The past year has been a significant one for either using or punting on prospects from the draft classes a couple years back.
2014 Carolina Hurricanes draft class
With Haydn Fleury establishing himself at the NHL level in 2019-20 and Alex Nedeljkovic seemingly destined to finally get some kind of chance in 2020-21, the top two draft picks after gradual, step-wise development are both at the NHL level, and Warren Foegele will be entering his third season in the NHL. Lucas Wallmark was included in the Vincent Trocheck trade. That leaves only Clark Bishop as a depth type player at the AHL level.
2015 Carolina Hurricanes draft class
From the 2015 draft, first-rounder Noah Hanifin already had a trial and has been traded away, and Sebastian Aho quickly established himself at the NHL level too. The team traded Nicolas Roy last summer and Alesksi Saarela (who was acquired from the Rangers) the summer before.. This class still has a group of players in play, but they figure to be more depth players than top half of the lineup players. Spencer Smallman, Steven Lorentz and newly-signed David Cotton are still in the mix. Cotton probably has the greatest upside as a player just transitioning to the professional ranks, but he is 23 years old already.
2016 Carolina Hurricanes draft class
The 2016 draft class has also gone through a significant sorting process this year. First-rounder Jake Bean will finally get some kind of audition in the 2020-21 season. The team parted way with its next three picks in Julien Gauthier and Janne Kuokkanen who were both traded and Matt Filipe who the team was unable to sign coming out of college. (He exercised his right to become a free agent and signed with the Bruins.) Past that only goalies Jack La Fontaine and Jeremy Helvig are still in the organization. La Fontaine would be a long shot to receive a contract next summer, and best bet is that Helvig will not be re-signed when his entry-level contract expires.
2017 Carolina Hurricanes draft class
The 2017 class sees first-rounder Martin Necas and third-rounder Morgan Geekie at the NHL level. Second-rounders Eetu Luostarinen and Luke Martin have both departed the organization. Luostarinen was part of the Trocheck trade, and Martin did not develop as hoped in college and was never signed. An interesting wild card still in play could be Finnish goalie Eetu Makiniemi. His development has had fits and starts with some injuries and limited ice time, but he played well in 2019-20 and could be one to watch. Stelio Mattheos is the only other 2017 draftee who could still play a role with the Hurricanes.
Netting it out
Considering those four draft years in total, the past year has seen a significant sorting and culling of the group.
Five players have recently pushed up to the NHL level (Necas, Geekie, Fleury, Bean, Nedeljkovic) if Jake Bean and Alex Nedeljkovic do in fact stick in 2020-21 which makes six counting Warren Foegele.
Six players with NHL potential and/or experience have also been traded (Roy, Luostarinen, Gauthier, Kuokkanen, Wallmark, Saarela) in a quick exercise in sorting/culling the group and collecting some value for players who did not seem to fit in the team’s plans. Of this group, four of the players were first or second round draft picks and the other two (Wallmark, Roy) were players who were NHL ready or even proven in Wallmark’s case.
Another group was not signed to entry-level contracts.
I think the fairly rapid series of moves could be two things. First, that group of draftees was all under Ron Francis’ regime as general manager. The new group seemed to make expeditiously sort that that group into players who fit the long-term plans and maybe those who did not and acted accordingly. Second and more interestingly, I think trading players like Roy, Kuokkanen, Gauthier and Luostarinen could signal strategy for how the new group plans to deal with prospects. Common in the NHL and with the Hurriacnes in the past is to give players every opportunity to make the NHL level such that if things do not work out the players no longer have trade value as prospects because of their age and/or the fact that they did not show promise in NHL auditions. By more aggressively trading players like Roy, Kuokkanen and Luostarinen at a point when they have had AHL success, are still young enough to be considered prospects but have not really had extended auditions at the NHL level, these players have some trade value. The sample size is too small to declare for sure, but my hunch is that the team, possibly driven by Eric Tulsky’s research, is making a concerted effort to collect value for some prospects who have made progress but that the team does not see as difference-makers at the NHL level.
Time for the next wave
With so many players recently moving up to the next level or departing the organization, the Hurricanes prospect pool is at a bit of a transition point. The volume of near NHL-ready players who have mastered the AHL is lower than it has been in recent years. That has the organization looking to the 2018, 2019 and 2020 NHL draft classes for the next wave of prospects for depth and wishfully for a difference-maker or two. Four Canes draftees are still in play from the 2018 NHL Draft in addition to Dominik Bokk who was acquired in the Justin Faulk trade. In addition, a couple extra draft picks and a couple draft day trade downs sees 12 players from the 2019 NHL Draft still in the organization.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How would you rate the 2014 to 2017 NHL Drafts for the Carolina Hurricanes now with most of those players either reaching the NHL or being gone?
2) What are your thoughts on the next wave from the 2018 and 2019 NHL Drafts? Which players do you like from this group?
3) What do you think of my hunch that the team recently made an intentional shift to collecting trade value for more players at the cusp of the NHL in cases where management does not see players as potential difference-makers?