For prospects, training camp and the preseason is usually one of their best opportunities to prove themselves to both the team and fans alike. Every year, there’s always a select few guys that will make an unforgettable impression, and excite the organization for the future. Beyond just in Raleigh, the Hurricanes have numerous youngsters abroad making people take notice. Let’s have a look at who some of these players are, what they’ve done, and what’s in store for them.
Rees has reached the point of his development now where he looks primed to take the next step. If the Canes’ roster wasn’t absolutely loaded, I think he’d have a place on the team. You can make the argument that he’s outplayed Jack Drury throughout the preseason, but because Rees is exempt from waivers and Drury is not, he’s likely to miss out on a spot. But that’s OK. He’ll likely continue to see big minutes wherever he’s assigned in the AHL, and should be amongst the first call-ups for the Canes in event of an injury. His hard-nosed, tenacious pace combined with slick hands, hockey sense and skill makes him a player that can contribute anywhere in the lineup, and can be a real pain in the ass to compete against.
Considering this kid just turned 18 a week before training camp started, I’ve been stunned with how polished he’s looked. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a work in progress — he’s very lean and still growing into his frame and getting stronger. But the rest of his game, especially offensively, looks to be far along. He’s shown great poise and patience with the puck, a strong and agile stride with high-end puck carrying ability, and great vision with the puck on his blade. I mean, let’s be honest — he’s not making this team, but you’re usually expecting a 4+ year wait for prospects you’ve drafted outside of the lottery rounds, but if this kid can keep on the same trajectory and continue to impress in Sweden with a very respected Leksands program, he could definitely accelerate his timeline to the NHL.
Since being a first-round selection by the Canes back in 2019, Suzuki’s tenure in the organization has provided far more questions than answers regarding his NHL future. Injuries have really slowed this player down, and you could say that 2023-24 is sort of a make-or-break season for him, considering this will likely be his final year of waiver exemption. So far, he’s been looking like he knows what’s at stake. In their first preseason game against Florida, I was really impressed by him. He looked quick, he was making smart decisions, and his skills were on full display. He scored a fantastic goal at the 0:15 mark of the video below.
We scored 3 goals in 3 minutes... is that good? pic.twitter.com/vCqYSWGdot— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) September 28, 2023
I don’t really see a spot for him on this Canes roster and can’t justify him over a guy like Rees at this point, but Suzuki will be a very interesting player to follow this season and could put himself in a strong position for a recall. The expectations for him were very high when the Canes drafted him and, despite the setbacks, he remains a very talented hockey player and he’s still only 22 years old. Fingers crossed that he can stay healthy and show us what he’s capable of through a full season.
Throughout the past 12 months, Alex Nikishin has emerged as one of the very best prospects in hockey. Nicknamed “Boom” for his ability to lay flattening hits, his offensive game took a massive leap forward with SKA St. Petersburg last season. He scored 11 goals and 55 points in 65 games, and when you combine that with his size (6-3, 220lbs) and ability to defend, this guy is a unit in the making. He has it all defensively; elite gap control and positioning, physicality, ability to transition quickly, and wins most of his puck battles. But the strides he’s taken offensively are the true standouts of his overall growth, and he arguably still has another level to reach.
Unquestionably, this guy will be a top-4 defenseman (and maybe even top pair) in the NHL for a very long time. He’s signed in the KHL until 2025, but the expectation is that he’ll step right into the NHL with no issues. He was the best defenseman in the 2nd best league in the world last year, and he’s picked up right where he left off so far this season. He has 8 points through 12 games, and is as imposing as ever with his size and physicality. There is no doubt in my mind that this guy will be a fan favourite in Raleigh when he arrives.
Another kid off to a scorching hot start to his season is Rykov, who the Canes just selected 100th overall in the 2023 draft. After scoring 8 points in 8 games with his VHL team (which is the Russian equivalent to the AHL), he was called up to the KHL with Traktor Chelyabinsk. In 6 games since his recall, he’s managed to score 2 goals, which makes him 1 of just 2 U19 players to have scored more than 1 goal in the KHL so far this season. And that’s despite only playing half of his team’s games thus far. The most impressive part is how he’s scored both of his goals — he drove to the net and won positioning, and then finished off centering passes. He’s a very skilled player with a high ceiling, and it’s great to see him off to such a quick start to his professional career at just 18 years old.
18-year-old Alexander Rykov scores 2nd goal in 3 games pic.twitter.com/tH0QSxdH63— KHL (@khl_eng) September 27, 2023
While the present is looking very promising in Raleigh, the future is looking just as bright.