The Carolina Hurricanes will enter training camp with a good chance that three or more rookies land in the opening day lineup. Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov each seem to have a better than 50 percent chance of making the opening day lineup. By virtue of short but impressive auditions last spring, Warren Foegele and Valentin Zykov would also seem to be in the mix for a roster spot.
But even beyond the rookies who have played their way up into the mix already, I think there are a couple wild cards worth watching.
The 22-year old Swiss defenseman was signed as a free agent this summer. If the Hurricanes trade Justin Faulk as I expect, the team will be six deep on the blue line but without any obvious #7. Trevor Carrick has seemingly played his way up to that kind of role, but for whatever reason the team has never really given him a chance in that role. And no one else in the AHL has much for NHL experience. I think it is reasonably likely that the team will utilize the waiver wire to add a #7 defenseman, but I also think that Fora is an interesting wild card. The Hurricanes signed him because of his play in international play against NHL-ish competition. If he can dial it up to NHL speed in training camp, could he be another Niclas Wallin who makes the jump straight from Europe to the NHL in a depth role? He could quickly show that he needs AHL seasoning which is the most likely outcome, but maybe not.
Maenalanen is another European import signed as a free agent this summer. Like Fora, he is a couple years farther down the development path and more of a European professional than a prospect at age 24. He must also be deemed to be close to NHL-ready otherwise the Hurricanes would not use one of the 50 contracts on him. His skill set is that of a two-way forward which transitions most smoothly to the NHL ahead of schedule. Plan A right now seems to be for the high ceiling rookies to win roster spots, but if they do not do so, could someone like Maenalanen seize the opportunity?
Forgotten prospects rising up
In addition, the Hurricanes have a couple of players who have maybe fallen out of favor a bit but could rise up. Most notable is Julien Gauthier. His name was mentioned significantly more as a roster potential last year and the year before than it is being mentioned right now. And that makes sense given his slow start at the AHL level in 2017-18. But Gauthier is still every bit the impressive combination of size, agility and skill. As long as that is the case, the potential is always there that he suddenly puts it all together.
A different but also interesting situation is Janne Kuokkanen. He played his way onto NHL ice in early October last year. And he had a strong second half of 2017-18 in the AHL. But he has been surpassed in terms of buzz by players like Svechnikov and Necas. With another year of professional experience under his belt, could Kuokkanen be ready to seize a roster spot at the NHL level?
What say you Canes fans?
1) If the Hurricanes part ways with Justin Faulk, what do you think they will do with the #7 slot on the blue line?
2) Do you think any of these wild cards have a chance to crack the opening day lineup?