 shots he faced. He’s a player who has certainly put in his dues in the AHL but has never been able to stick in the NHL. He’s somewhat smaller than the typical goalie these days, and his game is never particularly flashy or athletic. He’s generally positionally sound, however, and simply goes about his business in net.

Lyon will head to the Panthers organization next season, where he most likely will wind up back in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers. Lyon has a two-game suspension in the AHL to serve thanks to a few caught-on-camera middle fingers after winning the Calder Cup.

C.J. Smith

  • Age: 27
  • NHL Seasons: 3
  • Scoring: NHL — 0 points in 1 Game Played | AHL — 24 Goals, 34 Assists, 58 Points in 60 Games Played
  • Playoff Scoring: NHL — N/A | AHL — 3 Goals, 6 Assists, 9 Points in 16 Games Played
  • Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

Like the rest of the Wolves veterans, Smith is largely responsible in all three zones and played on special teams. He turned in seven power play goals, good for fourth on the team. He’s overall a fairly under-the-radar performer who helped spread out scoring on the team. If opponents worked to cover Noesen and Poturalski, for example, Smith was frequently left alone and could get into position to make a play.

Of all of the players profiled here, Smith is the only one who doesn’t yet have a new team for next season. Smith largely played with Noesen and Poturalski, but was versatile enough to slot into any place in the lineup where needed. He played at nearly a point-per-game pace, a performance which would have been noteworthy in general were it not for the fact that Noesen and Poturalski both turned in record-setting performances.