If you missed it on Friday, part 1 of this 2-parter on the Hurricanes’ future at the goalie position is HERE. What was originally a long, single post became a 2-parter when I ran out of time/energy to finish and clean this up in 1 shot.
Part 1 focused fairly near-term on building netminding tandem for the 2017-18 season. That post also included a couple links to articles focused more directly on the here and now, namely the 2016-17 season.
But looking forward to the future again, part 2 today looks at the Hurricanes goalie position past the 2017-18 season when the prospect pool could start to come into play.
Carolina Hurricanes goalie prospects – AHL level
Many words have already been dedicated to the currently NHL level goalie group of Cam Ward, Eddie Lack and Michael Leighton. As of right now, Ward and Lack are signed and scheduled to man the nets through the end of the 2017-18 season. With Lack’s struggles in net and more recently with 2 concussions and Peters’ run of 21 straight starts for Ward, the potential to adjust the goalie part of the roster near-term is definitely there. But other than consideration of veteran Michael Leighton, any changes in the netminding for the Hurricanes through the 2017-18 season is extremely likely to come from outside the organization. While it is always possible that things change, nothing thus far suggests that the Hurricanes have a prospect in the system who is ahead of that schedule.
Nedeljkovic who is the most likely prospect to one day man the net in Raleigh is in his first year at the professional level and had a really bumpy ride out of the gate at the AHL level and is still in the process of reaching a high level of play and finding consistency at the AHL level. Per Jordan Futrell’s Charlotte Checkers coverage, Nedeljkovic has been playing better of late, but his timeline for becoming a regular even as a backup in the NHL seems more likely to be after the 2017-18 season not before. Nedeljkovic is the best bet currently in the Hurricanes’ system to to be the next Hurricanes’ starting goalie, but nothing is guaranteed with 20-year old goalies and even if things go well, the timeline is uncertain.
Altshuller is the other Hurricanes goalie in the professional ranks at the AHL level with Michael Leighton filling in for Eddie Lack at the NHL level. 22-year old Altshuller would theoretically slot ahead of Nedeljkovic on the development path, but it is not clear that he has played his way into the NHL mix. He had a phenomenal run at the AHL season in the middle of the 2015-16 season that opened eyes and boosted his stock. But after a lay off serving as the backup at the NHL level, he never regained that level of play and finished the season with modest statistics overall and probably giving back some of the stock he gained down the stretch. In 2016-17, he has been sort of the third guy with the veteran Leighton and the projected future NHLer Nedeljkovic taking priority. Altshuller has seen only 7 games of action at the ECHL level with the Florida Everblades and 8 more at the AHL level with the Checkers in addition to a couple short stints as the backup at the NHL level. As long as he has a chance at ice time in Charlotte, he has the potential to play his way up, but as of right now he is on the outside looking in for an NHL role.
Carolina Hurricanes goalie prospects – below the AHL level
Ron Francis has actively drafted goalies in his few drafts since taking over as the Hurricanes’ general manager such that the Hurricanes have a fairly deep pool of goalie prospects mostly of middle round draft pedigree and across a couple leagues and age ranges. I have not heard it directly, but he seems to be following the general guide book for statistical analysis. Math suggests that goalies are hard project such that it is rarely worthwhile to spend higher-round picks on them. Rather than trying to identify players who will develop, an alternate approach is to instead stock a system with a good number or lower-round selections with high potential and then hope that from a pool, a winner is found. So far in Francis’ tenure as general manager, that seems to be the path he is taking. He did lean a little bit forward taking Nedeljkovic with an early second round pick, but in the 2 drafts since, Francis has accumulated 3 more goalie prospects none with a draft pick higher than the third round.
Following Nedeljkovic in the 2014 NHL draft, the line behind him includes:
Callum Booth – 4th round 2015 – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Callum Booth is the next goalie in line to move the AHL ranks next season unless he stays in juniors as an overage player. In our ‘Back to School’ profile on Callum Booth in September, Scott Wheeler with Pension Plan Puppets and also The Athletic-Toronto commended Booth for his size and mobility. Booth’s goaltending coach Ghislain Rousseau also described him as athletic in the same article referenced above.
Jack LaFontaine – 3rd round 2016 – University of Michigan (NCAA)
LaFontaine was 1 of 2 goalies added with the Hurricanes volume of draft picks for the 2016 NHL draft. LaFontaine is in the middle of his freshman season at the University of Michigan and will remain Hurricanes’ property until he signs a contract with the team or graduates. LaFontaine’s ‘Back to School’ article in September had comments from his 2015-16 season NAHL coach Joe Dibble and also from MGoBlue.com’s Steve Kornacki. And a set of 5 articles from various sources on LaFontaine from before the 2016 NHL draft can be found in his ‘reading list’ post.
Jeremy Helvig – 5th round 2016 – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Helvig also fits the “big” description which is obviously a good starting point for a prospective NHL goalie. Helvig was an overage draftee in 2016, so he could transition to the AHL next season or possibly stay in the OHL as an overage player for the 2017-18 season. Here is a short profile and collection of 5 articles on Helvig from prior to the 2016 NHL draft.
With Cam Ward’s current contract expiring when he is 34 years old, the burning question is when 1 or more of these prospects will be ready for the NHL. There are cases of goalies busting into the NHL in their early 20s. Cam Ward was only 21 years old when he became the backup and then very quickly the starter in the storybook 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes season. Just prior to Ward, Marc-Andre Fleury jumped straight into the NHL in his draft season but did not really become a regular starter until 2 seasons later after the 2004-05 season lost to the labor dispute. And today’s realm, Matt Murray with the Pittsburgh Penguins followed a similar path to Ward and Fleury playing 2 seasons in juniors and then only 1 in the AHL before becoming an NHL regular and winning a Stanley Cup as a rookie.
The possibility is there for goalies to rise up rapidly at a young age. And just like with other positions, elite players often do not follow any kind of prescribed schedule. But it is important to note that in general goalies take longer to develop and that 2 or even 3 years in the AHL is normal. Based on that, it seems possible for Nedeljkovic to be an NHL goalie for the 2018-19 season. (That would be 2 OHL seasons and then 2 more AHL seasons after being drafted). At the same time, this is not a sure thing. Francis will need to do some combination of leaving room for Nedeljkovic or 1 of the other prospects to seize ice time ahead of schedule, but he will also need to be ready to find other alternatives if the current prospect pool does not yield a prospect who rises up on or even ahead of schedule.