The biggest buzz mid-summer leading into the Carolina Hurricanes annual prospect camp in July was the strength and depth of the Hurricanes prospect pool on the blue line. The team had just added Noah Hanifin with the #5 overall pick to go with Haydn Fleury who was selected #7 overall in 2014 and a good crop of players only 1-2 years older who were drafted in the middle rounds but then looked better than their selection numbers. From a very positive starting point, that story has actually become better with Noah Hanifin stepping in immediately as an NHLer (not a huge surprise) but maybe more significantly Brett Pesce and later Jaccob Slavin also rising up to the NHL ranks after only a cup of tea at the AHL level following a couple years of college hockey. Then there is that Justin Faulk guy who is only 23 years old himself. Suddenly, the future has become the present for the Carolina Hurricanes on the blue line.
As I have written regularly of late, I think the turning point and biggest jump for this franchise will be when this group starts driving the wins/losses. Faulk is already there. Hanifin, Pesce and Slavin have quickly acclimated to the NHL place and are holding their own. We are just waiting for them to become the best players on the ice on a nightly basis. Based on their ahead of schedule arrival in the NHL and progress thus far, we might not be waiting long.
The defense is one-third of an NHL team with the other parts obviously being the forwards and goaltending. The picture for both of these positions when looking out 2-3 years was much murkier this summer when Canes fans were all clamoring over the defensemen. The prospect pools at both positions were deemed to be much lighter and farther out.
But in the span of about 2 weeks, a second leg of the stool, the goalie position, has jumped by leaps and bounds. The Canes entered the season with AHL veteran Drew MacIntyre and undrafted 24-year old prospect Rasmus Tirronen slotted for Charlotte. The Canes did have second-rounder Alex Nedeljkovic and a couple younger mid-round picks in the system. Nedeljkovic was a strange kind of mystery in Raleigh because he has twice been injured and unable to participate in the prospect camp or Traverse City tourney, so despite being in the system for 2 summers, he has yet to make an appearance on PNC Arena ice. And the kids below him were very much the usual variety of ‘could work but who knows’ that you get in young goalies.
That all seemed to change in the blink of an eye over the past couple weeks:
Daniel Altshuller rising in Charlotte
After a good start with the ECHL Everblades, Daniel Altshuller was promoted to Charlotte where he has since led the team to 5-0-1 mark with a 1.47 goals against average and scintillating .947 save percentage. As a 21-year old 2012 draftee with good NHL size (6 foot 4 inches tall), his stock is rising rapidly right now.
Alex Nedeljkovic making a statement in WJC tourney
Right about the same time as Altshuller’s surge, Alex Nedeljkovic was leading the US team into action in the World Junior Championship tourney in Finland. Playing against most of the world’s best in his age group (except a few including Noah Hanifin who are already in the NHL), Nedeljkovic was arguably the US team’s most valuable player on their way to a respectable bronze medal in the tournament. His exceptional saves made frequent appearances on Twitter during the course of the tourney especially the last few games under the greatest of pressure. He is receiving rave reviews for his stellar play in especially in pressure games against world class competition. Nedeljkovic is only a 2014 draftee who will not turn 20 years old until Thursday. His stock is also rising rapidly right now and his second round selection would certainly be a bit higher based on the WJC tourney if the 2014 draft were redone today.
Callum Booth also tracking well
Farther away from the spotlight, 2015 fourth-rounder Callum Booth is having a solid season in the QMJHL. Patrick Clarke profiled Booth in his ‘The Pipeline’ post from October 20 which you can find HERE. More recently (just yesterday actually), Booth was named the QMJHL player of the month for December. As an 18-year old goalie, it is too early to declare ultimate success but the early trajectory is good, and I am sure Ron Francis is happy so far with spending his fourth round pick on Booth.
All 3 goalies are very young as 2014 and 2015 draftees, but very quickly the Hurricanes went from having a murky future in goal and what was deemed a shallow prospect pool at the position to a significantly better place.
I think it is fair to say that the forward position was the biggest challenge for the Hurricanes prospect pool this summer. That continues to be the case, but with the emergence of Phil DiGiuseppe at the NHL level and Sebastian Aho’s eye-opening play for Finland in the WJC tourney, this situation has also taken positive steps recently.
The future continues to look brighter by the day. Here is hoping that it continues the current formula of arriving ahead of schedule.