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Carolina Hurricanes System Overview: Forwards

Carolina’s system is full of forwards that could make an impact at the NHL level.

Los Angeles Kings v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

The future of the Hurricanes is something that every fan can take an interest in. Whether you’re just starting out as a fan or if you’re a seasoned veteran, it’s an important aspect of the team that will help to determine their success down the road. When I started paying close attention to Carolina’s prospects, the future of the team was the only thing to get excited about here in the Center of the Hockey Universe. Nowadays, the NHL team is a cup contender and their affiliate is coming off of a Calder Cup championship, so there’s a culture of winning and a standard of success that never felt present with the Hurricanes of old.

Don Waddell and his staff have put an emphasis on keeping the team competitive for a long time, too, which is why they’ve taken steps to enhance the way they draft and develop players. The pipeline that the Hurricanes have built is setting these players up for success, ensuring that the Hurricanes will have a steady flow of NHL talent year after year.

This is the first part of my complete overview of the Hurricanes’ system outside of the NHL. It’s my largest undertaking as a prospect writer, covering every single player outside of the NHL roster that is either under contract or unsigned by the Hurricanes. This project includes notes, video and analysis, and is the result of hundreds of hours of game tape that I have been able to watch over the years. Following the future of the team has been a passion project of mine for years and I’m thrilled to be able to share my work with you all from week to week. I’ve watched countless games, had many late nights watching WHL hockey and early mornings watching European hockey, and I’ve done it all out of a love for this side of the game. It’s been a grind, though. First, I was balancing school with my prospects work, catching games as often as I could. Now, I’ve been balancing my Hurricanes prospects work alongside my full time job as well as scouting the WHL for Smaht Scouting. It’s definitely a labor of love, so everyone’s support means the world to me.

This will be in a particular order, but it will not be a ranking. Here is how I will be ordering things. First, I will talk about the Hurricanes’ drafted players on the Chicago Wolves. Next, I will talk about drafted players that have signed with the Hurricanes that are not playing on the Wolves. Thirdly, I will talk about the Hurricanes’ unsigned draft picks currently in the system. Finally, I will give notes on each player signed to a two-way deal for the upcoming 2022-2023 season, as well as notes on a few notable players under contract with the Wolves.

Jack Drury, C

NHL ETA: 2022

Drury is going to be in the NHL this upcoming season, and I’d be willing to put money on it. He has little else to prove at the AHL level after being one of the top players on the Wolves during their Calder Cup Championship run. He set a Wolves franchise record for rookie scoring in the playoffs and led the league in rookie scoring in the playoffs as well. Jack Drury wins wherever he goes. He has a silver medal from the World Juniors, a bronze medal from the World Championships, an SHL championship and now a Calder Cup championship under his belt.

It’s not hard to see how Drury has been successful, either. His dogged determination and intensity on the ice gives him an edge against the competition and makes him a pain to play against. Drury is constantly involved in the play and will frustrate the living hell out of you in the process. He’s an agitator with a good amount of skill to his game, and while he may not wow you with his skill, he’s a productive offensive player. Drury does a lot of his best work from right around the net, poking in rebounds and crashing the crease to get to the high danger areas.

In the defensive zone, Drury plays a responsible game that pushes the play out to the perimeter and away from any real danger. He’s so tenacious on both the forecheck and backcheck, too. It’s as if he refuses to let the opposition take control of the puck. The Hurricanes will use Drury in all situations because of how versatile he is. Need to win a faceoff in the key moments of the game and Jordan Staal isn’t available? Jack Drury. Need someone to kill a penalty? Jack Drury. Need a greasy goal? Jack Drury. Need to defend a lead with a few minutes remaining? Jack Drury. Need to conquer M. T. Knett? Jack Drury.

Now, let’s break down the intricacies of Drury’s game. Players that can kill penalties are incredibly valuable, and Drury is one of the best at it. He’ll be right in the shooting lanes and possesses a willingness to sacrifice the body to block shots and passes.

Drury’s penalty killing was elite this past year, as has been the case since he was drafted by the Hurricanes. He has always been a strong defensive forward, so it wasn’t surprising seeing Drury taking on a key penalty killing role with the Wolves this past season. Since Drury was drafted by the Hurricanes, he has grown leaps and bounds in every aspect. Drury’s skating has gone from being a bit of a hindrance to being above average, which has drastically improved his effectiveness on the rush. As a result, Drury has gone from a player that I could see being a third line center at best to a player that could be a 40-50 point NHL player capable of playing in all situations. Drury’s shot has been a nice surprise as well. He scored 20 goals during the regular season and then scored nine in 18 playoff games, meaning that his shot is good enough to beat professional goaltenders. Take a look at this clip, where Drury beats the Stockton goalie clean.

Or this one, where Drury once again scores off of a nice shot on the rush.

Drury’s playmaking this past year was excellent, utilizing quick hands and above average skating to create scoring chances in a variety of ways.

Drury is a smart player that Rod Brind’Amour is going to love having on his team. He’s responsible in all three zones, great on both the rush and during extended zone time, a strong defender and a key faceoff winner. Drury’s skating won’t ever be his strongest suit, but he proved this past season that he is able to contribute on the rush and generate scoring chances in a variety of ways. He’s Carolina’s most NHL-ready prospect, and I fully expect him to be in the lineup on opening night.

Ryan Suzuki, C

NHL ETA: 2024

Ryan Suzuki has had some brutal luck since being drafted by the Hurricanes. Right as he was playing some of his best hockey with the Barrie Colts during the 2019-20 season, he got hit in the eye with a high stick and missed a few months due to having partial blindness in one eye. After he recovers, he gets traded to Saginaw, where his game takes a major step forward. Then, COVID shuts the hockey world down and his momentum comes to a screeching halt. Suzuki then plays in a handful of AHL games, but not enough to constitute a full season, limiting his development in what would have been his final OHL season.

Last season, Suzuki missed two separate chunks of games, including the AHL playoffs, due to injury. Staying healthy is one of Suzuki’s biggest priorities this season, along with showcasing the offensive skills and hockey sense that made him a first round pick back in 2019. When Suzuki was in the lineup this past season, I thought that he was great in his own end and was playing with aggression, something that had been missing from his game in previous seasons. This was a new player that could be relied upon in the key moments of the game to block shots and prevent the opposition from scoring. He’d be active on the forecheck and keep the possession in favor of his team at any cost. Those moments are reason for optimism with Suzuki’s game, especially when it’ll come time for him to make his NHL debut. Brind’Amour stresses the importance of players having that “200-foot game” where they can be as good in their own end as they are in the offensive zone.

Now, as for Suzuki’s offensive game, there’s more that I need to see. I noticed that Suzuki struggled with decision making on occasion and would hold onto the puck for too long. He wasn’t used to the pace at which you have to make decisions at the professional level and would lose the puck in those moments. Had he played in a full season last year, we would have seen Suzuki work through that. When he returned from injury, I noticed that his passing had improved and he seemed confident on the power play as well as at even strength. Still, the issue with Suzuki not getting to the middle of the ice enough remains. In order to be an effective center, Suzuki is going to have to be able to get to the middle of the ice and exploit the high danger areas. As of right now, he isn’t able to do that consistently. Let’s take a look at what’s good about Suzuki’s game, and where he may need to improve.

I mentioned that Suzuki’s defensive game took a major step forward this past season. He was some time on the penalty kill and showed a knack for blocking shots in the process. Suzuki was able to get in the shooting lanes and prevent shots from reaching the goaltender. Like in this clip, he is able to track where the puck is and take away any angle that the shooter had, forcing him to shoot into Suzuki’s shin pads.

For this next clip, pay close attention to how Suzuki reacts to the play along the boards.

In addition to the blocked shot, Suzuki also makes a nice play immediately after collecting the puck. He protects the puck, shifts to the backhand and makes a simple, yet effective, pass to initiate a breakout on the penalty kill. I’m waiting for Suzuki to break out offensively. I still have high hopes that it’ll happen, but this upcoming season is very much a “show me” season for Suzuki. He needs to go out and prove that he can be a top center in Jack Drury’s absence, because players such as Vasiliy Ponomarev, Jamieson Rees and Massimo Rizzo will all be competing for the same NHL jobs.

Jamieson Rees, C

NHL ETA: 2024

If you’re a Hurricanes fan that has wanted the team to have an agitator in their lineup, may I interest you in Jamieson Rees? If and when Rees makes it to the NHL, he’ll be a thorn in the side of 31 other teams. He plays with pace, is great with the puck on his stick, makes a lot of smart plays in all three zones and gets under your skin. Rees will take a shot at you after the whistle, get in a scrum, talk trash and more in an effort to get under your skin and force you to take a penalty. Having a player that can put you on the power play simply by being a nuisance when he’s on the ice is incredibly valuable, and with Rees, you’re also getting a player that can contribute offensively while being a pain for the opposition to play against.

Rees is likely a middle six forward at the NHL level, and while I don’t see him scoring more than 40 points a year on a consistent basis, his value in putting the Hurricanes on the power play is where he’s going to shine. He’ll goad teams into taking retaliation penalties just like every player ever is able to do against Andrei Svechnikov. Rees struggled for the first half of the season last year, likely due to the level of competition in the AHL being much higher than it was in the previous year. Rees’ second half of the season was excellent, however, and even when he wasn’t appearing on the score sheet, he was generating scoring chances and making life difficult for the opposition. I’m expecting Rees to take a big step forward with Chicago this year.

Rees’ first full professional season started off with a strong preseason performance with the Hurricanes, but an injury held him out of the Wolves’ lineup for a while and stalled his development for a bit. It took Rees a while to figure out his role on the team, and for a while, he struggled with the pace of play and physicality. During the second half of the season, Rees was able to right the ship and be a consistent threat when he was on the ice, both in terms of agitation and actual offense. Even though Rees didn’t have the best season points wise, I felt that he settled into his role on the team and gradually became a key part of the team’s success. Rees’ offensive numbers didn’t pop this year, but there were moments that sparked some intrigue. Take this play, for example.

Rees’ selling of the pass, turn to make it seem like he’s shooting, and then the move back to the pass is great, and his patience with the puck helps a lot. He is smart enough to wait until the last second to make the pass, ensuring that the pass can make it through the first defender while avoiding the defender that is hounding the eventual goal scorer. In order to be successful next season, Rees will need to continue to be a thorn in the side of the opposition while finding new ways to generate offense. If he can produce at a higher rate this year, I could see him being a consistent top nine winger at the NHL level. If not, I’m not sure if he’ll be able to play above a fourth line role for the Hurricanes.

Stelio Mattheos, RW

NHL ETA: not likely

Stelio Mattheos will likely fill Spencer Smallman’s role for the Wolves this upcoming season. He’ll be a player that can be relied upon in all three zones and while he may not be the most productive player, he can play anywhere in the lineup if needed. Smallman was the straw that stirred many drinks, as stated by Wolves play by play announcer Jason Shaver, and I see similarities between Smallman and Mattheos. Mattheos has two Calder Cups under his belt, and despite only appearing in 124 career AHL games, this makes him a veteran presence in the locker room this season.

I don’t see much of a path to the NHL for Mattheos, anymore. He hasn’t been able to make an impact offensively at the AHL level, and at this point, I’m not sure if he’ll ever be able to. His checking line was quite good for the Wolves last season, and it is possible that he’ll be able to take on more of an offensive role, but I feel that Mattheos is best suited for a checking role based on what I’ve seen from him thus far. A checking role is fine, though. Every team needs one, and if Mattheos can work in the corners and create turnovers, he’ll end up being an absolute pain to play against. This play here is nice, because his line forces a turnover and it leads to a shot on goal.

Blake Murray, C

NHL ETA: not likely

Murray is another player that got the short end of the stick when the OHL decided to not have a season, meaning that he had to play in the Swedish third league for a handful of games during the 2020-21 season. This past year, Murray turned pro and had a bit of a rough go of things initially as he worked to adjust to the pace and physicality of the pros. I liked how his game ended up towards the end of the season, as I felt that he was becoming a more confident offensive player for the Admirals. Murray will compete for a roster spot with the Wolves this season, but it’s a crowded forward core in Chicago and he may be better suited to start the year in Norfolk. Murray is a goal scorer that plays with a ton of pace, and I think there’s some untapped potential in his game in terms of physicality. He could be a power forward given his size and skating ability, but he’ll need to put it all together quickly if he wants to avoid getting passed on the depth chart.

There are times where I see Murray at his best and I think to myself that he could be something at the next level. His vision has widened since his draft year, meaning that he no longer gets tunnel vision. Murray doesn’t have as much of a shoot first mentality anymore. Instead, he’ll scan the ice and assess all of his options before electing to shoot or pass. I like this pass from a game against Jacksonville. The skating could use work, but take a look at how he is able to spot a teammate through traffic.

Murray’s shot is an asset and it leaves his stick in a hurry. If Murray can improve his skating and use his big frame to his advantage, I could see him being a real pain to play against. He has the build of a power forward and can let it rip, after all.

Noel Gunler, RW

NHL ETA: 2023 or 2024

Gunler is coming to the Wolves with a ton of intrigue this season. He’s one of the top prospects in the Hurricanes’ system in terms of overall upside, and while he may never be a truly elite player, he’s one of the few prospects in the pipeline that could be a legitimate top six forward at the NHL level. Gunler has it all. He’s smart, a great skater, a natural goal scorer, physical and solid in his own end. He’ll take some time adjusting to the timing and pace of the AHL, but the fact that he was able to appear in 21 AHL games should make his adjustment period that much shorter. Gunler is a player that I expect to break out this year. He has all of the tools to make him a top scorer on the Wolves and it wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up being one of the better rookie forwards in the entire AHL this year. He has the offensive skills to do it, after all. Gunler stands as one of Carolina’s top forward prospects and is likely a key piece moving forward.

I feel that, in order to effectively break down Gunler’s style of play, it’s best to use video. Let’s first look at his shot, which might be the best shot in the entire pipeline.

There isn’t a whole lot of space for this shot, but Gunler finds a way to place it perfectly for a goal. Gunler’s pinpoint accuracy makes him a goal scoring threat anytime he’s on the ice, because if you don’t cover him, he’ll find a way to score. His shot is a threat from pretty much anywhere in the offensive zone. Then, there’s the release, which is just as impressive. The shot leaves his stick in a hurry, giving goalies slightly less time to react to the shot. You’d think that it wouldn’t mean much, but when you only get a fraction of a second to look at the angle, you have a worse chance of stopping the puck.

You may also have noticed that Gunler’s shot is powerful with a lot of speed behind it. It’s even hard to see the shot because of how quick it is. For me, Gunler’s shot checks all of the boxes. It’s hard, accurate and the shot release is near perfect. He may not be Alex Ovechkin, but if he makes it to the NHL, you’re looking at a player that can score 20+ per season.

An underrated aspect of Gunler’s game is how strong he is with the puck on his stick. He’ll work hard to maintain possession of the puck and can protect it from an attacking defender. Gunler is also exceptionally smart, knowing when to offload the puck if the pressure becomes too great. This play might be my favorite play from Gunler this past season. He outworks a player along the boards and then makes a nice pass out front for a goal. It’s not overly flashy but it highlights Gunler’s strength and hockey sense nicely.

I love the way Gunler sees the ice. He constantly looks to make a play, regardless of whether or not the puck is on his stick. If he does have it on his stick, he looks to create space to shoot or to find open space for a pass. If he doesn’t have the puck, he’ll break down gaps in the defensive coverage in order to get into a position to score. This play highlights Gunler’s vision. Take a look at how quickly he notices a bad line change here.

Of course, it isn’t all great with Gunler. While his defensive game isn’t the worst, I do find that he can be chasing the puck a little too often. Gunler can also be guilty of trying to do too much with the puck, which can lead to turnovers or a low danger shot.

This play doesn’t need to happen. He tries to stickhandle and it goes poorly, forcing him to take a careless penalty while trying to get the puck back. Now, I will say that this is likely due to some growing pains at the AHL level. The ice is a lot smaller in the AHL and Gunler likely isn’t used to not having as much space to deke, or as much time to make a decision. If that is in fact the case, Gunler will be able to work that habit out of his game as he continues to play in North America.

Vasiliy Ponomarev, C

NHL ETA: 2023 or 2024

Ponomarev and Drury play a very similar brand of hockey, although I believe that Ponomarev might have more to give offensively than what we’ve seen thus far. He’s a very good defensive forward that is also a pain to play against, and I’d also argue that he’s not too far off from the NHL. His game is suited for the NHL. He’s responsible in his own end, plays with a ton of pace, can play at center or on the wing and has middle six upside offensively. Ponomarev is a gifted playmaker that came to the AHL and earned a permanent role on the Wolves roster, putting up ten points in 11 regular season games and appearing in 18 playoff games en route to the Calder Cup championship. While I expect Ponomarev to take another year at the AHL level to develop the offensive side of his game, it’s clear that he has what it takes to be a solid NHL player. His production dipped against some of the better AHL teams, which means that he has some work to do in order to elevate his offensive game. I see a tenacious forechecker and a player that can create offense out of a tough situation.

Ponomarev rose up the ranks after joining the Wolves towards the end of the season. What started out as a trial on the fourth line quickly became a permanent top nine role for Ponomarev, who had spent most of the season bouncing between leagues in Russia. Ponomarev’s vision has been impressive early on. His ability to place passes exactly where they need to be in order to result in a goal is nothing short of impressive, and his ability to see the open areas of ice is equally as impressive.

Ponomarev’s skating and grittiness in the offensive zone made him a pain to play against this past season. He’d wear down defenses and constantly hound pucks, making things difficult for the opposition. They’d struggle to clear, and more often than not would turn the puck over in the process.

I’ve mentioned Ponomarev’s grittiness and the fact that he’s a pain to play against, so let’s now talk about his skill for a bit. Ponomarev is incredibly smart and a great playmaker, but the roles that he has filled with his teams in recent years haven’t allowed for much creativity. Ponomarev has been relied upon to be a defense-first forward, so plays like the following clip are a little surprising.

He’s such a fun player, and with added responsibility in Chicago this upcoming season, it’s likely that we see him blossom offensively. I don’t see Ponomarev being much of a scorer in the NHL when he does make the jump. Based on what I’ve seen, Ponomarev possesses a pretty average shot that can be good enough to score goals at the NHL level, but not one that can be a true threat if he gets open space. Ponomarev will likely create a lot of goals from in close, knocking in rebounds and getting a little bit of room to deke around the goalie.

Tuukka Tieksola, RW

NHL ETA: 2024

If Tuukka Tieksola can find a way to reach his ceiling, he’s going to be one of the most talented players on the ice. He has elite hockey sense, can weave through defenses and make plays that most other players can’t. He may not be at the Aho or Teravainen level in terms of hockey sense or playmaking ability, but his skill level can push him into an NHL top six if the chips fall right. The issue is that Tieksola is still very slight and isn’t able to penetrate the middle of the ice, so he is left to the perimeter and isn’t nearly as effective from the outside. He’s a player that I’d love to see on the Wolves this season because I really do believe in this player. There’s a fair amount of risk given how slight he is, but Tieksola can absolutely wow you with his skill. Tieksola was at his best during the 2020-2021 season, which, coincidentally, was his rookie year in the Finnish men’s league. This past year, injuries and a deeper team held him out of the lineup. I still believe in the player, although I do acknowledge the fact that Tieksola is a long shot to make it to the NHL. Let me highlight a few plays from Tieksola that I like. First, an assist on the power play.

Next, his skating, elusiveness, hockey sense and passing ability, all in a short video.

Another example of his strong skating, this time in GIF form.

Tieksola makes his mark in the offensive zone, utilizing elite speed and hockey sense in order to create offense. I haven’t seen many other players that are capable of seeing the ice as well as Tieksola is, and that includes NHL players. Tieksola’s vision checks all the boxes. He can find an open patch of ice, spot breakdowns in coverage or a blind spot, and spot teammates when they’re joining the rush. Tieksola’s playmaking can be elite, but he does tend to avoid contact. If there’s pressure coming, he may offload the puck a little too early, killing the offensive rush. Tieksola utilizes his elite speed and puck skills to weave his way through defenses, which can help him get to the middle at the Liiga level, but he’ll need to add weight in order to do the same at the NHL level. This is a player that has a ton of offensive upside, but a fair amount of risk. Alexander Pashin is a similar player in the sense that both are highly skilled wingers that are very light and play on the perimeter. Both players will likely be with Chicago this year, so they’ll likely be fighting for ice time. I love the way Tieksola sees the ice, but he’ll need to get a lot stronger before I can comfortably say that he’s an NHL level prospect.

Alexander Pashin, RW

NHL ETA: 2023/24

Speaking of Pashin, let’s talk about him now. Pashin signing this early was a huge surprise to me. When Pashin was drafted, the rumor surrounding him was that he was ultra loyal to his KHL team and was going to stay in Russia for a while. That and his size caused him to fall to the Hurricanes in the seventh round in the 2020 draft. Carolina has made a habit of drafting players that have been public sphere favorites in the draft, and Pashin was one of those players. He was ranked as high as the second round by some due to his high end offensive talent, so this had the makings of a steal if the Hurricanes were able to convince him to come to North America. Here we are two years later, looking at the possibility of Alexander Pashin’s North American debut coming as soon as this fall. This is an exciting thing for the Hurricanes because they’re adding a prospect with legitimate offensive skill and upside a lot earlier than they may have thought possible when he was drafted. 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.

Pashin has stood out in every game that I’ve watched since he was drafted. In both years, he was a cut above the rest of the competition in the MHL, which makes it frustrating to watch since you know he could be playing against men in the KHL. Pashin’s skating is elite and it allows for him to create offense off of the rush and gain separation from his opponents. Pashin’s elite speed means that he can create zone entries all by himself, so he’s a real threat on the rush. Wingers usually don’t generate as many zone entries as Pashin can, but since he’s such a good skater and a smart player on top of that, it works. Pashin is the driving force behind any line that he’s on, and he combines his skating and hockey sense with a strong offensive tool kit. Pashin’s shot release is dangerously good and he is able to score from high to medium danger areas.

Here’s an example of the elite skating that Pashin possesses.

There are some aspects of his game that need improvement, however. Pashin can occasionally be guilty of holding onto the puck for too long and skating it into a turnover or board battle. He’ll be playing with better linemates in the AHL, but at the same time, the competition will be stronger too. He’ll need to work on getting rid of the puck before trouble arrives. Obviously, since Pashin is an undersized forward, he’ll need to get stronger and improve defensively. He’s skilled enough to make an impact at the AHL level right now, but in order to be given more responsibilities and ice time, Pashin will have to get stronger and work on his defensive game.

Ville Koivunen, C, LW

NHL ETA: 2024

Ville Koivunen has the potential to be special. What he lacks in foot speed he makes up for in hockey sense and work ethic. You’d be hard pressed to find a player that’s smarter than Koivunen when he’s on the ice, and I doubt you can find a player work harder than he can too. Koivunen’s feet are constantly moving and he never takes a shift off, which makes up for a lot of the issues in his skating ability. He’s not the fastest player but the fact that he keeps his feet moving means that he’s always changing the angle and getting into a better shooting or passing lane. Koivunen can pick apart the game with the best of them, constantly seeing three moves ahead in order to create offense. In addition to his hockey sense, Koivunen has a wicked shot and is a gifted playmaker in the offensive zone.

He could be a true dual threat at the NHL level in a very short time. He looked great at the men’s level last season, and while his play in the second half of the season was a little inconsistent, he inspired a lot of confidence moving forward. While the World Juniors may have been brief, his line with Brad Lambert and Samuel Helenius was easily Finland’s best. Koivunen has legitimate top six upside and the sky’s the limit if his foot speed improves. Even if his skating is average, there’s still a good chance that Koivunen could hold his own on a team’s top line. There’s so much about his game that translates to the NHL. Koivunen’s hockey sense is elite, as is his shot, and I feel that this clip highlights both aspects of his game.

The awareness to recognize a bad pass and press the attack is impressive, as is the shot that results in a goal.

Right now, the biggest concern for me is Koivunen’s skating. He has had a rough go of things dating back to the second half of the season, where his production slowed down drastically. I believe that some of those issues are due to his foot speed being below average. Koivunen is a smart player and tries to not get behind the play, but his poor foot speed means that he’ll often be lagging behind by a step or two. That small amount of distance can be the difference between a goal and a blocked shot, a pass and an interception, or something else.

Dominik Bokk, RW

NHL ETA: not likely

Dominik Bokk might be the most frustrating prospect in the Hurricanes’ pipeline. As far as individual skill goes, you’re not going to find a player more talented than Bokk. He’s a wizard with the puck on his stick and has shown flashes of legitimate goal scoring ability throughout his time in the organization. That being said, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player play a more selfish game. Bokk doesn’t know what to do with the puck if he gets under pressure, and he sure as hell isn’t going to turn to his teammates for help. He’d rather skate the puck into coverage and turn it over rather than dish the puck to a teammate, and it’s an infuriating thing to watch. He has a sort of “fine, I’ll do it myself” mentality that results in a large amount of turnovers and very little offense. If Bokk is carrying the puck in transition, you can usually count on that play resulting in a dump in or a turnover. It’s very rare for a team to give up on a top prospect so early in his development, but that’s exactly what the Hurricanes did when they loaned Bokk out to Germany this past season. It appears that they do not want to have him back in the AHL for the upcoming season, either, as he has been loaned to Germany once again.

Bokk rarely looked elite at the men’s level, largely due to the fact that he relied on individual skill rather than his teammates. Sure, he could dominate the U20 ranks and skate circles around defenses, but as soon as the competition strengthened, Bokk was outclassed. Bokk had an outstanding World Junior Championship during the 2019-20 season, scoring six goals and finishing with eight points in seven games. He does well for a brief stretch after the World Juniors but quickly fell down the depth chart and out of favor with his team’s coaching staff. Then, COVID struck and his season was cut short. The following season, Bokk can barely manage a depth role with Djurgarden in Sweden and agrees to terminate his contract. Bokk played in a decent role with Chicago afterwards, finishing with 18 points in 29 games and looking like he could be a legitimate offensive prospect after a disappointing tenure with the Hurricanes up until that point. Sadly, Bokk was once again outclassed as the AHL returned to normal.

I don’t expect Bokk to be with the organization beyond this season. It’s pretty clear that he was unable to carve out a full time role with the Wolves this past season. With the Hurricanes deciding to loan him to Germany once again, it’s clear that they don’t see a role opening up for him anytime soon, either. Bokk was the premier prospect traded to Carolina in the Justin Faulk trade, along with Joel Edmundson, and now we’re left with Lucas Mercuri and Yegor Naumov to show for it.

Gleb Trikozov, LW

NHL ETA: 2025

Gleb Trikozov might be the forward with the highest upside in the system, as he’s the only forward prospect that I could realistically see being a legitimate top line forward at the NHL level. Obviously, this is going to take a lot of development, but there’s a chance that Trikozov could be a star. He has the puck skills, goal scoring and playmaking ability necessary, plus the fact that his skating is borderline elite. The biggest question with Trikozov thus far has been his inconsistent play both in his own end and in the offensive zone. His effort level can wane a bit, but to me, I see a player that has outgrown the competition in the Russian junior league. Trikozov needs a new challenge because it’s clear that he is miles ahead of the competition in the MHL.

Few players can impact the game in the way Trikozov can. He’s a scoring threat from just about anywhere on the ice and if there isn’t a shooting lane available, he is able to gain separation from defenders and make a pass to an open teammate. Trikozov possesses excellent one on one attacking skill as well as the ability to cut through multiple defenders using various dekes. His defensive game needs polishing, and the consistency will need to be improved, but this is a player with the potential to be special. Trikozov was a favorite of my colleagues at Smaht Scouting this past season. We ranked him eighth on our final board, which was much higher than consensus. Our belief was that at his best, Trikozov had some of the highest upside in the class and the potential to be a top player in the NHL. Most of the forward prospects in the system are likely to be middle six forwards at the NHL level. Prospects such as Gunler and Koivunen have a chance to play on the first line, but the more likely outcome is that they slot somewhere in the middle six. Trikozov is the only player that I could realistically see being a top line player at his peak.

I love watching Trikozov when he’s at his best because he has that wow factor that can get you out of your seat. This pass highlights Trikozov’s ability to know where his teammates are without taking a look.

Not many players are able to execute like Trikozov can. There’s a certain level of skill and hockey sense needed to make this sort of pass, and the fact that Trikozov can do it with such little effort is incredible. This next play highlights Trikozov’s skating ability.

If he gets a step faster, he’ll be unstoppable against men in the KHL. Trikozov doesn’t score but creates two scoring chances in the process. Finally, Trikozov’s skill with the puck, skating and shooting on full display.

Alexander Perevalov, LW

NHL ETA: 2026

Perevalov is a fascinating prospect. His highs from this past season were up there with Trikozov’s, but his lows were incredibly low. Perevalov went from having a first half of the season that made him look like a legitimate first round prospect to a second half that had some wondering if he’d be selected in the top 100 at all. The Hurricanes elected to draft Perevalov early in the third round, betting on his upside and taking a chance on a player that may not have had the best season overall. Perevalov’s tool kit is an exciting one. He’s a winger with solid size that skates about as well as any player I’ve seen at that age. The kid can absolutely fly and his quick burst of speed gives him the separation needed to blow past defenders with little difficulty.

Perevalov can shift into overdrive on a whim, instantly upping the pace and catching defenders by surprise. In my viewings of the player, I’ve noticed that his hands and mind aren’t able to keep up with his feet at times. If he’s moving at a high pace, the puck will sometimes jump his stick or he’ll push the puck too far ahead, lessening the danger of his chances. This will hopefully work itself out as Perevalov continues to develop. If it does, you’re looking at a winger that can dictate the pace of play and pose a threat both as a goal scorer and as a playmaker at the NHL level. I clipped this play from Perevalov earlier in the summer. It immediately stood out because of how quickly Perevalov is able to get up to top speed. That sort of elite acceleration and top speed alone could create offense since so few players will be able to keep up with that sort of pure speed.

Now, we have a play where Perevalov’s skating gives him separation and leads to a goal.

The Athletic’s Corey Pronman gave Perevalov’s skating a “below NHL average” grade, which I strongly disagree with. There may be times where he doesn’t look engaged, but Perevalov’s top speed and crossover skating are both above average or elite, in my book. His hands need to keep up with his feet, however. Perevalov can lose the puck because he’s moving so fast that he can’t keep the puck on his stick, so in the future, I’d like to see him establish more control. Still, this is a player that will be worth keeping an eye on over the course of his development. It’s clear that his shooting and skating are some of his better qualities, but I’ve also enjoyed watching Perevalov play in his own end. He has some skill with the puck and I could see him being a nice addition to Carolina’s middle six in the future.

Patrik Puistola, LW

NHL ETA: 2024/25

I was incredibly high on Puistola in his draft year, but his play since the draft has caused me to cool on the player a good bit. I believe that I got too excited about the individual skill that he flashed against players in his age group and ignored the obvious issues with his skating and overall projectability. Like Bokk, Puistola is a player with a lot of individual skill that can sometimes struggle with utilizing his teammates in the play. Unlike Bokk, Puistola has shown improvements in that area from year to year. I’ve seen Puistola take a large step forward since joining Jukurit in Finland, but unfortunately, I still don’t know if he’s an NHL prospect.

While his power play numbers have been solid, his play at even strength has been poor and I don’t see him making as much of an impact as I would like to. In order to play in the NHL, you have to be able to create offense at even strength, and I don’t see Puistola do that on a regular basis. Puistola does have some traits that still give me hope, such as his skill with the puck, his goal scoring ability and his hockey sense. You can build on that, but if he can’t put the whole package together this season, I can’t see the Hurricanes giving him an NHL contract. Puistola also struggles defensively, which makes me worry about the Hurricanes’ staff not trusting him with any responsibility.

Puistola has a certain level of skill with the puck on his stick that can be electrifying at times. Take this time for example, where he manages to score the lacrosse move, Michigan, Svech, or whatever you want to call it.

The skill is there, but to this day, I haven’t seen Puistola dominate on a consistent basis. He’s not nearly as effective at even strength and I’m now seeing a player that likely becomes a complementary third line winger if he makes it to the NHL.

From my viewings of Puistola, I’ve seen a frustrating player. I see the individual skill that could make him an exciting player to watch and one that is constantly appearing on highlight reels. He possesses a wicked shot and can do things with the puck that few players can. When he’s on his game, I’m sold on the player because I see the potential for a great offensive winger. The issue is that Puistola isn’t on his game on a consistent basis, and oftentimes his best moments are on the power play. I see a player that sort of drifts along and doesn’t make a ton of noise unless the puck is on his stick. When the puck isn’t on his stick, he’s almost invisible in the offensive zone. Yes, there’s the threat of his shot, but that can be blocked.

Jackson Blake, RW

NHL ETA: 2026

Before the season began, I didn’t know a ton about Blake. I hadn’t seen him play and while his numbers looked great, they were at the high school level. This past year, I was able to watch Blake play a top role on one of the best teams in the USHL. I came away impressed with the player in most of my viewings. His skating and skill with the puck on his stick jumped out in every game, and even when he wasn’t showing up on the score sheet, Blake was creating scoring chances. He’s definitely more of a playmaker, and while he has a decent shot, he’s more of a pass first player.

The Hurricanes don’t have another player like Blake in their pipeline, though. I’d argue that the closest player to Blake from a stylistic standpoint is Massimo Rizzo, but Rizzo plays a different position than Blake does. Blake relies on quickness and creativity with the puck in order to create offense. The way that Blake is able to scan the ice and pick apart the defense while making passes to set up his teammates is nothing short of impressive, and he has an underrated shot that he started to use more and more as the season went on. He is able to win most one-on-one battles due to his stickhandling and speed, which makes up for the fact that he’s a very slight player. Blake’s play along the boards is in need of improvement, and while he is bound to add more muscle over the course of his development, I don’t believe that it’ll ever be a strength of his. I’m excited to see Blake take the next step in his development. He’ll be playing for North Dakota in the NCAA next year, which means the physicality will ramp up and there will be less time to make decisions. There may be some struggles early on, but Blake is a smart enough player to adapt to these changes relatively quickly.

This clip is what happens when I go down a few goals in NHL and switch the difficulty to rookie in order to get back in the game.

Blake’s elusiveness makes him a fun player to watch at the USHL level and inspires confidence that he’ll be able to dodge a lot of physical contact in college. This next play is another example of that elusiveness, once again resulting in a goal.

Zion Nybeck, RW

NHL ETA: 2026

I’ve struggled to get a read on Nybeck as a prospect since he was drafted. On one hand, I see loads of creativity and offensive upside, but on the other, I see an undersized forward whose average skating is holding him back. That, coupled with a team that didn’t seem content with giving him legitimate minutes, has raised some concerns. While there’s no doubt in my mind that Nybeck was too good for the U20 league back in the 2020-21 season, he may have been better suited starting in the second league, HockeyAllsvenskan, as opposed to the SHL. Nybeck’s stint with Almtuna that season was excellent. In three games, he looked like the dominant offensive player that he could be. So when HV71 was demoted to HockeyAllsvenskan, I was excited to see what Nybeck could do.

Then, his team decided to sign a whole bunch of forwards and push out their young talent such as Victor Olofsson, who subsequently moved on to Barrie of the OHL. Nybeck was once again relegated to fourth line minutes and was unable to make an impact on the ice. The good thing about the Swedish second league is that it’s actually a very competitive league, rivaling some of the top leagues in other countries. Nybeck will be playing for AIK in the Allsvenskan next season, which will hopefully give him the opportunity that he has needed all along.

I mentioned that Nybeck is both an extremely creative player and a poor skater. The skating has proved to be an issue for Nybeck at this point in his development, while the creativity hasn’t gotten the chance to blossom yet. Nybeck has been playing in leagues that are very defense-heavy, so he has struggled to find ways to create offense at this pace. Getting away from HV71 may prove to be the change that he needs in order to take the next step in his development, however. They seem to be focused on giving him the opportunity to succeed in his role, and if he can get a step or two faster this year, it’ll go a long way. Nybeck isn’t that far off from being an impact player in Sweden, and improving his skating will get him to that point.

Cruz Lucius, RW

NHL ETA: 2026/27

Lucius struggled with injuries this past year, so it’s hard to say if the player we saw this past season is as good as the player that he can be. When I watch Lucius, I see a smart player with good playmaking instincts and a shot that can beat NHL goalies with some refinement. Lucius is good along the boards and can win battles in the dirty areas, which is why I believe that there’s bottom six upside here. The biggest question that I have with Lucius is his skating. His top speed is pretty slow and he isn’t the quickest when it comes to getting to his top speed either. Luckily, his brand of hockey doesn’t require him to be the fastest player, but he’ll at least need to be able to keep pace if he wants to make it to the NHL. Otherwise, he’ll be a bigger pylon than Dion Phaneuf.

Lucius had a really strong performance at the U18s, where he showcased his playmaking ability. I thought that he was able to see the ice at an above average level, spotting players through coverage and making a few breakout passes that impressed me. The U18s gave Lucius the opportunity that he wasn’t afforded with the NTDP, too. He was in a depth role with the NTDP due to his injuries and other players working their way up the depth chart in his absence. At the U18s, Lucius was able to showcase more of his skills in a bigger role. Based on what I’ve seen from Lucius thus far, he’s a player that is built for college hockey. He plays a heavy game and shouldn’t have any trouble adjusting to the physicality of college hockey. That sort of game will make his transition up a level easier and may give Wisconsin’s coaching staff more reasons to play him.

Robert Orr, C/RW

NHL ETA: 2026/27

Last year, when I profiled Orr, I mentioned that he reminded me of Brock McGinn. Orr possesses a lot of the qualities that I liked about McGinn, such as his skating, grit and ability to win puck battles. Orr will never give up on a play and will make life difficult for defenders trying to break the puck out of the zone, creating turnovers and forcing defenders to make rushed passes that lead to nothing. I have yet to see a ton of offensive upside from Orr, however, which has been my biggest concern. He can absolutely fly and has had his moments of greatness, but nothing on a consistent basis. I don’t see him being a goal scorer at the NHL level, nor do I see a ton of playmaking potential. Orr hasn’t dominated a shift in any of my viewings. He has always been present and a thorn in the side of defenses, but he hasn’t shown elite skill that makes me think he could be a top nine forward. With that being said, his “intangibles” and his forechecking prowess make me believe that there’s some fourth line potential here. If Orr takes a step forward offensively this season, I might change my tune. Otherwise, I’m not sure if he’ll earn an NHL contract.

I’m so iffy on Orr because he hasn’t taken a step offensively. He’s always present in the offensive zone and can be a pain on the forecheck, but he isn’t a finisher and his playmaking ability is only average to slightly above average. Nothing about his game pops other than his pace and hard work forechecking and backchecking. Now, that’s not necessarily going to bar him from turning pro. Spencer Smallman was a similar player in junior and earned a pro contract. Smallman was pretty average offensively but played well enough in all three zones to warrant a contract, gradually working his way into a strong depth role on a Calder Cup winning team.

Now, there’s always a chance that Orr breaks out, especially now that he has been traded to Gatineau in the QMJHL. He has shown flashes of offensive upside, such as with his shot.

Justin Robidas, C

NHL ETA: 2025

If you know me, you know that I’m the type of person that values a player’s talent level, not how tall they are. Robidas may be on the smaller side, but when I watch him play, I see a player that is able to work around the challenges that come with being his size. Robidas is a strong skater with an elite shot, arguably up there with Gunler and Trikozov in the Hurricanes’ system. He plays a responsible two way game as well, complete with strong board battles and a physical brand of hockey. It’s clear that he has taken lessons from his father, who played in over 900 NHL games.

Robidas plays a pro style and doesn’t sacrifice defense for skill. He’ll make the smart play, which will help him earn the trust of an NHL coaching staff as he continues to develop. Now, I don’t see the top six upside that some were claiming he had at the draft, but I do see a nice scoring winger that can be the trigger man on a team’s second power play unit. He’s likely limited to a third line role, and at most, 15-20 goals a year. Still, that would be tremendous value for a fifth round pick. Robidas will likely be traded to Quebec when the QMJHL trading period opens up in December. He’ll get to play for a legitimate contender, which is exciting.

Justin Robidas might be one of the better shooters in Carolina’s pipeline. There’s a ton of power behind his shot and he has pinpoint accuracy, leading me to believe that he’ll be a sniper at the next level. Robidas’ shot, elite skating and strong defensive play lead me to believe that he’ll be an NHL player.

Robidas may take some time, especially since he’ll need to add some more muscle, but these types of plays lead me to believe that there’s middle six upside.

Robidas stood out at the 2021 prospects showcase in Tampa when I went to see the Hurricanes play. He was one of the quickest skaters on the ice and didn’t show a lot of panic in his game. Robidas generated a number of scoring chances, and even though his line didn’t score, he looked like one of the best players on the ice. I was impressed with Robidas’ tenacity on the forecheck and I felt that his play in his own end was a lot stronger than I had expected. When I watched Robidas play in the QMJHL this past season, my opinion on the player remained the same. He was one of the best players on the ice both at creating offense and at attacking on the rush.

Kirill Slepets, W

NHL ETA: not likely

Pretty soon, I’ll stop considering Slepets a prospect. He has yet to break into the KHL, even on some atrocious teams, and he didn’t appear to be a difference maker in Finland during his brief stint with Karpat last season. Slepets is a great skater that can score goals, but I haven’t seen a ton else in terms of projectable tools. He was a fine bet back in 2019 because he was coming off of a really good season, but since then, Slepets has bounced around from team to team and struggled to earn ice time. It’s hard for me to see where Slepets fits in moving forward. The Hurricanes technically have no timeline to sign Slepets as his signing rights expire, but even if Slepets becomes an NHL player, that will take a long time.

Lucas Mercuri, C

NHL ETA: 2026

Mercuri has all of the tools you look for in a bottom six center. He’s incredibly tall and strong, skates well, plays a responsible two-way game and has some playmaking ability. While I don’t believe that Mercuri will ever light the world on fire offensively, I do see a solid player with a lot of physical tools that’ll carry him to the pros. I thought that he looked fine as a freshman at UMass, and while his offensive game wasn’t on display, his two way game was quite good. He’ll get an increased role this season, which should allow for some more offensive development and ideally, some power play opportunities.

Mercuri showed flashes of playmaking ability in the USHL and was a primary point machine, creating opportunities from around the crease. Mercuri is at his best when he’s taking up space in the offensive zone, utilizing his 6’3” 192-pound frame. He’ll outmuscle players and get to the front of the net, where he’ll draw attention to himself and make a perfect pass to a teammate for a scoring chance. Mercuri likely spends the next three seasons at UMass before signing his NHL contract. For the Hurricanes, there’s no sense in signing Mercuri early since they have a lot of center depth, and for Mercuri, it’s a great idea to get his degree while he can.

Mercuri didn’t break out offensively this past year, and while he did make a few nice plays, he was a depth forward on a very strong team. His line played more of a checking role, which limited the amount of offensive opportunities he had. Mercuri might get more of an opportunity to break out offensively this upcoming season due to some departures at UMass, so he’ll be a player to watch. Mercuri has great hands for a player his size and his vision and ability to generate primary points makes him a player to watch.

Kevin Wall, RW

NHL ETA: 2024

I believe that Wall will break out this year. He’s heading into his senior year and will be relied upon to be one of his team’s top scorers for the third year in a row. I’ve seen steady progress in Wall’s game since his freshman year at Penn State, especially with his goal scoring. Wall seems like a power forward that can be a scoring threat in transition. Generally, he’s a nuisance for other teams due to his skating speed and the ability to beat goaltenders with an NHL level shot.

The biggest questions that I have with Wall are whether or not he’ll be able to be more than just a quick shooter at the NHL level and whether or not he can improve his defensive game. I haven’t seen a lot of playmaking ability from Wall, which is fine if you consider he’s a natural goal scorer, but it would still be nice to see him make a few plays every now and then. Wall finds a lot of success after creating turnovers, as his strong skating can push him past a defense and on a breakaway, where he is able to capitalize. This works well at the NCAA level, but he will need to work on making himself more of a consistent scoring threat if he is to play in the NHL.

Wall could be an NHL player, but when I’ve sat down to watch his games, the biggest questions that I have are his defensive zone play and his average passing ability. I’d argue that nothing about Wall’s game is elite, and even though he’s a good goal scorer, he’s likely capped out at 15-20 goals at the NHL level. With Wall, I’ll need to see his overall game improve. If Carolina elects to sign Wall after his senior year, it’ll be a two year contract. That first year will give the development staff a good idea of where Wall is at as a pro player, as well as what his future may look like as far as the NHL is concerned.

Nikita Guslistov, C

NHL ETA: 2025

It wasn’t that long ago where the Hurricanes would refuse to draft Russian players, and now, Guslistov is one of twelve Russian players in the organization. Guslistov is a player that could be a nice pick somewhere down the road. His skating and hockey sense stand out as things that could be assets, but where I’m really impressed with Guslistov is his play in the defensive zone. He’s a strong defensive forward, especially for a player his size. Guslistov blocks a ton of shots and never gives up on a play, making life difficult for the opposition. I’ve only seen flashes of high end skill, such as his shooting ability on the rush, but this is a player that could play NHL games. His game isn’t overly exciting or dynamic, but he makes the smart plays and does a lot of little things well.

Guslistov is a fine prospect. I can see the tools that made Carolina feel the need to take a chance on him. He’s an above average skater, a strong defensive forward, smart, and makes his linemates better. He’ll sacrifice the body to prevent shots on goal, he’ll always make the right pass if it means getting a better scoring chance, and he’ll make sure to take a shot if he feels that it’s the best course of action. Guslistov is a player whose main goal is to be a team player, which is going to make him an easy player to coach.

Massimo Rizzo, C

NHL ETA: 2024

Massimo Rizzo is a fascinating case study. He was drafted with the second to last pick in the 2019 draft and played in the BCHL the following season, where he struggled with injuries. He missed the entirety of his next season and changed his commitment from the University of North Dakota to Denver University. When Rizzo started with Denver, I didn’t know what to expect. I liked the player in his draft year, as I had come across him while watching Canes prospect Jack LaFontaine with the Penticton Vees.

Rizzo’s hands and skating ability stood out to me, but I felt that overall, his game needed a dynamic element that wasn’t always there. Couple that with the amount of time he missed and it’s fair to say that I was unsure of whether or not Rizzo could be an impact player. I can confidently say now that Rizzo is a really good prospect that could be one of the top playmakers in the NCAA next season. His hands and skating are still high end, and he has been able to grow his passing game leaps and bounds since his draft year.

Rizzo has also become a more confident shooter and I’d consider him to be a dual threat in the offensive zone right now. This play is really nice because, instead of losing the puck or taking an off balance shot, he gets the puck to a teammate, finds open ice, and scores. He never gives up on the play and is rewarded, which is a great thing to see.

There’s a lot to like about how Rizzo plays. He can make decisions at top speed, will outwork the opposition in the offensive zone, he’ll be a pain on the forecheck and a lightning fast player on the rush. Rizzo’s game centers around his skating. Players at the NCAA level have a hard time keeping up with him, and even if they can contain him in a certain area, Rizzo is constantly scanning the ice for a passing opportunity and will safely pass the puck to a teammate before he skates the puck into trouble. I could see Rizzo being a middle six forward for the Hurricanes in the future. There’s a lot to like about his game and he’s only going to get better with Denver. I could see the Hurricanes wanting to get Rizzo to turn pro after this season, especially given the lack of center depth in the AHL.

Ryan Dzingel, C/W

NHL ETA: call-up

Hurricanes fans should have some familiarity with Dzingel. Dzingel hasn’t been the same since he was traded from Ottawa to Columbus, going from a top scoring forward to a player that has struggled to establish himself at the NHL level. This year, I’m expecting Dzingel to be incredibly motivated. Not only is he fighting for a job with the Hurricanes, he’s fighting to get his career back on track. Dzingel has the opportunity to earn a depth role with Carolina, one that could possibly evolve into a more permanent role if he performs well. Before his time in Carolina, Dzingel was a strong complementary scorer in a middle six role. Adding an extra scoring option would be a welcome addition with Max Pacioretty out for an extended period of time. And, if the Dzingel can get back to his former level of production, the Hurricanes get cheap depth scoring.

Historically, the issue with Dzingel’s style of play has been his poor defensive play. It’s what caused his ice time with the Hurricanes to dip, and it’s obviously a concern heading into this season. And, with Dzingel playing in a depth role, he wasn’t able to make as much of an impact in the offensive zone. It’s possible that Dzingel is just here to be a 13th forward, or that he’s here to be a veteran scoring presence for Chicago this year. Either way, Dzingel brings some offense that is needed at various levels in the organization, regardless of the role.

Lane Pederson, C

NHL ETA: call-up

Pederson was an underrated acquisition when the Hurricanes made the trade for Brent Burns, but it’s not because he’ll be a great NHL player. While he can play NHL games, I fully expect Pederson to be in the top six for Chicago this upcoming season. The Wolves’ top centers after Pederson are Suzuki, Ponomarev, Rees, Mattheos and Murray. I’m fairly confident that Rees and Mattheos will play on the wing this season, and Murray may be a depth forward for Chicago. Suzuki and Ponomarev will likely be fighting for top six ice time, but it’s still a very thin depth chart. Pederson isn’t exactly a veteran, but he’s a proven AHL player that can put up solid numbers while contributing defensively as well.

From watching Pederson’s NHL games, it’s clear that his skating isn’t good enough to keep up at the NHL level. Pederson is an average skater but can’t gain separation in the NHL. He’ll get involved in the forecheck and make a few strong plays in both end, but for the most part, he can’t create offense or defend on the rush. Pederson is able to make more of an impact at the AHL level and can be used as a call up option if the Hurricanes are looking to keep their prospects in the AHL so they can develop..

Mackenzie MacEachern, LW

NHL ETA: call-up

MacEachern was fantastic for Springfield in the playoffs this past season, providing scoring and a spark when his team needed it the most. MacEachern also has close to 300 games played at the professional level, so he brings a wealth of experience to the organization in addition to providing some offense and grit at the AHL level. Once again, Carolina signs a player with a wealth of experience at the pro level that can play NHL games if the need arises. And, as we saw with CJ Smith this past season, these types of veterans can be an incredibly valuable addition to the team. I don’t have a ton to say about MacEachern. He’s a great veteran that could play in a handful of NHL games, but for the most part, he’ll be in Chicago.

Stefan Noesen, RW

NHL ETA: call-up

Noesen is coming off of a season where he scored 48 goals in the regular season and finished with 85 points, leading the league in scoring and recording the most assists in the AHL playoffs. Noesen also appeared in two games with Carolina and has over 400 games of experience at the professional level. Hurricanes General Manager Don Waddell mentioned that Noesen will get a chance to make the Hurricanes in camp this year, but ultimately, I see him returning to Chicago. Noesen is a great veteran to have in the room and will provide some much needed scoring for a Wolves team that is going to be relatively young by the AHL’s standards.

Now, I’m not here to be a downer. Noesen could be in the NHL this upcoming season. With that being said, Noesen is likely a fourth line NHL player. He won’t be scoring at nearly the same clip, won’t get power play time, and his ice time will be limited. He’s a very good AHL scorer, but there’s a big difference between being a top AHL scorer and being a top NHL scorer. It’s okay if Noesen doesn’t make the team out of camp. In all likelihood, he’ll be one of the first players called up if there’s an injury on the Hurricanes. We know that he can contribute in a depth role if need be, so he’s always an option.

Malte Stromwall, RW

NHL ETA: call-up

Stromwall was a top free agent in Europe a few seasons ago but ultimately decided to remain in Europe rather than sign in the NHL. Stromwall can provide goal scoring support at the pro level, and while he may be in Chicago to start the season, he’s a player that could also see some NHL games if the need arises. The biggest question with Stromwall has been his average skating. He doesn’t gain separation from defenders and even though he has a great shot, he can’t beat players one on one. That sort of thing may be an issue at the NHL level, as the competition is much faster and you have less time to make decisions with and without the puck. Still, Stromwall has a bit of experience in North America and could be relied upon heavily in Chicago, especially if Noesen makes the Hurricanes.

Ivan Lodnia, RW

NHL ETA: not likely

Lodnia was a solid bet by the Chicago Wolves’ management team last season. They were able to identify a player that could help their team win despite Lodnia having very little pro experience at the time. Lodnia was signed after his NHL contract with the Wild was terminated and joined a stacked Wolves team. Lodnia’s numbers with the team weren’t anything to write home about, but he played well in a depth role for the team, working hard on the forecheck and being a part of a line that was a pain in the ass to play against. Lodnia made life difficult for the opposition and wore them down in time for the Wolves’ big guns to take the ice and score. I don’t see Lodnia ever being an NHL player, but his gritty style of play should keep him in the AHL for a good long while. Teams are always looking for this type of player to have on their roster, and I could see Lodnia having a depth role with the Wolves this upcoming season.

Final Thoughts on the Forwards

The Hurricanes’ lack of a top forward prospect is evident when you look at the pipeline as a whole. Yes, there are some good prospects in the system, but none have star potential, let alone first line upside. A lot of this is due to the fact that the Hurricanes haven’t had a first-round pick in the last two drafts and the fact that Seth Jarvis, their last first round pick, is already in the NHL. What sets the Hurricanes’ pipeline apart from the rest of the league is their depth.

Very few teams have as many B to C-level prospects as the Hurricanes do, and fewer teams are able to develop as well as Carolina can. The Hurricanes have kept their system stocked with plenty of prospects that can be used in a variety of ways. Some will make their way onto the NHL team, while others will be used in trades to acquire NHL talent. With a system as deep as Carolina’s, the departure of a handful of middle tier prospects would do less harm than it would in a system like Boston’s. This team is going to be competitive for a long time, and it’s because of the emphasis that the Hurricanes have put on drafting and developing, in addition to the pro side of things.