Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a step away from the here and now of preseason hockey to look at the group of Carolina Hurricanes prospects who must be signed after the 2019-20 season when their draft rights expire or otherwise be lost to free agency.
Below is the group of players in this category with a quick assessment of each.
Cotton was drafted as an NCAA player, so the Hurricanes have maintained his rights for four year. His graduation year is this year, so the Hurricanes have until next August to sign him. If they do not, Cotton can become a free agent like Chase Priskie did this summer before signing with the Hurricanes. Cotton has made step-wise progress and returned as a veteran leader to the prospect camp this summer. He showed well in that week against young players and was also just named the captain for Boston College. He has NHL speed and good skating ability. That combined with steady progress in terms of his skills, makes him a near certainty to sign an entry-level contract with the Hurricanes as long as he does not instead prefer the free agent route that is now available to him.
Like Cotton, Matt Filipe was a veteran leader for prospect camp this summer. And also like Cotton, Filipe has good size and skates well enough to have NHL potential. He also possesses a good shot. I think Filipe is also a near certainty to be offered an entry-level contract. The risk again is if he instead prefers to wait until August and go the free agent route.
Henman was a 2018 Canadian junior draftee which means his rights expire in only two years which is up next summer. Henman possesses decent offensive abilities but has not really been able to convert that to scoring production. He had only 46 points in 63 games in 2018-19. He is also undersized at 6 foot 0 inches tall and 152 pounds. He was one of the three players returned to their junior teams before the preseason games started. My hunch is that if the Hurricanes were leaning toward signing him that he would have stuck around to play in a preseason game just to see what he could do at this level. As such, I think Henman is a player who needs to have a big 2019-20 season play his way onto the positive side of the cut line to win a contract.
LaFontaine’s development path went a bit sideways when he was unable to earn/keep the crease at the University of Michigan. He was eventually pushed out when sandwiched between an older goalie who won the starting job and a younger goalie who was next in line. He did attend the prospect camp this summer which keeps him on the team’s radar, but with so many goalies already in the minor league system (Nedeljkovic, Helvig, Booth, Forsberg) and a couple more possibly on the way (Kochetkov, Kucharski, Makiniemi), I think LaFontaine is very likely on the outside looking in. His return to NCAA hockey at the University of Minnesota after a year in the British Columbia Hockey League does at least give him a better venue to try to go on a run and impress his way into consideration.
Defenseman Luke Martin comes with pretty high draft pedigree as a second-rounder in 2017. Players drafted that high almost always get an entry-level contract to continue development even if they have not seen rapid progress since being drafted. Martin was not at the prospect camp this summer which makes it harder to gauge his progress. I figure Martin will be offered an entry-level contract based on draft pedigree even though his development maybe has not been the most stellar thus far.
Stevens is another NCAA product who has taken the gradual approach playing college hockey. Stevens has great NHL size and the top of the crease mentality of the old school power forwards. The issue is that he might not have the mobility between the blue lines to really make it at the NHL level. He also turns 23 this winter. My hunch is that Stevens is on the outside looking in and will need a huge senior season at Yale to play his way up into the mix and be offered an entry-level contract.
Zimmer is a 2016 draftee who will play out his college career. When drafted, he looked a bit like Filipe or Cotton as a forward with projectable NHL size and skating ability. But Zimmer’s development at the University of Wisconsin has been modest. He did take a step up with 18 points in 34 games in 2018-19, but my hunch is that he is another player who is on the outside looking in and needs huge 2019-20 season to change course and earn an entry-level contract.
If pressed to make predictions right now, I think only David Cotton, Matt Filipe and Luke Martin are offered entry-level contracts from this group of seven prospects whose rights expire next summer.
Important to note is that with young players, they are always just one strong season away from a completely different projection. In addition, as ‘prospects’ the team could also invest a contract in a player whose development is modest but whose 2-4 projection they like. So nothing is ever set in stone with this young group.
What you say you Canes fans?
1) Who has recent updates on any of these seven prospects?
2) Which of the seven do you think will ultimately be offered entry-level contracts?
3) Are you concerned that any of these players might go the route of free agency in August instead of signing a contract with the Hurricanes?