The Carolina Hurricanes hosted the Prospects Showcase this past weekend, which featured the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators. These tournaments are always a fun time, as it’s a chance to see the future of the Hurricanes as well as top prospects from the other organizations. Usually, these games are fairly unpredictable, although the teams with older rosters are typically the ones that have more success throughout the tournament. Overall, I was impressed with Carolina’s effort in all three games.
Hurricanes vs. Panthers
Game one was a bit ugly for the Hurricanes, who surrendered six unanswered goals en route to a 6-1 loss. Noel Gunler started the scoring in the game after Florida had dominated much of the third period. Vasily Ponomarev entered the zone thanks to a nice drag move to get past a defender and slid the puck back door to Gunler, who was able to tap in the shot. Unfortunately, that was Carolina’s only goal in the contest. Patrik Hamrla started for the Hurricanes and had a solid start, making some key saves and keeping the Hurricanes in the game after they went down 2-1. At the midway point of the game, Carolina switched goalies in order to get a look at 2022 sixth round pick, Jakub Vondras. Vondras had a tough outing, failing to seal the post on a couple of occasions and giving up a few tough goals. He settled in towards the end of the game, but ultimately, it was too late. Vondras is still very much a work in progress and we shouldn’t read too much into one game. It’s his first appearance in North America, among other firsts. We’re still a year or two away from Vondras being a regular in the Czech men’s league, after all.
Overall, it wasn’t the best effort. The team was still figuring out how to work with one another, and I felt that some of the players, particularly Pashin and Tieksola, were struggling to adjust. In spite of all of that, the players that I expected to look good, looked good. Jamieson Rees was stirring the pot throughout the game, although he did take at least three trips to the penalty box. Ponomarev was Carolina’s best player throughout the game, playing with a ton of pace, shutting down offensive rushes and making things difficult for the opposition in all three zones. I was also impressed with Ronan Seeley’s skating and I felt that he made a lot of strong plays defensively. They were the brightest spots in what was an ugly effort overall.
Carolina vs. Nashville
This was a much better effort for the Hurricanes, and once again, Vasily Ponomarev was Carolina’s best forward. He was everywhere, creating offense and playing with a ton of pace, giving the Hurricanes a legitimate advantage over the Predators. Nashville’s team had the size advantage, as the vast majority of their prospects were over six feet tall, but Carolina’s prospects had the edge in skating ability. Carolina was able to create a lot of offense and pressure the puck effectively, even against players that were much larger.
The Hurricanes’ prospects looked much more comfortable in this game, and Hamrla once again put together a strong performance in net. Yes, the two goals with the extra attacker were concerning, but head coach Brock Sheahan mentioned that they hadn’t worked on those situations in practice. And that’s understandable given the fact that the team only practiced together twice before the tournament began. This game was capped off by a great feed from Tuukka Tieksola to Blake Murray, who scored to win the game in overtime. Murray had a strong game against Nashville after what I felt was a fairly unimpressive game against the Panthers, and he carried that momentum into Monday’s game.
After the game, I spoke to Ronan Seeley:
Seeley on the win: “It’s a good feeling, especially after last game. It was a good rebound.”
On adjustments: “There’s big adjustments for sure. We did some individual video and team video. We only had two days of practice before these games so it’s hard to be on the same page right away. We needed to clean a few things up and we were on the same page more in that game, and it showed with the outcome.”
On being a “veteran” in this tournament: “It’s a cool feeling. I know what it’s like to be the youngest guy here and learn from everyone else, so I just have to do what I can to help everyone out and make everyone feel welcome.
On winning gold with Canada: “It’s an incredible experience and I hope he (Robidas) can be a part of that. It’s hard to describe the feeling of winning, but I hope he can.”
I also spoke to Bryce Montgomery after the game:
On the win: “It’s still a learning experience every game. You’re taking it all in and playing with the system.”
On his second tournament as a prospect: “This year I’m a bit more comfortable. I know the guys and I know what the room is like, and we’re all having fun here and doing it day by day.”
On his role with London this year: “I’m looking forward to going back for my last year, here I’m just taking in all of the things the coaches are saying about body positioning and stick positioning. I’m excited to get back and get things going.”
Carolina vs. Tampa Bay
This was the Hurricanes’ best effort of the showcase, which resulted in a 5-1 win. Jakub Vondras played for the entire game and looked much more comfortable than he did against Florida, and I felt that he made a number of quality stops in the victory. Rees was Carolina’s best forward and finished with two goals and at least one assist. No Hurricanes player had a bad game, and it was apparent that the Hurricanes were a deeper team than the Lightning were. Tampa has a handful of good prospects such as Jack Thompson and Gage Goncalves, but they’re a far cry from the top players on Carolina’s roster.
Blake Murray opened up the scoring, taking a stretch pass from Grigori Dronov (more on him later) and beating Alnefelt five hole. Carolina would eventually get a power play that saw Tuukka Tieksola make a seam pass to Noel Gunler, who then passed to Jamieson Rees in front for a tap in goal. The second period featured Rees getting elbowed in the face by a Tampa player and proceeding to pass out in front to Justin Robidas, who was able to score and make it 3-0. After the game, I asked Rees about this play, and here’s what he had to say.
Rees on his assist to Robidas for a goal, which came right after he was elbowed up high behind the net:— Cory Lavalette (@corylav) September 19, 2022
“I mean, they're gonna do whatever they can. It's not gonna stop me. It's just going to help me, piss me off a little bit.”
Rees was outstanding in this game, getting a scoring chance off of a nice feed from Alexander Pashin, but that play was quickly overshadowed by this:
LAX GOAL— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) September 19, 2022
Alexander Pashin pulls off The Svech! pic.twitter.com/fV93UD8Ooa
Way to introduce yourself to the fans, kid. Pashin had been a little quiet through two games but was excellent leading up to this play. I don’t think we expected something like this to happen, but that’s a hell of a move from the 20-year-old forward. Tampa would score once in the third period, but Jamieson Rees restored the four goal lead on a nice move in close. Overall, it was a great effort from the Hurricanes and one that was rightfully praised by the coach afterwards.
“We talked about getting better from start to finish, and I thought our start was really good in this game,” Sheahan said. “[It was] just more and more of our game, how we wanted to play.”
Sheahan, when asked about Pashin’s goal: “He had a lot of time, it was amazing, and I’m not surprised [with] the two days in practice and seeing his skillset...you have to have the confidence to do it in live play, under pressure, is pretty special. If you watch the replay, he put that in a tight window. I thought it was a heck of a play.”
On Jamieson Rees: “I thought game two and three for him were really, really good. Not just the stat line but his play off the puck was much better than day one, and I think he can tell you that. That’s kind of what we expected and I thought he was pretty dominant.”
On Vondras’ bounceback start: “He’s an ‘04 (birthday), I think people have to recognize that. It’s tough to play that position at this level at that age. What a bounceback. It’s still a sloppy game and there’s a lot of chances both ways, but I thought he stood his ground and it shows you the confidence he has.”
On surprises: “I thought a lot of guys got better. I think Vasily (Ponomarev) is a big time player. I don’t have a body of work on most of these guys, but I thought he was very consistent.”
These won’t be as in depth as the system overview, because if I had to put my editor through that again, I’m pretty sure he’d fire me.
Noel Gunler - Gunler was quick and made a lot of strong plays off of the puck, which I was encouraged by. I was hoping to see him dominate offensively, but I liked his goal and I felt that his assist on the power play was encouraging for the future.
Grigori Dronov - Dronov quietly had a great weekend, with a handful of assists and a few nice defensive plays to show for it. I thought that he saw the ice exceptionally well and his physicality and vision were two of his best traits.
Bobby Orr - I liked Orr’s game. He isn’t flashy, but he does a lot of little things right and can wear you down on the forecheck. Any time the Hurricanes were able to establish a forechecking shift, Orr was in the middle of it. His skating stood out as a major asset.
Justin Robidas - Robidas showed flashes of his shooting ability and was rewarded with a goal against Tampa. He was strong on both sides of the puck and his skating was outstanding.
Alexander Pashin - Even before the lacrosse goal, Pashin was able to create offense with the smallest amounts of space in the offensive zone. His puck skills combined with skating and hockey sense make him an absolute treat to watch.
Tuukka Tieksola - Tieksola had a quiet start to the tournament but settled in nicely, making a few strong passes and plays with the puck. He was able to dart through defenses and protect the puck well, where he then drew penalties. Tieksola needs a lot of work off of the puck and still needs to add muscle, but I’m still a believer.
Jackson Berezowski - He worked his tail off in all three games and scored the first goal against Nashville. I wasn’t blown away by Berezowski but he was always involved in the play when he was on the ice and I felt that he was able to frustrate the opposition when he was on the ice.
Bryce Montgomery - Montgomery is noticeably quicker and his stride has smoothed out over the past year. I felt that his puck skills improved and he was able to start breakouts and make a strong first pass. In addition, he wasn’t afraid to throw his weight around in the defensive zone, playing a mean game and getting involved physically.
Eric Cooley - Cooley is good enough to play pro hockey, although I don’t see him being more than a depth forward at the AHL level. He’s a great skater, but his skill doesn’t pop and he isn’t elite in any other area. I thought he had a good tournament, but not a fantastic one.
Charlie Desroches - Desroches was fine in both games, although I didn’t see anything that really wowed me. I felt that he made a few nice plays in his own end as well as a few bad plays, and he wasn’t much of a factor in the offensive zone. His skating stood out, which is to be expected given how much the Hurricanes value skating.
Griffin Mendel - Mendel did a lot of what I liked about him during his stint with Chicago. He skated well, was great in his own end and showed flashes of offensive potential. Mendel was able to join the play on multiple occasions and while he didn’t show up on the scoresheet often, if at all, he was involved.
Jamieson Rees - Heading into the showcase, I expected Rees to be one of Carolina’s best forwards, and I wasn’t disappointed. Rees was everywhere on the ice and was getting under the skin of every team in the process. I felt that he was able to establish his presence in all three zones and make life difficult for the opposition. I’m still unsure about his offensive upside, but he’ll definitely play NHL games.
Deni Goure - Goure was fine in this showcase. I liked his skating and I felt that he was a pain to play against on the forecheck, especially when paired with Orr. I don’t see him making a massive impact as a pro, but he definitely had his moments.
Anttoni Honka - This was Honka’s first test on North American ice and I could tell that he was battling with the fact that there was less space and less time to make decisions with the puck. He’s used to having a ton of room to skate around, but NHL ice is smaller and he has to be quicker with the puck. He adjusted over the course of the tournament, however. I saw some strong defensive plays as well as some great stick checks, but he absolutely has to get stronger along the boards.
Blake Murray - I wasn’t sure about Murray’s upside heading into the second game. I felt that he wasn’t great against Florida, although in his defense, nobody was. I was impressed with Murray’s play off the puck in both of the other games, and his goal scoring touch was as strong as ever. Murray looks a tad faster and he’ll need to be if he wants to play in the AHL this year.
Ronan Seeley - Seeley was good in this tournament. I didn’t think that he was great, but his defensive play was sound, he was good in the offensive zone, and his elite skating was on full display. Seeley still needs to add about ten pounds, but he was trying to get involved physically. I liked his tournament, overall.
Vasily Ponomarev - Ponomarev is special. He’s quick, has great hands, is smart and can make an impact in all three zones. Ponomarev was consistent throughout Carolina’s three game slate and made a number of great plays both with and without the puck. If Carolina didn’t have such a deep roster, I could see Ponomarev making the team. He’ll start the year in Chicago, but I’d be more surprised if we don’t see him at all this season rather than if we do see him in Carolina.
Joe Arntsen - I knew next to nothing about Arntsen heading into this tournament but I came away liking his game. He’s a strong defensive defender capable of handling the puck, and his physical tools stood out. I didn’t see him play in the offensive zone as much as I would’ve liked given his numbers with Lethbridge, but I liked his overall game.
Sam McGinley - McGinley scored against Nashville and looked fine in the games he appeared in. He checked a lot of the boxes that Carolina looks for in players: skating, work ethic, defensive ability and hockey sense.
Patrik Hamrla - I’m excited about Hamrla, and I have been since I saw him play in person at last year’s tournament. This year, Hamrla looked more comfortable and was a lot quicker, allowing for him to make some stellar saves in the process. His style is still a little erratic, but there’s no denying the fact that he can make some massive saves.
Jakub Vondras - Vondras had an ugly first game but rebounded well after that. He looked much more confident out there against Tampa and made some spectacular saves. His lateral movement is impressive and I felt that he was challenging shooters more than he was against Florida. Vondras is definitely going to take some time, but I see what Carolina liked about him.
Dylan Ernst - Ernst didn’t play in any of the three games, so I don’t have much to say about him. I liked him with Kamloops in the WHL this past year, but I didn’t get a ton of viewings on him to definitively state what he is as a prospect. I would have liked to have seen him get at least a period’s worth of action against Tampa Bay, but Vondras’ performance in net put that out of the question.
Overall, I was impressed with the Hurricanes’ prospects over the course of the tournament. They showed tremendous resilience after the ugly loss to the Panthers and were able to outspeed and outskill a larger and more physical Nashville team. I doubt that any of these players will make the team out of camp, but a few of them managed to make a major impact in these games and that momentum will carry over into the main training camp. I’m excited to see what this year’s Chicago Wolves team can do, especially after getting to see the prospects and talk to Brock Sheahan. He’s an intelligent coach that wants his team to get better every day, and I see a lot of similarities to Rod Brind’Amour in his approach.
Camp invites are usually there to make an impression and parlay that into a contract of some sort, and I feel that Dronov was able to do that. It wouldn’t surprise me if Carolina tries to sign him, because I felt that his game is suited for the NHL. He still needs some refinement, but the skating and physical tools are there, along with good hockey sense and playmaking ability. He could be a decent sixth or seventh defenseman in the future.
It’s an exciting time for Hurricanes fans, and I’m looking forward to watching this group of prospects develop over the course of this season. I hope you all were able to catch some of these games, and if not, I hope that this is at least helpful for you. Training camp starts this week, folks. We’ve made it.