Over the past few years, the Carolina Hurricanes have become a prospect pool darling for those who rate prospects and the NHL draft. The Hurricanes have young forwards Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas already at the NHL level. Sebastian Aho is still young in his own right. And the team has its next batch of forwards from the past couple well-rated drafts on the way. Based on that, one might assume that the Hurricanes are deep at forward. While that could well prove to be true out a couple years, the team is actually pretty light on NHL-ready forward depth right now.
The 2019-20 exodus
Morgan Geekie pushed up to the NHL level and stuck, but at the same time the team mostly cleared out the group of players on the brink of the NHL during the 2020-21. Nicolas Roy was dealt before the season started. Fringe NHLers Phil Di Giuseppe and Greg McKegg left via free agency as did veteran AHLers Patrick Brown, Tomas Jurco and Andrew Poturalski. Then midway through the 2019-20 season, the Hurricanes dealt away more potential depth in Julien Gauthier, Janne Kuokkanen, Eetu Luostarinen and Lucas Wallmark. Some turnover especially with the older AHLers whose ceiling is that of deep NHL depth is the norm, but in losing so many players, the Hurricanes are actually a bit short on ready depth until the next wave of prospects develops over the next couple years.
What is left?
This situation is why adding Jesper Fast or someone else was actually more of a need than a nice to have. With Fast added and Justin Williams’ retirement, the Hurricanes only have 13 NHL forwards right now counting Morgan Geekie as having officially made a permanent jump to the NHL. Behind that, the team has only five forwards signed for the AHL level right now and only Clark Bishop with any NHL experience at all. The Hurricanes. Steven Lorentz and Spencer Smallman could also be ready to be deep depth at the NHL level, but David Cotton will just be starting his professional career and Stelio Mattheos has faced non-hockey health related setbacks. Because of the uncertainty right now for the upcoming season, the Hurricanes let the small group of a veteran AHL forwards that they had walk to free agency. One would figure the Hurricanes to add a couple more fringe AHL/NHL players on two-way contracts when the season gets closer.
The COVID-19 wild card
The COVID-19 is a crazy wild card. On the one hand, what exactly will happen with the AHL season is an unknown. On the other hand, the somewhat controlled but still impactful effects of COVID-19 on MLB and the NFL could very well be a sign of what is to come for the NHL, but the key difference for the NHL is lack of slack. Baseball has reserves that generally do not play such that you can field a lineup minus some number of players. Somewhat similarly the NFL has reserves and players that fill different roles, so it can be possible to still play minus a few players. But in the NHL, a team maybe could try to get by with five defenseman or maybe something like 10 forwards, so there is not the slack of players that maybe would not play much anyway. Assuming COVID-19 is still in play when the NHL resumes, it could be important for teams to have a deep bench of another 8-10 competent players ready on call. Ironically, this sort of goes against the Hurricanes changing AHL affiliates presumably to get a bit more help with player costs. Players on AHL-only contracts would not generally be available to the Hurricanes, so the team might actually need to ink a couple more higher-end players to two-way deals.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you make of the team mostly clearing out the wave of forward prospects just on the cusp of the NHL level?
2) With COVID-19 still in play, what do you figure the chances are that deep depth well past the #13 or #14 forward in the organization could play a significant role in 2020-21 results?
3) What are your thoughts on Steven Lorentz and Spencer Smallman being ready to provide competent depth for the NHL level?