Today it was announced that the Hurricanes had signed 2017 draftee Stelio Mattheos to his three-year entry-level contract. The move was no surprise after Mattheos had a strong prospect camp last summer and an even stronger 2018-19 season in juniors.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a quick look at the class of 2017 and its progress toward producing NHL players.
On the path at the professional level
At least the fast track version of Necas’ NHL career hit a bit of a setback when he showed to be not yet NHL-ready in a short beginning of season stint at the Canes third line center. Since that setback, Necas’ development has been primarily positive. He had a hot streak in the AHL after adjusting, then cooled down a bit and recently has reemerged. After the fall setback and a mostly positive but still up and down 2018-19 season in the AHL, Necas NHL time line is much more uncertain. That is why I advocate for trying to add a veteran top 6 type forward who ideally can play center or wing equally well. Adding such a player would allow Necas to develop at his own pace and jump to the NHL level when ready not when needed to fill a hole.
Since he was an overage player when drafted, Geekie was able to move up to the professional ranks a year earlier than would be typical for a Canadian junior player. In his first year at the AHL level, Geekie has a respectable 38 points in 62 games. He has made the transition to the AHL level reasonably well but still figures to be on a longer development path.
As noted above, Mattheos joins the professional ranks in the prospect pool. He had a stellar 2018-19 WHL campaign with 96 points in 65 games and has become on to watch. At his core, he is a rugged power forward more so than a pure skill player. But during the prospect camp and tourney during the summer, he demonstrated an ability to keep pace with the fastest and also mesh well with skilled players. At a basic level, that combination skill set has the potential to become a new age NHL power forward at least on a depth line. Next up is seeing how quickly and well he can transition to the professional ranks.
Non-North American professional development tracks
European and United States NCAA players have longer non-professional development paths since teams have their rights for four to five years. The Hurricanes have multiple players in this category from the 2017 NHL draft. Unlike Canadian junior players who must be signed or lost after two years, this set of players could continue to develop without a contract with the Hurricanes still owning their rights.
The player from this group who is likely to make the jump to the professional ranks soonest is Finnish forward Eetu Luostarninen. The big forward had 36 points in 54 games in the Finnish Liiga playing against professionals. He is a player that could go either way in terms of continuing to develop in Finland versus making the jump to the AHL for the 2019-20 season.
Martin is the lone NCAA player from the 2017 draft class. He is finishing up his sophomore season at the University of Michigan and will likely continue his development there. As a throwback big defenseman, he is an interesting case. In today’s NHL that requires skating above all else, Martin is maybe not a prototypical defenseman. But in the prospect camp last summer, he looked good and capable in terms of mobility competing against skilled forwards in his age group. That being the case, the potential is there for Martin to take a path similar to Slavin and Pesce honing his game at the college level for multiple years but then being reasonably close to NHL-ready once that ends.
Makiniemi is the second of three Finnish players drafted by the Hurricanes in 2017. Makiniemi is still playing in Europe and with the AHL full at the goalie position right now, that will likely continue as long as possible. Makiniemi has yet to really crack the professional ranks in the KHL or Finland. As such, he has a couple of steps to take to play his way up the depth chart.
Hoping to earn a contract
That leaves two lower-round draft picks who are trying to earn professional contracts and continue their development at the AHL level.
Brenden De Jong
De Jong is another big defenseman but of a less polished variety than Martin. My estimation of De Jong last summer at prospect camp was that he still had a way to go and might not necessarily be offered an entry-level contract. I stand by that. A positive is that the Hurricanes AHL roster is primarily veteran AHLers and light on young prospects, so just maybe De Jong benefits from that. But if I had to wager, my best guess is that De Jong will not net an entry-level contract this offseason.
The third of three Finnish players is defenseman Ville Rasanen. My impression of Rasanen at the prospect camp was that at the time he did not project to be an NHL signee. He made the jump to the United States to play in the USHL. As a European draftee, best guess is that he just continues to try to find a higher level while the Hurricanes wait out his draft rights expiration.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on Stelio Mattheos and his prospects to become a middle of the roster NHL player?
2) It is still early, but what would be your two-year assessment of the Hurricanes 2017 draft class?