In case you have been busy, here is a quick reading list on the Canes prospect camp so far:
I previewed the week with a ‘what I’m watching’ style series that covered the prospects player by player.
Friday at 11am the Hurricanes prospects were on the ice for the third consecutive day of high-paced practice. Little by little, I continue to form at least baseline impressions for the new players and also measure improvement for the group that is returning.
The week finishes up with the scrimmage on Saturday. Part of the story for Saturday is seeing which of these guys are strong enough to find their legs at the end of the week for the scrimmage.
Rather than going line-by-line through individual plays from Friday’s scrimmage, I will instead use the past couple days to offer broader thoughts on the returning prospects. This article will hone in specifically on the 2016 draft class, and if I can make the time, I will follow up with the other prospects later.
Important to note is that these players are mostly 18 or 19 years old, so identifying gaps in their games is the norm and not an indictment of their potential.
My view of Gauthier is pretty similar to what it has been all along. He is NHL-ready physically and has an impressive level of skating, agility and skill that is not the norm for a power forward of his size. Based on the set of tools Gauthier has, he easily looks like an NHL player for the short bursts where he is in the center of the play, i.e. carrying the puck on the rush, battling in front of the net, filling the wing and readying to shoot on the rush, etc.
But the significant gap in Gauthier’s game is what he does in the large chunks of seconds when he is not front and center in the play with an immediate task in front of him. Without the puck and off the main play, Gauthier seems to be mostly waiting for his turn. As is not uncommon with a young player, he Gauthier does not yet have the ability to reassess play constantly on a second by second basis to continually adjust where he is and what he is doing away from the puck. For me, it stands out most obviously on some of the 2-on-2 type of drills in the offensive zone. In those drills, it is not as if Gauthier is not competing. He does. But at this stage of his development he lacks the ability to constantly adjust to the situation to make himself available for passes, know when to create well-timed havoc in front of the goalie, etc.
The current version of Julien Gauthier is capable at the NHL level of notching a modest scoring total but not really being a plus player in the process because he just would not contribute enough when not ‘making a play.’
What I’m watching for Saturday: Gauthier seems destined to have at least a play or two on Saturday that make people rave about his potential, but I will actually be watching more closely to see if he can find a higher gear engagement-wise that lasts throughout even uneventful shifts and makes him more of a going concern when he is not making a ‘wow’ play.
Others have risen up too, but I still have Kuokkanen as the best player in prospect camp. Count me as first to name him as a dark horse to possibly leapfrog Roy and hop right into the competition for an NHL roster slot with Lucas Wallmark and Derek Ryan, especially if the Hurricanes do not add a higher-end center before September.
What I’m watching for Saturday: Kuokkanen has been paired with Necas for many of the drills. The duo represents a higher-end pair offensively. On Saturday, I will be looking for Kuokkanen to have a strong game offensively, produce points and lead a scoring line.
After a full week of drills that see players rush in one after another and fire often uncontested, Saturday’s finale will have a little bit more of a game feel to it. Last summer, the goalies were actually the story of the game on Saturday.
Jeremy Helvig has arguably the most to prove on Saturday. He is slated to go back to juniors where he will need to win a contract this year with two young goalies ahead of him in the AHL (Nedeljkovic and Booth) and two more behind him in other leagues (LaFontaine and Makiniemi). There is room for a pool of goalies (which is why Francis keeps drafting them) but also the need to cull the group at times to make room for more and have enough ice time available for those who need it. The team’s decision not to qualify Daniel Altshuller is a prime example.
What I’m watching for Saturday: I am on record as admitting that goalies are really hard to evaluate in the rapid fire shooting drills, but my general impression is that Helvig has been pretty good so far this week. In something closer to game action, I will be watching the goalies more closely to see which can dial up the intensity level in game action. Helvig will be front and center in that evaluation.
Bean looks more comfortable and confident thus far this year. I raved about his combination of skill, skating, vision and agility in Tuesday’s practice. He looks incredibly good in any drill that requires a higher-end puck handling with receiving, moving, looking and then delivering the puck. Whatever the average time is for the group in Raleigh is, Bean must be half that. It is easy to see how this skill set can lead to creating a bunch of offense. But the flip side for Bean is that he still very much looks like a work in process defensively. Whereas he is top of the class with the puck on his stick, he is average at best defensively especially defending in his own zone when he needs to sort out assignment stuff like where to go, what to do, etc. It pains me to say it but he really is not that unlike Ryan Murphy at this early stage. Bean’s skill set is a bit different and more broad which is an advantage, but he also has a long way to go defensively, and it is not just about size. At a basic level, Bean tends to play too passive. He is often positionally fine, but his gap control is ‘meh,’ and he does not take away time and space aggressively enough. That is a recipe for being eaten alive by good NHL forwards.
In talking about Ryan Murphy, Canes fans generally hone in on his struggles defensively. Those were obviously Murphy’s Achilles’ heel, but I actually think where Murphy most got lost along the way was when he tried too hard, the wrong way, to clean up his game as a puck carrier and in the process stopped skating and attacking. At that point, Murphy gave up the elite part of his game to try to make the NHL by improving the part of his game that maybe never had the chance to be great.
What I’m watching on Saturday: So where am I going? What I want to see from Bean on Saturday and in general is two completely different things. I want to see him play to his strengths and use his skating and smarts with the puck on his stick to play aggressively and create offense. On defense, I want to see Bean similarly play an assertive and decisive style of hockey. I am actually more okay with mistakes from engaging versus just being too passive.
As a seventh-round pick in a big 2016 draft year, Carroll arrived in Raleigh last summer as an also ran. I was first on the bus really liking what I have seen in his game in the limited amount of time I have seen him live (basically prospect camp and Traverse City last summer and now a few more days at prospect camp), but my checks on him during his OHL season did not uncover any rave reviews. I labeled him as puzzling in my Tuesday recap. For now, I am trusting what my eyes tell me which is that he is at least good enough relative to a group of similar age prospects and that he ultimately will prove better than his draft pedigree and maybe even his progress so far.
What I’m watching on Saturday: At the end of the day, hockey is about putting it all together on the ice. On Saturday, I will be watching Carroll closely to see if my read of his game mostly in drills translates in something more like game action or if maybe that proves to be the disconnect between what I see and what I research.
What stands out to me about Elynuik is two things. First is his size which many see. Second is his pretty good finishing ability around the net. For me, he does not project to become a playmaking center and maybe not a center at all. If he can develop a higher gear mobility-wise and fill out his frame, I see his skill set as better suited to a power forward role on the wing. But right now, I think that makes him a tweener who really does not project to be an all-around center but maybe also does not project to be fast enough to play on the wing at the NHL level.
What I’m watching on Saturday: On Saturday, I will be watching Hudson Elynuik to get a better read on his ability to play the full 200 feet of the rink at something close to game speed. I will also be watching to see if he can finish in close in game action.
I grouped Filipe and Zimmer together in my comments from Tuesday. I like both players physical set to make the NHL level as at least checking line wings. There are always exceptions, but in today’s NHL it is incredibly hard to fill too many wing slots with players who cannot flat out skate and be around the puck and difficult to play against across the full 200 feet of the rink. Without speed on the wings, teams tend to give up defensive zone exits and the neutral zone too easily and lose the possession game in the process. Winning hockey games is an uphill battle from that starting point. So back to the matter at hand, I like Filipe as being a nice middle ground between being a go-t0-the net power forward but of the skating variety.
What I’m watching on Saturday: On Saturday, I will be watching Filipe to see how he plays across all three zones. I like the idea of comparing Filipe to Foegele in this regard because I think Foegele is incredibly advanced in this regard for his age and level of development.
A bit like Filipe, I like Zimmer’s ability to cover the entire rink and also bring enough offensive ability to have a ceiling higher than that of a checking line forward. Of the bunch, Zimmer might be the one with the most scoring potential.
What I’m watching on Saturday: On Saturday, I will be watching to see if Zimmer can rise about the crowded pool of Hurricanes forward prospects. I will also be watching to see if he can use his speed to find a stretch pass or two and then to see what he can do with it.
(Again) Scouting goalies is tough at camps that feature a series of drills with players flying in and firing at will. But what I have noticed and also remember from LaFontaine is the way he never quits on the puck. LaFontaine is agile around the net and up and down and back and forth pretty quickly which gives him the ability to recover even on a rebound or good scoring chance.
What I’m watching on Saturday: As with Helvig, with something closer to actual hockey, I will be watching to see if LaFontaine can dial up the intensity to game level, makes saves and have the confident air of an NHL goalie.
What say you Canes fans?
Who is fired up for the Saturday scrimmage and the festivities before it on Saturday?
Who are you watching most closely on Saturday from the 2016 draft class?