With training camp just around the corner and the Caniac Carnival and Red/White scrimmage now only 10 days away, Hurricanes fans who have been starving for hockey all summer get a nice appetizer this weekend in the form of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament.
The annual event features prospect teams from 8 different NHL teams playing a set of round robin games and ultimately crowning a champion. The teams are primarily players without professional experience (so heavy on 18-20-year olds from the past two drafts), hence the term “prospect tourney.”
The Traverse City primer
The roster: Eight NHL teams will send teams of prospects to compete in the tournament. The participants are primarily players who have yet to play professional hockey though each team gets a few exemptions. So the bulk of the players are 18-20-year olds from the three most recent drafts. Because they have already started school, college draftees do not generally participate nor do many European players who have also started their 2017-18 seasons already. (Though the Hurricanes have a notable exception in Martin Necas for the European angle.)
The Hurricanes roster: You can find the Carolina Hurricanes Traverse City roster HERE.
The format/schedule: There is a round robin portion with games on Friday, Saturday and Monday within two pools of four teams. Tuesday’s game simply pits the first against first, second against second, etc. between the two pools. So the winner of each pool plays a single game for the championship on Tuesday.
The Hurricanes schedule:
Friday at 7:30pm vs. Red Wings
Saturday at 3:30pm vs. Rangers
Monday at 6:30pm vs. Blackhawks
Tuesday TBD depending on round robin standings
Coverage: The Detroit Red Wings organization streams coverage of all of the games. This is not the pretty, formal stuff of commercial TV broadcasts, but getting any kind of a look into the rink is a hockey blessing. You should also be able to link to stream from the Hurricanes website if my memory is correct.
2016 results: The Hurricanes were the tourney champions in 2016, so they will be looking to defend that title.
The Hurricanes history of the prospect tourney as a springboard
The Carolina Hurricanes have a long and storied history of players using fall prospect tourneys as a springboard to arrive at the NHL training camp at game speed and then riding momentum to make the NHL roster.
Victor Rask is the most recent case of a player who really was not even on the NHL depth chart entering the prospect tourney. He had a strong prospect tourney that separated him from that pack and hit the ground running in preseason. He ultimately made the Hurricanes roster probably a year early in the process.
Josef Vasicek probably started the whole trend. He was nowhere to be found in summer roster discussions when he played well in prospect competition and then did the same in the NHL preseason to seize a center slot from probably something like sixth on the organizational depth chart before his rapid rise started.
It makes sense. The prospect tourney in mid-September affords young players a couple things heading into the NHL training camp.
First, it offers a chance to impress the coaches. The NHL has not started up yet, so there is significant attention paid to Traverse City.
Second, the prospect tourney offers a chance to showcase ability in a somewhat favorable environment playing primarily against 18-20 year olds, not NHL players.
Finally and maybe most significantly, the tourney offers a chance to quickly shake off any summer rust and get up to game speed in advance of the NHL training camp. When the first preseason game rolls around, the prospects who played in Traverse City will already have four games under their belts.
‘What I’m watching’
Part two tomorrow will offer another bath of points, but rather than cutting off after mostly logistical stuff, allow me to at least start into the more interesting part of the preview.
Positions could be telling heading into the NHL training camp
The Traverse City roster includes dark horses and aspiring rapid risers who would like nothing more than to be the next Victor Rask. I would go so far as to say that Haydn Fleury is not even a dark horse but rather is penciled into the lineup in a third defense pairing slot.
But at forward, I see a few players who could challenge for NHL slots ahead of schedule. Key for these players is seeing ice time in roles somewhat similar to the roles that could be contested at the NHL level. Without spilling the entirety of my training camp preview, I think the slots potentially open to being stolen are Derek Ryan’s bottom half center slot that leans offense and also one or both of the fourth line wing slots.
In that regard, players I will be watching to see where they land lineup-wise include:
Janne Kuokkanen: His skill set is very much that of a playmaking/scoring center who could challenge Ryan if he can be stable and sound defensively and represent scoring upside from what Ryan offers. So I will be curious to see if Kuokkanen plays center in Traverse City or wing (where he can also play). Personally, I would like to see him center a line with two wings capable of playing with pace and scoring. Such a situation would most closely match what I think he enter in training camp.
Nicolas Roy: Similar to Kuokkanen, he seems like to be a year or more away from being NHL-ready, but he definitely fits the bill as a player who could surprise.
Warren Foegele: After sticking around well past the normal round of Canadian junior cuts in training camp last year, Foegele is an intriguing dark horse pick to steal a wing slot on the fourth line. He excelled in a checking line role in juniors especially during the OHL playoffs where he also scored a bunch. He brings an aggressive forechecking style, three-zone intensity that is difficult to play against and significantly a track record playing in a shutdown role at lower levels such that he does not need to make an adjustment from top 6 scoring style to bottom 6 checking style. I could see him proving to be as good defensively as the other options but with offensive upside that wins him a shot at the NHL level. I would prefer to see him play wing in Traverse City to start preparing for that role in Raleigh the next week.
Rising above the crowd
Against competition largely in the 18-20-year old range, it is reasonable to expect older players who are graduating from Canadian juniors up to the AHL this year (or even a couple of player with a full year of AHL hockey already under his belt) to be top of the class.
Haydn Fleury. Roland McKeown, Andrew Poturalski and Josh Wesley are veterans of the tourney and also have a full year of AHL experience. If they are not in the top tier of players in Traverse City, it does not bode well for playing against tougher competition the following week in the NHL training camp.
In addition, players like Nicolas Roy, Warren Foegele, Spencer Smallman, Steven Lorentz and Callum Booth are a full two years past their draft years and should be rising up above this level of play at this point.
Unable to resist even the slightest semblance of news in late August, I already penned an article on Traverse City when the roster was announced. You can find that article HERE.
I will offer a few more ‘what I’m watching’ type points in part 2 of my Traverse City preview on Friday.
Per reader request on Monday, the Thursday Coffee Shop will also have the Traverse City tourney as its subject.