Today the Hurricanes called up center Lucas Wallmark from Charlotte. He presumably will replace Valentin Zykov who was injured on his first shift on Saturday night and did not return. Wallmark was the Hurricanes’ fourth round draft pick in 2014. The 21-year old center is a smart 2-way center with strong playmaking skills and some ability to finish too.
Lucas Wallmark’s 2016-17 rise up the ranks
Fourth-round draft picks on average have a low probability to make the NHL. The league does not have room for the 90-120th best players from each birth year. To beat those odds, a player must have a year or more when they take a significant leap forward in development and more or less pass a number of players who projected to be better players than they were at age 18. That is exactly what Lucas Wallmark has done during the 2016-17 season. After playing the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons in Sweden, he made the jump to the professional ranks in North America for the 2016-17 season. His season started with a strong training camp that saw him as 1 of 2 surprises to last until the finals days. (Warren Foegele was the other.) I covered Wallmark in a ‘roster roundup’ type article at the tail end of preseason.
Francis and Peters ultimately went with plan A which was Jay McClement in the fourth line center slot, but along the path to getting there Wallmark definitely made an impression.
From a figuring it out start, Wallmark has built quite a season in Charlotte. He is first on the team in goals scored with 21 and second only to Andrew Poturalski with 39 points. His total projects to a solid 54 points over 82 games, but maybe more significant is his pace after getting acclimated to the AHL. Wallmark won the AHL rookie of the month for January with 7 goals and 2 assists in 13 games. He then topped that point pace with 10 (4 goals and 6 assists) in 10 games in February and has 2 goals and 2 assists in 5 games in March. When you add it up, Wallmark has 13 goals and 10 assists in 28 games since the start of 2017 for a 67-point 82-game pace.
With other leaders departing over the course of the season, Lucas Wallmark has become 1 of the best players in Charlotte and has earned a chance to show what he can do at the NHL level.
My impression of Lucas Wallmark from training camp
As a young center from Sweden who was ahead of schedule in terms of sorting the game out positionally and defensively, the obvious and I think reasonably accurate comparison is Victor Rask. Rask made a similar vault up the depth chart in preseason before the 2014-15 season and arrived at the NHL level ahead of schedule. In the preseason last fall, Wallmark showed a similar ability for sorting things out defensively and positionally. The challenge for Wallmark will be the physical level of the NHL. Wallmark is listed as 6-0 tall but only 176 pounds which is a bit undersized by NHL standards. In addition, like Rask, skating speed and acceleration are not on his list of greatest strengths. Rask is at best an average NHL skater in terms of raw speed and acceleration but makes up for it with sound positioning and being incredibly good at reading the play before or as it is happening. That same need to do some combination of matching NHL speed and gaining an advantage with his hockey IQ will be a challenge for Wallmark.
Thoughts from Jordan Futrell on Lucas Wallmark’s 2016-17 season with the Charlotte Checkers
Jordan Futrell who covers the Checkers at Canes and Coffee is traveling back to school at the end of Spring Break today, but I hope to add a few of his more direct thoughts to this article later.
Here is what he has said recently on Lucas Wallmark in his ‘Checking In’ articles:
Jordan’s ‘First Impressions’ article from November 18 also offers an initial scouting report shortly after the start of the AHL season.
Additional thoughts from Jordan Futrell added Monday, March 13:
Lucas Wallmark was drafted 97th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. Prior to this season, he played three years in the SHL (Swedish Hockey League) for Luleå HF. He is the Checkers current team leader in goals, with 21 and has also tallied 18 assists in 59 games played. Multiple times this season, Wallmark has shown that he could potentially be the most skilled player on the Checkers, and he proved there was substance to his hype by winning the AHL Rookie of the month award in January. He’s a player with a high hockey IQ, who does a terrific job of setting his teammates up for quality scoring chances without forcing much that could lead to a turnover. He can also be used as a key piece on the penalty kill, giving quality minutes when his team is down a man. Like Valentin Zykov, the part of his game that is holding him back is his speed and acceleration. He absolutely needs to improve these aspects, along with his strength if he wants to be a mainstay in the NHL. But if he does continue to improve, and he gets a little faster and stronger, then I think he could be 30-40, maybe even 50 point producer at the NHL level.
My watch points for Lucas Wallmark
For Wallmark, I see watch points on 3 levels (sort of good-better-best)
The first watch point for Wallmark will be if he can use a combination of enough speed and skating ability combined with hockey smarts to step right in and match NHL pace.
After that, I will be watching to see if he can be sound defensively. If he can accomplish those 2 things, he will be on a path to at least being a serviceable depth forward possibly capable of stepping into Jay McClement’s C4 slot next season.
Most exciting is a third level which sees him add scoring and playmaking to the mix. If that happens, it could either boost him further up the depth chart or at least increase the potential depth scoring from the fourth line.
We will not know for certain until sometime Monday, but my best guess is that Wallmark will jump right into the lineup on Monday night in Brooklyn against the Islanders.