With the NHL postseason winding down, and the summertime markets looming with the Canes having the horses to be massive players, now seems like the perfect time to look back and get a bit of a refresher on what’s happening down on the farm. An imperative part of Waddell’s to-do list will be figuring out which of these players can be used in deals for immediate help, and which ones have parts to play in the Carolina Hurricanes’ future. The champions of the AHL’s Eastern Conference are split the first two games against the Chicago Wolves in the Calder Cup Finals in Charlotte this weekend, but here I’ll be focusing on the regular season (largely because I’ve been so busy the last few weeks that I have barely gotten to watch any of this stellar playoff run). We’ll take a look at how each prospect* playing for the Checkers performed in 2018-19, what skills make them projectable to the NHL level, and what each needs to work on in order to reach his ceiling. We’ll also give an NHL outlook of when they’ll be ready to contribute, and what role their NHL future likely holds.
*Two criteria: Players must still have rookie eligibility (<25 games played in the NHL), and be a true prospect with a legitimate notion of contributing in Raleigh. Bobby Sanguinetti and Dennis Robertson play important roles as mentors and organizational depth, but neither truly qualifies as a prospect at this stage of his career.
To begin, we will look at Jake Bean, Clark Bishop, and Trevor Carrick.
Jake Bean – Defenseman (Acquired: 2016 Entry Draft, 1st round, 13th overall)
By the Numbers – 13 goals, 31 assists, 44 points in 70 games, +17 rating.
What Got Him Here? Many times when speaking of 20-year-olds, especially defensemen, there is a significant learning curve upon making the transition to the professional game. For Bean, I guess you could say there was a brief one where he looked a bit timid and the points weren’t flowing. However, he surely didn’t look like a rookie most of the year. The young Calgary native was a star on the back end for the Checkers. He finished the year second among rookie AHL defensemen in scoring, and probably would have been first had he not missed six games due to call-ups (he was off the lead by one point in six fewer games). Among players of his birth year or younger, he was the 7th leading scorer in the league, regardless of position – just ahead of names like Logan Brown and Sam Steel (high profile forward prospects, for my non-prospect-junkies out there), and just a couple spots behind teammate Martin Necas. Jake Bean’s profile is predicated on this skill, as a puck moving, powerplay quarterback type of defenseman. Bean is incredibly poised and patient with the puck in all three zones. Smooth is probably the number one word that comes to mind. Everything he does seems quick and easy. As an offensive zone playmaker and on the powerplay, he does an excellent job of waiting out his mark and finding seams to make cross-zone feeds for excellent scoring opportunities. He has plenty of pretty assists where he navigates the defense then perfectly places the puck in the wheelhouse of a shooter like Aleksi Saarela for one-time goals. In the defensive zone, he’s crafty and clever, always seemingly able to make a quick head-fake or reversing the puck to his D partner to create a little space for an easy zone exit. Bean has an excellent shot as well. His whip-like wrister has an excellent release, velocity, and accuracy, and he does a good job of keeping his heavy slapper low for tips and rebounds. He beat goalies cleanly without a screen plenty of times as well. When defending, he has a great understanding of body and stick positioning and maintains precise gaps to take away time and space from oncoming forwards. He did seem to get caught in a bad pinch a few times early in the year, but he seemed to improve his awareness in this area as the year went on and he got more comfortable.
Questions/Room for Improvement? Strength and filling out has always been item #1 on the to-do list since being drafted here. Listed as 6’1 and 186 pounds, it seems as though he may have already taken steps forward in this area (previously listed around 170). If these fifteen pounds really have been added of good weight, he’s already off to a great start in about year’s time, since signing. A little more muscle and weight to throw around and gain position in the corners is always welcome for a defenseman. He will never be a guy to play a super physical game and deliver heavy hits to players cutting across the middle. However, he didn’t seem particularly contact-shy in the corners or in front of the net, as I initially worried could be the case (Jeff Skinner Syndrome, as it’s known around my apartment). While he’s an adequate skater with good agility and quickness, I’m not sure he has the high-end top speed to be able to turn and burn with some of the faster forwards in the NHL. As mentioned above, he did have the momentary lapses in focus that led to an odd-man rush or defensive breakdown, but I do not think this is a significant worry for a 20 year old offense-oriented defenseman; especially since he showed marked improvement as the year progressed.
ETA, Future Outlook: 2019-20. With Calvin de Haan out 4-6 months as he recovers from (another) shoulder surgery, Jake Bean will be in competition with Haydn Fleury and a guy we’ll talk about later (and possibly Jesper Sellgren too, one of my new prospect crushes) for a chance to break camp with the Canes. I did not previously think Haydn Fleury was going to be a Hurricane come August, but the staff may be leery to head into the new season without an option with a somewhat significant amount NHL experience. Regardless, I think Bean is ready, and will beat out Fleury for the 6th man role. He’s a new age defenseman, that will pay substantial dividends on a stale powerplay along with young guys like Necas and Svechnikov, and has the potential to be a 12-15 goal, 45+ point defenseman at the NHL level. I’m not sure he’ll ever be a true top pairing type, but I think he has the potential to be a top four guy that gives you 2014-17 Faulk-type of production offensively (maybe a couple fewer goals, but highly likely more assists). Bean looks like a true game-changer from the blue line, who’s offensive talent is matched only by Dougie Hamilton within the organization.
Clark Bishop – Center/Wing (Acquired: 2014 Entry Draft, 5th round, 127 overall)
By the Numbers – 3 goals, 3 assists, 6 points in 38 games played with Charlotte, 1 G, 2 A, 3 PTS in 20 GP with CAR
What Got Him Here? Physicality, hard work, and steady two-way play. Bishop was not drafted to be a flashy, top-six player. His highest point total in juniors was 39, and even that came as a second year overager in a pretty high-scoring league. He was the seventh-leading scorer on that team, so I’d guess he’s not going to crack the top 10 on an NHL squad. He has not suddenly developed a scoring touch in the pros, and it’s extremely unlikely that’ll happen. Rather, Bishop is the kind of guy in the McGinn, Maenalanen camp that you can stick in the bottom six to provide a little energy and not hurt you in the defensive zone (which is why he was the one called up when Maenalanen went down in the postseason, and not a Gauthier or Saarela like I had sort of hoped). Bishop has the versatility to play center or wing, and had a lot of moments where he made noticeable contributions that don’t show on the score sheet, be it getting a puck out of the defensive zone after his line had been hemmed in and needed a change, playing the body, or blocking a shot. He was a very good penalty killer for Charlotte as well. While the scoring line is a tad cringe-worthy, he made enough little plays between the whistles that his value was noticeable.
Questions/Room for Improvement? Well, for one, the scoring line is a tad cringe-worthy. The NHL game is changing. Teams need contributions from all over the lineup. This is why players like Marcus Kruger are losing their places in the league; and yes, I know he was okay-ish and played 74 games for the Blackhawks this year, but they were terrible. Now look at the Boston Bruins. How many times in their four-game sweep did the line of Kuraly, Wagner (or in game 4 Acciari), and old pal Joakim Nordstrom make massive differences in the games, both on the score sheet and in setting a tone? Depth plays a big role in winning championships. I’m not saying it’s impossible for a team with players like Bishop on its fourth line to win (you still can’t convince me Joakim Nordstrom is THAT much better of a player than Bishop, even with his cute little playoff run), but I don’t think he has the scoring ability to be more than a 13th – 14th forward. He doesn’t have enough of a scoring touch or any other carrying trait to be a significant, relied-upon player in the modern NHL.
ETA, Future Outlook: 2020-21. If the front office truly believes he can make the progressions towards being a capable NHL forward, I’d say it’ll start with giving him one more year in a slightly enlarged role in Charlotte. If the offense takes a step forward, great, and go from there. But I would not bank on Bishop becoming more than organizational depth, a guy who may stick around for a while and play a handful of games when injuries strike, but never do enough to truly crack a healthy roster. With the depth of the Carolina system, much of which is rising towards the NHL level, he’s probably not in the best organization to really fill that role either, though.
Trevor Carrick – Defenseman (Acquired 2012 Entry Draft, 4th round, 115 overall)
By the Numbers – 9 goals, 38 assists, 47 points, 86 PIMs in 71 games played. 1 NHL GP; 1 fighting major and a -1 rating.
What Got Him Here? I was really excited about Trevor Carrick when he went back to the OHL and scored double digit goals for two straight years after being drafted, including 22 in 2013-14. He has a very heavy shot, and that’s always been probably his loudest tool. He plays right on the edge, if not a little over it at times. He was recently suspended for three games during the playoffs for leaving the bench “for the purpose of joining an altercation”, which, uh, is a no-no. However, I love the grit he brings for the most part, much like a Tim Gleason (always one of my favorites). He plays the body hard and is not afraid whatsoever to drop the gloves and defend a teammate. He enjoyed the best statistical season of his career in 2018-19, with career highs in assists and points. He played major minutes in all situations, and served in a leadership role as an assistant captain. He’s an excellent AHL player.
Questions/Room for Improvement? AHL excellence doesn’t predict NHL capability. There really aren’t many areas that stick out negatively when looking at Carrick’s game. He really is a pretty solid all-around defenseman. He’s played all three phases for Charlotte ever since his AHL rookie season in 2014-15, when he also set the team’s rookie defenseman scoring record (since broken by Bean). There are two things, however, that leave me a bit unsettled, the first of which is his skating. We’ve said it a couple times here, but the NHL game is evolving towards skill and offense. The importance of size, physicality, and number of big, lumbering players is quickly dwindling. You HAVE to be able to skate in today’s league, or you’ll be left in the dust, even if you possess a promising repertoire otherwise (Hello, Valentin Zykov!). 20 years ago, Carrick might have been a prototype, and I highly doubt the Cale Makars and Quinn Hugheses are going top 5, if at all. Now, he might be a victim of timing. My next issue is, while he’s got that “all-around solid” going for him, I don’t know for a fact that any of his characteristics are good enough to stand out at the highest level. He just might not have any one trait that’s really good enough by NHL standards. For example, Necas is so projectable for his skating, vision, and playmaking ability. Those are all NHL-quality, right now. Julien Gauthier has the size, hands, and shot. Jake Bean is a high-level powerplay quarterback and thinks the game at an elite level. What does Carrick have to sit back and say “That’s how I carved out an NHL career”? A heavy shot is not going to do it alone. I like Carrick a lot, always have, but he’s a bit of an enigma at this point. If he can take a step with his skating and sharpen up offensively (many of his assists come from playing with a lot of talent rather than making significant plays like Bean does), it’ll go a long way. Being that he turns 25 in July, time’s running out though.
ETA, Future Outlook: 2017, probably. I say this kind of tongue-in-cheek, but I can’t help but think if he played in any other organization than this one that he’d have gotten a much larger shot in The Show by now. There are a few things (mostly the skating ability) that make me hesitant to project him as a surefire NHL talent, but he’s proven all he can in the American Hockey League. With many of these borderline young players, they get their chance and just either sink or swim once they get to the NHL. In my opinion, Carrick has enough traits that make me believe he could carve out a role for many teams, but he’s behind a whole lot of talent with the Canes. He is an RFA this summer, so we’ll find out soon enough how the front office feels about him. Maybe he gets a new deal here and this is the year he finally breaks through with de Haan’s injury, or maybe he gets moved to a team with a need on the back end. Either way, I would not be surprised either way if he carves out a solid career as a bottom pair guy, or even a seventh defenseman who plays 30-50 games per year.
Check back in next week for a fun one, as we’ll look at Julien Gauthier, Morgan Geekie, and Janne Kuokkanen.