Prospect rankings are always fun, and this is as good of a time as any to do another one. My list in January can be found here, and obviously, there are going to be changes. Obviously, the Jack LaFontaine experiment didn’t work out. At the time this list was created, LaFontaine had just made his NHL debut, and while it was a little rocky, he was just starting out as a pro and had a bright future ahead of him. Afterwards, LaFontaine struggled as a pro and was eventually pushed out of Chicago’s crease by Pyotr Kochetkov.
Kochetkov coming to North America as quickly as he did wasn’t expected, and while I knew he was the better goalie, I was expecting LaFontaine to have very little competition outside of Alex Lyon in the AHL. That obviously didn’t happen. Hindsight is 20/20, so this ranking obviously looks bad in hindsight.
Ranking Morrow fourth also looks silly, but this ranking came after he was scratched at the World Juniors and held pointless in a series against Michigan. Funnily enough, Morrow would go on a seven-game point streak immediately after I finished these rankings and would have eight points in that stretch of games. Morrow only looked better as the season went on, and now, I believe he’s the organization’s top prospect. Yes, Jack Drury and Pyotr Kochetkov might be more NHL ready, but Morrow is unquestionably the top player in the Hurricanes’ pipeline.
The Carolina Hurricanes losing Jesper Sellgren to Europe is a hit to the Hurricanes’ defensive depth in the pipeline, but the team still has Nikishin and Fensore on the left side and added Forsmark, Grudinin and Pelevin at the draft. The only other hits to this list are Eetu Makiniemi and Joey Keane. Makiniemi was looking like a legitimate NHL prospect before his injury, which came at the worst possible time. Of course, it allowed for Kochetkov to take the crease in Chicago, but in a way, it also spelled the end for Makiniemi in the Hurricanes’ system. Jalen Chatfield has passed Keane on the depth chart on the right side, and the addition of Dylan Coghlan has made it that much harder for Keane to crack the lineup. That combined with his age caused me to cut him from this top 20 ranking.
For these rankings, I’m providing my own list and commentary on each ranking. That’s already going to make for a long post, so grab a snack or something. I’m also enlisting the help of Josh Tessler, the head of Smaht Scouting, for these rankings. He’s providing his own ranking as an unbiased observer. In exchange for his assistance, I have promised one (1) Storm Brew to be consumed at a later date.
- Scott Morrow - Well, this one shouldn’t surprise. Morrow is the top prospect in the system and the player with the highest upside overall. Morrow has the potential to be a legitimate top pairing offensive defenseman and run a power play at the NHL level. It’s not unreasonable to expect Morrow to hit 50-60 points per season over the course of his career. His skating and hockey sense are elite, he can work some magic with the puck and there’s a lot of skill to his game. Not much else needs to be said about Morrow. He’s the Hurricanes’ top prospect and should be a fantastic NHL player if he is developed properly.
- Pyotr Kochetkov - Hurricanes fans were able to see flashes of what Kochetkov could be when he was with the team towards the end of the season. He has the athleticism, quickness and size to be a starter at the NHL level. Kochetkov also gets bonus points for being an entertaining goalie. He has the ability to dazzle with his saves and is a fiery personality that isn’t afraid to get involved in scraps in front of his own net. Kochetkov has the potential to be the goalie of the future here in Raleigh.
- Jack Drury - Drury will be in the NHL next season. I still believe that he’s going to be a third-line player for most of his NHL career, but he has the all-around game that will make Rod Brind’Amour comfortable with putting Drury anywhere in the lineup. I believe that Drury will be a key player for the Hurricanes this year. He may be relied upon to kill penalties, play on the second power play unit from time to time and see some tougher matchups due to his strong play in his own end.
- Noel Gunler - Gunler is one of two, maybe three forwards in the Hurricanes’ system that has legitimate top six upside. From his skating, goal scoring, hockey sense and strength on the puck, Gunler has the tools necessary to make it to the NHL. I’m excited to see him with the Wolves this season.
- Gleb Trikozov - Trikozov, like Gunler, has top six upside and is an exciting prospect to have in the pipeline. Trikozov has elite offensive skills and could see some time in the KHL this season.
- Vasiliy Ponomarev - Ponomarev reminds me of Jack Drury in a lot of ways. Both are under six feet tall but have the same level of confidence in all three zones. Ponomarev is a pain to play against and could possibly have more offensive upside than Drury, which is exciting. This is a player that should take on a big role with the Wolves this upcoming season.
- Ville Koivunen - Koivunen could be as high as four on this list, to be quite honest. There’s a lot to like about his game. His work ethic, hockey sense and overall offensive game give him the potential to play top six minutes in the NHL. The biggest question mark is his skating, which is why he’s down at seven on this list. Some more time to improve his overall speed and agility will go a long way.
- Ryan Suzuki - This is a big year for Suzuki. There are plenty of centers in the pipeline that could pass him on the depth chart if he can’t stay healthy. If he does stay healthy, however, I believe that this is the year that we see Ryan Suzuki take a big step forward offensively. We forget that he is only 21 years old and will continue to improve. His defensive game is already miles ahead of where it was when he was drafted, but I’ve yet to see his offensive game take those same steps forward.
- Jamieson Rees - Rees is a pain to play against and had a great second half of the season in Chicago. I felt that he developed real chemistry with Ponomarev and their checking line got under the skin of the opposition. He’ll get the opportunity to play up in the lineup next season, which should allow for his offensive game to develop a bit more. As of right now, I see Rees being a bottom six energy forward that is close to playing in the NHL.
- Domenick Fensore - Fensore is arguably the best skater in the pipeline and one of the better creators of offense, too. People like to bring up his size in order to discredit him, but he’s a great prospect with a lot of promise. Last season, Fensore was one of the best defenders in transition in the entire NCAA. This year, he’ll be the top defenseman and captain on a promising Boston University squad.
- Massimo Rizzo - It’s about time to start up the Massimo Rizzo hype train, folks. While I’m still not 100% sure of what his upside is at the NHL level, I do know that there’s a ton of skill in his game. His ability to make plays at an NHL pace is bordering on elite. There’s potential here and he’s a player to watch when his season starts in the fall.
- Alexander Pashin - I’ll admit that I was surprised to see Pashin come to North America as soon as he did. Then again, I’m not going to complain about the Wolves adding a player of his talent level. He’s another prospect with a high ceiling, although his floor may be a little lower than that of Gunler or Trikozov. Pashin has high end skill and could be another nice middle six option for the Hurricanes in the future.
- Alexander Nikishin - I’m unashamed of my love for Nikishin, but I will say that my expectations for him have gotten more realistic since January. He’s a good defender with great physicality, and his skating has become a strength as well. I do see some holes in his defensive game that need to be worked out, but he has two more years left on his KHL contract. That’s plenty of time to work those out. The biggest question is whether or not his offensive game can take another step forward before he comes to North America. He has a booming shot, but it’s not one that’ll be a threat from the point at the NHL level. I’d like to see him make better passes.
- Aleksi Heimosalmi - Heimosalmi had a quiet Liiga season but a really solid, albeit brief, showing at the World Juniors. There’s potential in how he plays. He’s quick, a good defender, can win puck battles, and has shown flashes of offensive creativity and skill. He struggled with injuries at times this past year and also played on a terrible team, so I’m interested to see how he performs this upcoming season.
- Vladimir Grudinin - Before you start on “but Matt, he’s a fifth round pick,” let me at least get a chance to explain myself. Grudinin is legit. He’s more dynamic offensively than someone like Heimosalmi, and he’s arguably a better skater. There’s a lot of upside in the way he plays, but in order for me to fully believe in him, he’ll have to improve defensively. Still, this is a player that could be a top four defender someday, and I’d rather take him over some bruiser that might be a sixth or seventh defenseman someday.
- Justin Robidas - Robidas is a good prospect, size be damned. He has one of the best shots in the Hurricanes’ system behind Gunler and perhaps Trikozov, and plays with a ton of pace and energy. I could see Robidas being a nice complementary goal scorer at the NHL level.
- Jackson Blake - Blake reminds me of Rizzo in the sense that both can make plays at a high pace. His USHL season was impressive, although he did cool off towards the end of the season. Blake should take on a big role with the University of North Dakota in the fall, and I’m interested to see how he plays against bigger competition. He isn’t the strongest player, so he’ll need to bulk up.
- Tuukka Tieksola - Last year wasn’t Tieksola’s year, if I’m being honest. He struggled with Karpat and couldn’t stay healthy, which certainly didn’t help. This season, I’m unsure if he is Chicago bound or remaining in Finland since he did not attend development camp. Tieksola can be electrifying when he’s on his game, though, and if he is able to get back on track, he could be a fun NHL player.
- Ronan Seeley - Seeley is coming off of a career year in the WHL and will be joining the Wolves for the upcoming season. The smooth skating defenseman impressed me with his ability in all three zones and his improved physicality this past season. He may start off in a depth role in Chicago, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he moves his way up the depth chart.
- Patrik Hamrla - I could’ve picked a few prospects here, but ultimately, I decided to go with Hamrla. He played on a pretty awful team this past season and didn’t have the best numbers as a result. When I watched him play, however, I saw a dynamic goalie capable of making the types of saves that keep his team in the game. He has the ability to steal games for his teams and he did just that in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs against Saint John. Stylistically, Hamrla reminds me of former Hurricane Petr Mrazek. He’s still a long way away from the NHL, but I see the potential.
Honorable Mentions: Alexander Perevalov, Robert Orr, Joel Nystrom
This was a tough list to make. The Hurricanes have a clear top two prospects in Morrow and Kochetkov, but after that, it gets debatable. Ultimately, I went with Drury based on NHL readiness. He may not have Gunler’s upside, but there’s no denying Drury’s ability and work ethic. Hell, that alone could put him in the top six at some point in his career. My feelings on the Hurricanes’ pipeline are pretty similar to those of other people in the public scouting scene. The Hurricanes have a very deep pipeline with a lot of “B” and “C” level prospects, but few, if any, “A“ level prospects.
Scott Morrow could be an elite player, but there’s still a lot of development needed in order for that to happen. This sort of thing happens when you’re a team that has been in the playoff picture for four years now. What has kept the Hurricanes’ pipeline intact has been the front office’s mission to keep the pipeline stocked with as many prospects as they can have. Carolina has drafted 40 players in the past four years, an average of ten players per draft. That’s how the Hurricanes are going to manage to be a great team for a long time. They’ve kept the pipeline stocked with prospects that will either make the NHL or be utilized in trades to bring in NHL talent, like we saw this past year when the Hurricanes traded Aidan Hreschuk to Columbus for Max Domi.
Josh Tessler’s Ranking
- Scott Morrow
- Gleb Trikozov
- Pyotr Kochetkov
- Jack Drury
- Noel Gunler
- Vasili Ponomarev
- Ville Koivunen
- Domenick Fensore
- Alexander Pashin
- Jamieson Rees
- Ryan Suzuki
- Aleksi Heimosalmi
- Vladimir Grudinin
- Jackson Blake
- Massimo Rizzo
- Ronan Seeley
- Justin Robidas
- Alexander Nikishin
- Bryce Montgomery
- Robert Orr
Honorable mentions: Hamrla, Nybeck, Tieksola, Perevalov
There are differences in Josh’s list, but none that I’m really shocked about. When you get past the top ten or so, you’re really splitting hairs between the prospects at that level. The Hurricanes have drafted a lot of good prospects over the years and very few great ones, so obviously, the differences between some of the prospects in the latter half of the rankings will be marginal. Take Bryce Montgomery, for example. I left him off of my list because I was unsure of his upside at the NHL level, but I can acknowledge the fact that he has the physical tools necessary to play NHL games. He’s also a strong skater and a smart defender that stood out at development camp.
Josh is incredibly high on Trikozov, enough to rank him eighth on our final draft ranking for the 2022 draft. From what I’ve seen of the player, it’s not hard to see why. He possesses elite offensive skills and skating ability, which makes him stand ahead of a lot of the other prospects in our pipeline. I’m obviously a bigger fan of Nikishin than he is, but I’m willing to admit that there’s some bias there. Overall, Josh and I agree on a lot of things and while our rankings may not line up exactly, it’s pretty obvious that there’s a group that we both consider to be ahead of the pack in the Hurricanes’ system. Sending a huge thank you to Josh for helping contribute to these rankings. You can find Josh on Twitter and you can find our scouting work over at Smaht Scouting.