The companion prospect camp primer is HERE. This includes a menu of individual pages for each of the Hurricanes 2016 draftees (who will all be at camp) with a short profile and links to external articles about them.
My schedule has me starting and wrapping up early on Wednesday, so I should arrive at PNC Arena about 5pm. I usually try to sit on the left side about 12-15 rows up, so if you get there earlier too, please hunt me down and say ‘hi.’
This is the final week of 3 busy weeks of Canes hockey goodness right in the middle of another long summer. 2 weeks ago we had the NHL draft. This past weekend we had the opening of NHL free agency. And this week, we have the Carolina Hurricanes prospect camp on Wednesday through Saturday. Parking and admission are free for Wednesday and Thursday evening practices that are open and also the fan Summerfest on Saturday that includes autographs and concludes with a scrimmage. Check out the Hurricanes web site for schedule and details.
The prospect camp will be the first time to see the 9 players that the Hurricanes just drafted in June and also a couple others. Aleksi Saarela and Valentin Zykov were both added at the trade deadline and will make their debuts on PNC Arena ice. Alex Poturalski was signed as a free agent and will also be there. And up and coming goalie prospect Alex Nedeljkovic will also make his prospect camp debut. (He has been with the team for 2 years but has been injured and missed prospect camp each of the past 2 summers though he was at the NHL training camp last fall.) The camp also includes 3 free agent invitees in Ben Gleason (Tim Gleason’s cousin), Maxim Lazarev, Alex Peters, Adam Karashik and Raleigh native Josh Wilkins. If my math is right, that makes 17 new player and 10 who are returning from last summer, so it will be a challenge quickly learning new names and numbers.
At a basic level, I attend this event looking primarily at 2 things. First, I usually have a short checklist of players that I focus on to see how they play, skate and think the game. Second is simply to just watch who stands out and makes an impression mostly in the scrimmages. As much as some of the random drills and especially things that feature breakaways at the end tend to dazzle for entertainment value, I find it hard to get much of a read on players doing drills. Scrimmage or at least game-like drills tend to be more telling.
Player by player what I am watching
Here is a quick player by player list for what I will be watching most closely this week at the Hurricanes prospect camp:
Julien Gauthier: Everyone who writes about the Hurricanes prospect camp will be obligated to make some comment about Gauthier’s size and strength. Put me down early for the unimaginative “looked like man against boys at times” for the 6-4 225-pound man child. I will be watching closely to see how he looks in terms of mobility, skating ability and skill. It might be that he has a ways to go in this regard, but if he looks like he can play at NHL pace, he immediately becomes a dark horse to compete for a 2016-17 roster spot on a team that could use more skilled size in the top half of the lineup.
Jake Bean: He is labeled as a skilled and scoring defenseman with creativity and a high hockey IQ. In this regard, he is somewhat similar to Ryan Murphy and even to a lesser degree Noah Hanifin as a defenseman whose ability to play with the puck on his stick is incredibly advanced for an 18-year old. I will of course enjoy watching him rush the puck up the ice. I think that might be my single favorite thing to watch in hockey. But in terms of projecting his development schedule, I will be watching closely to see how he looks defending without the puck especially positionally and in 1-on-1 battles. The reviews I have seen are mixed on his defensive ability.
Nicolas Roy: As a first overall pick in the 2013 QMJHL draft, Roy was projected to be a first round pick in the NHL draft a few years later. When his scoring and development sputtered, his draft stock fell. The Hurricanes nabbed him as a value pick in the fourth round of the 2015 NHL draft. Subsequently, his scoring jumped to 90 points in 62 games last season making the pick look smart only 1 year later. Best bet is that Roy is still a couple years away from making the NHL, but the Hurricanes moves this summer left an opening for him to be a dark horse to claim a center slot and make the team in the NHL training camp if he can put it all together. The Hurricanes have a storied history of young centers using prospect camp and the Traverse City tourney to build momentum heading into training camp and then vault up the depth chart and onto the roster. Josef Vasick was first, followed by Eric Staal (who was expected by many to return to juniors) and more recently Victor Rask.
Right now, the Hurricanes have Jordan Staal, Victor Rask and Jay McClement set to play center with an opening for the fourth center slot. The team has yet to add a fourth center via trade or free agency. Most likely is that 1 of Teuvo Teravainen, Elias Lindholm or Sebastian Aho who all have spent time at wing and center will seize this spot. But Roy is cut from a similar mold as past success stories at the position and is interesting in that he would add a right shot center (and good face-off taker for his young age) to the mix and also more size. In that vein, I will be watching Roy at prospect camp to grade his defensive acumen which is crucial in the center spot and also his mobility and ability to play at NHL pace.
Alex Nedeljkovic: First, it will be a thrill to finally see him get a full slate of action at prospect camp. For me, goalies are hard to grade in drill-oriented practices. He will make some number of scintillating saves, and he will also see some drills with players flying in alone 1 after another such that his save percent is well south of .900. The scrimmages are a bit more telling. But more than individual plays, I will be watching Nedeljkovic for that confidence, swagger and charisma that you want in a starting netminder. He is suddenly an older guy in this group and should project as a confident leader.
Warren Foegele: At last summer’s prospect camp, Foegele was a player who was a bit off the radar who stood out for me. In scrimmages, he reminded me a bit of Justin Williams and Erik Cole in his ability to read plays quickly and use his size and speed to forecheck and make things challenging for his opponents in the neutral zone. Now 2 years removed from his 2014 draft year, the time is now for him to make an impression and position himself for a contract and a move up to the next step in the development process. With Foegele, I will be watching especially in scrimmages and scrimmage-like drill to see if he still projects as a good 2-way forward with size, speed and a knack for sorting things out positionally.
Haydn Fleury: Last summer, at his second prospect camp, Fleury took big strides and stood out among the younger group. As a 2014 draftee playing against many players a year or 2 younger, I will be looking for Fleury to stand out as a player who has mastered this level and is ready for the next one.
Roland McKeown: McKeown is a prospect who was generally grouped with the promising top-tier defenseman. And tracking him from afar, he seemed to have a solid 2015-16 campaign and continue his development. But as of the last time I saw him on the ice last fall, I thought he was 1 step behind the other young defensemen in terms of being able to handle pressure and make decisions at NHL speed. Prospect camp will not be the best opportunity to assess his improvement in this regard, but I will still be watching to see if McKeown, like Fleury, looks to be a notch above the younger competition that he will see this week.
In watching many of these players for the first time, Wednesday’s practice should also make for a whole new set of notes for Thursday’s practice and Saturday’s scrimmage.
I will make limited comments on Twitter during the practices and will post more detailed recaps after each day of camp.