Starting on Friday, Carolina Hurricanes get competitive hockey by players in Hurricanes uniforms. Nevermind that it is only prospects playing in a tourney far away in Michigan and that coverage is usually sparse. It does at least signal that another long hockey-less summer is drawing to a close.
Hurricanes Traverse City NHL prospect tourney schedule
First, the tourney schedule goes like this:
Friday at 4pm Hurricanes vs. Rangers
Saturday 7pm Hurricanes vs. Wild
Monday 6:30pm vs. Stars
Tuesday TBD based on where Canes finish in standings of 3-game round robin
There is no formal Hurricanes coverage for the tourney, but sometimes there are internet streams or other coverage from other teams that can be tracked down on Twitter.
The importance of winning
Though the game will have a ‘real hockey’ element to it with real checking and a desire to win, the games really do not mean that much at the end of the day. It is more about prospect evaluation and development. That said, for a hockey franchise that is 7 years removed from playoff hockey and with a fan base being sold on the future, doing well in a tourney like this helps validate the hope. A Hurricanes tourney win with Alex Nedeljkovic standing on his head to steal a game, Haydn Fleury eating up a ton of minutes flawlessly and Julien Gauthier completely dominating around the crease area to the tune of numerous goals would trigger a positive vibe heading into the NHL training camp.
As noted in my other post, I think this is a critical evaluation point for him. By virtue of starting as an NCAA player and seemingly having an overage spot in Kingston, the decision on whether the Hurricanes sign Foegele can be pushed out a season. But this tourney as much as anything could dictate the path forward with him. He seemed to be either worn out or maybe dinged up in the scrimmage finale after a long week at the Hurricanes prospect camp in July, but I thought he looked very good up until then. He projects as a rugged power forward with a physical edge and Erik Cole like level of physical compete, but first he needs to earn a professional contract.
Leadership from the back end – Haydn Fleury, Roland McKeown and Josh Wesley
As veterans for a tourney like this that is heavy on 18 and 19-year olds, Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown should stand out as superior players in a tourney like this at their stage of development. These 2 plus Josh Wesley should be expected to provide a sound foundation defensively in the tourney.
Players most capable of using this tourney as a launching pad
As noted in my other post, the Hurricanes organization has a storied history of players using fall prospect tournaments to build momentum and ride it all the way to an opening night roster slot. If I had to name players with the greatest chance to do this over the weekend, I think the list goes like this:
Julien Gauthier – The Canes roster could use another power forward and finisher in close. The ‘overripe’ approach suggests maybe 1 more season in junior hockey for Gauthier, but if he demonstrates an ability to produce offensively, he gets a much longer look from Hurricanes coach Bill Peters.
Nicolas Roy – It was hard to get a read on him at prospect camp because he missed the middle of it due to illness. I question whether he has made enough progress mobility-wise to skate the NHL game, but if he has improved enough in that regard, he could be a dark horse in September.
Valentin Zykov – The newcomer at the most recent trade deadline has a simple, straight line, physical style of play with a bit of offensive ability to boot. His game could translate well to a fourth line role with scoring upside if there are injuries that make another slot or 2 available. There are a couple other more experienced players at the AHL level, but Zykov could also climb into the mix if the Hurricanes are forced to reach to to #15 or so on the depth chart for the opening night lineup.
Continuation of grace under pressure from Alex Nedeljkovic
Based on his play in international tourneys playing for the United States and also juniors playoffs, Alex Nedeljkovic has quickly earned a reputation for being a big game goalie. Traverse City does not qualify as ‘big game’ worthy, but perhaps it being his first chance to play real-ish hockey in a Hurricanes uniform amps up his intensity level to make a strong first impression and stake a claim to being the goalie of the future for the organization.
Whoever finds streaming options for any of the games, ping up on Twitter, so we can share with the rest of the Caniac Nation.