When he was named general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes at the beginning of the summer of 2014, Ron Francis inherited a prospect pool that was light on top-end talent and also heavy on older AHLers, most with depth NHL player ceilings. From the very beginning, one of Francis’ mantras has been the goal to build the Hurricanes next playoff team upon the foundation of a deeper system that would enable the team to become a playoff regular.
Transition of the Charlotte Checkers blue line
A fortuitous draft of Noah Hanifin with the fifth pick in the 2015 draft combined with the rapid development of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce saw the Hurricanes NHL blue line get significantly younger. The forward part of the Hurricanes roster is still a work in progress but trending in the same direction. Pesce, Slavin and Hanifin mostly bypassing the AHL level actually caused the AHL roster. Those moves led to an AHL blue line that featured a young Trevor Carrick as a leader but also a good number of AHL veterans in the mix.
Last season, regular defensemen in Charlotte included Rasmus Rissanen (24), Keegan Lowe (23), Danny Biega (24) and late-season addition Dennis Robertson (25). With the graduation of a blue line-heavy Canadian juniors 2014 draft class, Haydn Fleury, Roland McKeown and possibly Josh Wesley (if he does not start in Florida) could put 3 20-year olds in regular roles to go with returning leader Trevor Carrick who will only be 22 years old when the season starts.
Even bigger age drop at goalie position
Depending on who plays where, the drop in average age could be significantly greater at the goalie position in Charlotte. Last season, the Checkers started with 32 year old AHL veteran Drew MacIntyre and 24-year old Rasmus Tirronen in net. Top organization goalie prospect Alex Nedeljkovic who is 20 years old is nearly certain to the start the 2016-17 season in Charlotte. There is a good chance that his partner will be Daniel Altshuller who will be 22 years old when the season starts. The average age of the duo will be 7 years younger than last season’s pair.
Next up is forward
The final part of this transition will be adding younger players at the forward position. Trade deadline deals that saw the Canes add Aleksi Saarela and Valentin Zykov will bring another (possibly 2 if Saarela comes over from Europe) younger forward, and the expectation is that the bulk of extra choices will also look heavily to the forward position.
The kids are alright!