Now that the Carolina Hurricanes 2022-23 season has come to a close, it’s time to start looking towards the future as deadlines are fast-approaching to ink several of their unsigned draft picks.
The deadlines for unsigned turning-pro prospects in the junior hockey ranks is June 1st, and for NCAA prospects it’s August 15th. In total, the Canes have 5 players to make decisions on. Three of the five are in junior — so those decisions will be made within the next couple of weeks — and the other two are in the NCAA ranks, so while the team still has time there I’m sure they’d want to make those decisions sooner rather than later as they did with Domenick Fensore, who signed an entry-level deal with the team on April 14.
So, who are the players in question? And what are the chances of them getting signed? Let’s get into all of that below.
RW - Robert Orr
As an Ottawa native, I was fortunate to have the chance to watch Robert “Bobby” Orr in-person multiple times this past season, as he played for my local Gatineau Olympiques in the QMJHL. As such, I feel like I’m qualified to really dissect this player, as I’ve seen him play more so than any other player in this article. Unfortunately, if you’re hoping that the Canes’ Bobby Orr may one day match the level of THAT Bobby Orr, it’s time that I kill that dream for you.
In my viewings of him, Orr is a frustrating player. He’s a strong skater, with good acceleration and a high motor. He’s also evidently very smart on the ice. His hockey IQ is very strong, and he makes smart decisions with the puck. He can be physical at times and he’s tenacious, not afraid to battle for the puck. He has some nice tools to work with, but unfortunately he hasn’t been able to put them all together. He scored just 9 goals and 21 points in 36 games for Gatineau before he was traded. Gatineau was one of the top teams in the entire CHL this past season, so when an NHL-affiliated prospect is being moved as a roster dump in a trade to clear roster space for a team to get better, that’s not a good sign.
And I can’t fault Gatineau for it. Watching him, I was super frustrated with his propensity to defer in the offensive zone. A 20-year old player with his pedigree should be dominating in a weak defensive league like the QMJHL, but Orr was always a passenger in the offensive zone. After the trade, he scored 21 points in 29 games for Acadie-Bathurst, and was an eyebrow-raising -27 for the team.
Overall, his points-per-game percentage steadily declined in both years since the Canes drafted him, and he was traded twice as a roster casualty for improvements. This is a player who’s arguably regressed from where he was two years ago. At this point, I would be stunned if the Canes signed him. It took me only a handful of games to conclude that the kid just hasn’t taken that next step in his development at all, and I’m pretty positive that the team’s scouts will be on that same page.
Probability of signing: >5%
D - Bryce Montgomery
I honestly feel really bad for Montgomery because I feel he’s a prospect who was hurt by COVID-19 more than anyone. The towering 6-foot-5 defenseman is very raw as a player, and missing an entire season of hockey in 2020-21 was a huge hinderance to his overall development. The slow progression led to his departure from a storied London Knights program in October 2022 as he transferred to Cedar Rapids in the USHL, which was both a step down in competition and a bit of an eye-opener in the sense that a London team with Memorial Cup aspirations was OK with parting ways with him.
Overall, Montgomery has a lot of traits that NHL teams covet, specifically the size and long reach that he possesses. He’s also a pretty good skater for such a big dude, which is a bit of a rarity. Despite that, his offensive game didn’t develop at all at the OHL level and his puck-moving ability can be inconsistent, so as of now he’s a bit one-dimensional.
The room for improvement is there with proper development, but Montgomery is in a bit of a tough spot. It’s hard to consider him ready for pro hockey, but that’s basically his only option as he turns 21 in November. Organizational contract slots are precious (you only get 50) so I’m not convinced that the Canes will take the risk of an entry-level contract here, especially considering that you still may have no idea what this guy’s ceiling is three years from now. He’s the total definition of a project, so it’ll depend entirely on how the internal decision makers in the Canes’ scouting department feel about the player’s upside. I could see him signing an AHL deal in the Canes’ system and the team monitoring him to see how he comes along, but I would probably feel safe betting against him getting an ELC before June 1st. Alternatively, I thought he was ineligible for NCAA hockey after playing major junior, but I was told that apparently there is a possibility of him getting into a program. I’m not sure on the criteria of that, but personally I feel that would be the best option for him in his career moving forward — so fingers crossed for him.
Probability of signing: >5%
C - Justin Robidas
Just like Orr, Justin Robidas is a player I had the opportunity to watch in-person this year in Gatineau. Admittedly, I’m a bit mad at him because he was a main reason that his Quebec team swept my Gatineau boys, but for the sake of the Canes I can let that one slide. Simply put, I think Robidas is a fantastic hockey player. At the QMJHL, he is top tier in all of the following categories: skating, hockey sense, skill and compete level. He’s a responsible player who doesn’t cheat on his backchecking and brings a very tenacious style of play. He has the ability to take over games at the junior level, and as of this writing he has 27 points in 18 playoff games, and his team just won the QMJHL Championship.
My conclusion on Robidas would be that it should be a no-brainer for the Canes to sign and develop him at the AHL level, but I chatted with a pro scout this past week who brought up a great point. With the Canes’ AHL situation in a total state of unknown right now, is there a chance that Robidas might not want to sign; considering the mysterious situation that’d he’d be walking into? He could opt against signing the ELC and re-enter the NHL draft in hopes of finding a more stable place for himself, especially because of the possibility of the Canes sharing an AHL affiliation which would make ice-time very hard to come by for a 20-year old AHL rookie.
At this stage, it’s totally on the player, and we’re nearing crunch time. I’d love to see him sign, but could understand this situation going either way. And, at this point of the proceedings, I’m a bit worried that if he was going to sign, it would have been taken care of by now. There’s still time to get it done, but my hopes here have dropped below 50/50.
Probability of signing: >40%
F - Kevin Wall
Wall is a player who’s come along nicely since being an overage selection back in 2019. Each of the last two seasons at Penn State University, he’s led his team in both goals and points. He’s got some nice tools in his bag that lead me to believe he could become an NHLer at some point in his future. His goal-scoring ability and his release are NHL level. His shot is pretty accurate, and he’s an above average skater. He’s grown a lot as an overall player as well. His defensive game is still a bit of a work in progress, but some time in the AHL learning the pro game and making some refinements can really help prepare him for the next step. Here’s a glimpse of his skill:
I was a bit surprised that he didn’t join Chicago at the end of his college season, but that could be due to their rumored mess with the Hurricanes organization. I’m also a bit surprised that they haven’t signed him yet, especially with Fensore having been signed way back in April. Maybe the Canes were focused on their playoff run, but with the current lack of prospects in the AHL system, I’d think bringing Wall into the mix to see out the rest of his development is a no brainer. There’s some upside there for sure, and the Canes still have a few months to get his contract sorted.
Probability of signing: 50/50
G - Jake Kucharski
This is a player I’d closed the door on a long time ago, but his development has bounced back in a major way and this kid has a lot to be proud of. His career path has been extremely weird so far. His numbers were absolutely dreadful in the USHL, which was a bad sign from the get-go. From there, he moved to Providence College but never actually made any appearances in their net. He left after a year, and transferred to American International College, which yes, is an NCAA Division I team. He played 29 games there over 2 years, and posted a .912 save percentage. Not bad numbers, but if the stats don’t tell enough of a story, according to the Atlantic Hockey division’s website, only 10 alumni from that league have reached the NHL since they were granted Division I status in 2003. He then moved to U Nebraska-Omaha for his final collegiate season, where he had a 2.72 GAA and a .904 save percentage — which were inferior numbers to the 20-year old college rookie he shared the crease with.
Overall, I’m not expecting much here. This kid was a seventh round pick, and the Canes were likely intrigued by his 6-4, 225lb frame. Unfortunately his game just hasn’t come along to the point where I can see any NHL upside. But goalies are voodoo, so you truly never know. He signed an ATO with the Wolves after his college season ended in March, and made his first pro start. Sadly, he allowed 4 quick goals and lasted just 13 minutes before being pulled. With 2 years of college eligibility left, I’ve got to say that I’m pretty surprised that Kucharski decided to turn pro at this stage, considering where his development is at. I feel like in time, he could become a solid goalie in the minors or overseas somewhere, but I don’t really see a need for the Hurricanes to continue this project.
Probability of signing: >10%