As part of the ‘Midterms’ series that checks in on Hurricanes prospects below the AHL level, I have been thinking about what the Hurricanes have/do not have to help fill roster spots a couple years out.
If you want to catch up on the ‘Midterms’ series, the most recent entry for 2016 fourth-rounder Max Zimmer has links to the other prospect articles.
Browsing the Charlotte Checkers current roster and then looking at the prospect list for players below the AHL level highlights the fact that building and maintaining a prospect pool is an ongoing process and also one that needs occasional rebalancing. During his tenure, Francis has collected extra picks and prospects pretty much annually at the trade deadline, yet when you look at the Hurricanes depth it is not as robust as 1 might imagine.
The Charlotte Checkers
If one browses the Charlotte Checkers current roster, the lineup is fairly heavy on AHL veterans who would not be categorized as the pure version of prospects.
On defense, the near-ready but still young depth is strong with Trevor Carrick, Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown progressing on a nice schedule.
In goal, Alex Nedeljkovic has had a sometimes bumpy rookie season at the professional level which suggests he might take some time to be NHL-ready, but he is a good young goalie prospect nonetheless.
At forward, things are lighter at the AHL level in terms of young prospects. Important to note is that this not always a bad thing. The lack of depth is partly driven by the fact that Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm skipped the AHL altogether and also the fact that Derek Ryan, Brock McGinn, Phil Di Giuseppe and Patrick Brown are filling roles at least temporarily at the NHL level.
The pool of young prospects right now includes Lucas Wallmark who is having an impressive AHL season, Sergey Tolchinsky who brings a high level of skill and Valentin Zykov.
Summary look at the Hurricanes prospects below the AHL level
When you look at the 2015 and 2016 draft classes, a couple things jump out.
On defense, the Hurricanes only have first-rounder Jake Bean and seventh-rounder Noah Carroll who might/might not earn an NHL contract. Especially if Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown ascend to the NHL level, the Hurricanes will suddenly be very light on defense prospects with Jake Bean carrying the flag and mostly marching alone. Again, this is not a bad thing. The problem has been created by the fact that Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin fast tracked to the NHL and the fact that Fleury and McKeown might do the same.
At forward, the Hurricanes have a couple higher-end players in Julien Gauthier and Nicolas Roy who could surprise and compete for an NHL roster spot as early as next season. And behind that, the team has an interesting and sizable collection of 10 forwards drafted in the middle rounds who are likely at least a couple years away from being NHL ready.
And in goal, the Hurricanes have Nedeljkovic as the front-runner to be the next Hurricanes starter from within the system, but also 3 more goalies (Callum Booth, Jack LaFontaine, Jeremy Helvig) drafted in the past 2 years who provide a chance to play the odds instead of making single bets.
What does it mean for the 2017 draft and also building the roster going forward?
Francis general approach for the draft has been to take the best available player regardless of position. I do not think he will deviate too much from that path, but I do think the limited options for higher-end forwards that the Hurricanes need right now does create a bias to take a forward with a first round pick especially if it creeps up the draft order. The hope would be to get a player like Jeff Skinner who is ready to make a difference at the NHL level sooner rather than later.
Especially with the extra picks in the second and third rounds, I would expect Francis to start rebuilding his prospect pool on the blue line. Especially if Fleury and/or McKeown move up, the Hurricanes will be in a great place with a young blue line, but there is always the need to back fill slots later.
Finally, Francis approach to the goalie position seems to be to go with quantity over quality (quality simply meaning spending mid-round picks and not higher picks at the position). As such, I would not be surprised to see Francis again reach to for a goalie with 1 of his 3 third-round picks or otherwise a later-round selection.