Folks, it’s my absolute favorite time of the year. Draft day is upon us, and while the Hurricanes are without a first round pick, it’s still an exciting time. My last piece of written content before the draft is a look at the team’s needs by position and what the team can do to fill those needs at the draft these next two days. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that these prospects make it to the NHL, but I’m looking more at overall depth by position.
Top prospects in the system: Jack Drury, Ryan Suzuki, Massimo Rizzo, Vasiliy Ponomaryov
The Hurricanes’ biggest need at the draft is the center position. They did a fantastic job of adding to their defensive depth at last year’s draft, and this year, I’ve seen a few players that were centers transition to the wing. Jamieson Rees is an example, and I don’t see him going back to center given how solid he was on the wing this past season. A lot of prospects can play center in junior, but few of them can play center at the NHL level given how difficult the position is.
A lot of the time, you’ll see natural centers get drafted a little higher than they should just because they play center rather than the wing. Still, I think that the Hurricanes should add to their center depth at the draft. It’s still uncertain whether or not Ryan Suzuki is an NHL center, and while the Hurricanes’ center depth is excellent now, it may not be when these drafted prospects are ready to make the jump to the NHL. If the Hurricanes can add another potential middle six center to their pipeline this year, it’ll help bolster our depth. Looking at our top center prospects, it’s uncertain whether any of them can play on an NHL second line. You may not be able to fill that with the 60th overall pick, but you can at least add another solid center to your pipeline.
Top prospects: Scott Morrow, Aleksi Heimosalmi, Anttoni Honka, Domenick Fensore, Joey Keane
Secondly, it would be wise for the Hurricanes to add a couple of defensemen to the pipeline at the draft. Scott Morrow is the top defensive prospect in the system and has legitimate top-four upside. Morrow likely has the highest ceiling out of all of the Hurricanes’ prospects, and with the additions of players such as Heimosalmi and Joel Nystrom at the past draft, the need to add a defenseman isn’t as much of an issue. Still, we’ve seen plenty of top defensive prospects have less than stellar tenures with the Hurricanes, which is why it’s so important to keep drafting defensemen.
A player such as Mats Lindgren would be a fantastic selection at 60th overall. He fits a similar mold to Morrow in the sense that he’s a playmaking defenseman that excels with the puck on his stick, and while his ceiling isn’t as high, he’s a solid second pairing defenseman if he hits his ceiling. Right now, the Hurricanes don’t have any prospects with top four upside playing in the AHL. Joey Keane and Jalen Chatfield are both third pairing defensemen at best, and the rest of the defensemen in the pipeline are at least a year away, if not more. I expect the Hurricanes to use at least two of their eight picks on defensemen at the draft.
Top prospects: Pyotr Kochetkov, Eetu Makiniemi, Patrik Hamrla
The Hurricanes drafted three goalies in the 2021 draft, but as we’ve seen, goalie development is incredibly complex and a very long process, so there’s never a guarantee that the goalies that you draft will be NHL caliber goalies. Folks that have been around for a little while might remember when Carolina’s top goalie prospect was Daniel Altshuller. Or, remember when it took Alex Nedeljkovic seven years to become a full-time NHL goalie?
Not every goalie is going to be ready for the NHL at 22-years old like Kochetkov is. I love Patrik Hamrla and I believe that he has the potential to be an NHL goaltender, but there’s no guarantee that he makes it to that level. It’s always smart to draft at least one goaltender in each draft. In fact, the 2020 draft was the first time since 2013 that the Hurricanes did not draft a goaltender with any of their picks. They obviously made up for it by taking three in 2021, but the point is, you never know. Out of the goalies selected by the Hurricanes since 2014, only Alex Nedeljkovic has gone on to play in more than a handful of NHL games. Kochetkov is on his way, but he has still only played in a handful of games.
In 10 years, it wouldn’t surprise me if the best goalie drafted in this draft came outside of the top 100. I like Tyler Brennan, the top goalie in this class, but I believe that he is a backup at the NHL level. It might be a good year to pick a goalie from Europe in the fifth round or later and let them develop for as long as possible. You never know, after all.
Top prospects: Noel Gunler, Jamieson Rees, Ville Koivunen, Alexander Pashin
I’m lumping the wings together since I feel the same about both. While it’s important to draft wingers, it’s not at the forefront of the team’s needs. Like I said before, plenty of prospects that start off as centers eventually transition to the wing once they reach the pros. Sure, the Hurricanes will likely draft a couple of true wingers throughout the draft, but their main focus, at least in my opinion, should be centers. I see Ville Koivunen as a winger at the NHL level and I believe that Alexander Pashin and Noel Gunler could be fantastic on the right wing for the Hurricanes in a few years. Yes, the Hurricanes lack depth at left wing in the pipeline, but there could be some centers that transition to the wing like Rees has. Patrik Puistola is still in the system as well, and while I believe that he’ll need to show tremendous growth in order to earn an entry level contract, he still has top nine upside. Earlier this year, I would have thought that the Hurricanes’ biggest need in the draft was at left wing, but the fact that most players can play on the wing if need be has shaken me from that belief.
I hope you all have enjoyed the draft coverage leading up to the draft. There’s plenty more in store for during the draft as well as afterwards, but for now, that’s all for me. The Hurricanes may be without a first round pick, but they’ve shown that they can find hidden gems throughout the draft. If you’re looking for draft coverage, I’ll be tweeting about the Hurricanes’ picks @CanesProspects on twitter. I’ll also be tweeting about each WHL player selected on my personal account @Mattsomma12, if you’re interested in learning more about players that will be drafted around the league.
It’ll be a fun few days, and I’m excited to welcome the newest class of Hurricanes prospects.