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Hurricanes Prospects Mailbag: Dog Days

Even though we’re in the dog days of summer, there’s still plenty to talk about in the pipeline.

Czechia v Canada: Preliminary Round Group A - 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

I hate the month of August. It’s hot, humid and there’s absolutely nothing going on hockey wise during the month of August. This year, we’re graced with the World Juniors, which will be a fun break from the normally hockey-free stretch of time we get each August. Still, it’s only a brief tournament, and afterwards, it’ll be a few weeks before any leagues get underway. We’ve had a bit of change in the pipeline since I last did a mailbag, so I figured that now is as good of a time as any to talk about any questions that people have.

I’d like to see Pashin play in North America before I start planning the hype train, but he is an exciting prospect. He’s not your typical seventh round pick, and while I don’t believe that he’ll be a star, he has enough skill to be a fun player at the NHL level if he reaches his ceiling. Speaking of his ceiling, I project Pashin as a middle six winger capable of playing on the power play. His defensive game isn’t great, and he isn’t very strong, but that can be worked on at the AHL level. Realistically, it’ll take time for Pashin to adjust to the level of competition in the AHL. He spent the majority of this past season in the Russian second league, so it’s a pretty big step up from what he is used to playing against. Couple that with the fact that the AHL is a very different brand of hockey than it is in Russia and you sort of get the sense that there will be a learning curve early on.

I did like that Pashin was able to participate in development camp a few weeks ago. It’ll help him get an early sense of what the pro game is like over in North America, which is knowledge that he can then use to focus his training these next few weeks. Our first look at Pashin should be at the prospects showcase sometime in September, where he’ll likely be a top player. To answer the “how hyped should we be?” question, I’m going with “moderately.” There’s still a lot of development needed in order for Pashin to be NHL ready, and while he plays with an exciting amount of skill, I don’t want to raise expectations too much.

Here’s a quote on Pashin from my system overview, which should be out towards the end of the month: “Pashin’s speed and electrifying skill should make him a favorite and I can’t wait to see him play in Chicago this season. He could be a legitimate difference maker on that roster, both at even strength and on the power play.”

I love all of my hockey children equally. In all seriousness, a few come to mind. Tuukka Tieksola has always been a personal favorite, and while he may not be the best, there’s a lot to like. Tieksola is one of the smartest players on the ice and makes a lot of plays happen that other players aren’t capable of making. He’s quick, skilled with the puck and a decent enough shooter, making him a threat in the offensive zone. The biggest issue I’ve had with Tieksola has been his lack of muscle, so I’ll be curious to see how he fares in the AHL this season, if that’s where he ends up.

Aside from Tieksola, players like Scott Morrow and Pyotr Kochetkov are the players I’m most excited for. They’re the top prospects in the system and should have big years. Morrow is likely a Hobey Baker candidate if he can continue to grow offensively, which I fully expect to happen. He’s a true elite offensive defender, and with Waddell saying they expect him to turn pro at the end of the season, it’s possible take a massive step forward this year. As for Pyotr, it’s clear that he has the crease in Chicago this upcoming season. Instead of signing a veteran, they’ve elected to hand Kochetkov the crease and sign a backup for the Wolves. He was dominant at the AHL level this past year, after all. This year, Kochetkov will look to continue his dominance while playing behind a very different and arguably worse Chicago Wolves team. Even if Kochetkov isn’t putting up ridiculous numbers, I expect to see some development. He’ll likely improve on his rebound control, which is his biggest weakness at the present moment. I’m also excited to see Jack Drury play in the NHL this year. I don’t expect his role to be that big at the start of the year, but as the year goes on, I expect Drury to be given more responsibility and to eventually play a key role for the Hurricanes.

The initial five that came to mind are: Kochetkov, Morrow, Koivunen, Trikozov and Nikishin. That’s not to say that the rest of the prospects won’t make it, or even that these five will, however. I’m also not including Jack Drury since his roster spot is all but guaranteed for next season. For Kochetkov and Morrow, these are players that, at least in my opinion, are future NHL stars. I don’t see a future where the Hurricanes move on from either player, at least not right now given how things are going. Koivunen is a really good prospect that has a lot of upside, and if his skating can improve, he’s likely an NHL player. Trikozov and Nikishin should both be joining the Hurricanes around the same time since both players are currently on KHL deals that expire in 2024. Nikishin will be NHL ready at that point, while Trikozov may need a year or two. Regardless, he’s likely an NHL player.

Now, what about some of our other top prospects such as Suzuki, Rees and Ponomarev? That’s where it gets tough. As of right now, Carolina is pretty much set at center. Aho, Kotkaniemi, Drury and Staal make for a heck of a center core, and while Staal won’t be here forever, it’s hard to see a spot opening up for Suzuki or Ponomarev in the near future. Rees could play on the wing, but he’ll have to wait another year or two for that to be a possibility. So, given the fact that the Carolina Hurricanes are in “win now” mode, it wouldn’t surprise me if these prospects are trade chips. Now, I also considered Noel Gunler over Trikozov. It’s close between the two, and I could easily put Gunler in that spot based on the fact that he’s in North America right now. Still, I’m limited to five players here, and with over 40 prospects currently in the pipeline, I can’t put everyone on the list.

Lastly, so much can change in five years, which makes it difficult to project where these players will be. Some prospect may surprise and look legit, much like Massimo Rizzo did this past year. A top prospect might also fall off, such as Dominik Bokk has. With such a deep pipeline full of players with similar upsides, it’s going to come down to which players are able to stand above the rest. So, while it’s possible (and likely) that more than these five players make it to the NHL in five years, there’s a lot of guesswork involved.

As far as I know, Suzuki is healthy and ready to go for training camp. I would imagine that we will get a look at him during the prospects showcase and during the preseason, but ultimately, he’ll go back to Chicago this year. People are writing him off a little too early, in my book, but I understand the skepticism given Suzuki’s injury history. This is without a doubt the biggest year of Suzuki’s career. If he can start to contribute offensively, I believe that his role with the Wolves will be cemented. If not, he’s still a good defensive forward. However, if Suzuki isn’t able to make a big impact this year, then he could be one of the players that loses their role to a prospect that comes in towards the end of the season, much like what happened to David Cotton this past season.

I don’t see the USA winning gold this year. While they arguably have the strongest defense in the tournament, their goaltending is a major concern. All three USA goaltenders are undrafted and none of them inspire a ton of confidence when I watch them play. This is a team that is going to have to take lessons from the Edmonton Oilers, where unless they can outscore the opposition 6-5, they’re likely not going to win. I’d be a little surprised if the USA walked out of the tournament without a medal, but I could easily see them having a disappointing tournament because of their goaltending.

I’m also not as high on the USA’s forward group as some are. The USA always brings a lot of grit and solid north-south players, but they’re a little thin as far as the high end skill guys are concerned. Logan Cooley, Sasha Pastujov, Thomas Bordeleau and Matt Coronato are the only players that I could see being top scorers in that forward group. Those four players will likely be relied upon to provide most of the scoring, along with defenseman Luke Hughes.