Kudos to the Carolina Hurricanes organization => Make your plans for next summer
First, if you are a Hurricanes fan local to Raleigh and are not attending the Carolina Hurricanes Summerfest at the end of prospects camp every year, you should. It has grown to become a wonderful event and about as much bang for your buck as you could ever find for summer entertainment (unless you get trapped in the equipment sale and lose control :-)). If you are a Hurricanes fan and not local to Raleigh but are looking for a weekend getaway in the summer, it could be a great centerpiece of a broader trip to visit Raleigh, go to the beach, etc. If anyone from out of town ever needs help building such an itinerary, ping me on Twitter or email.
As for Saturday’s hockey, the finale featured a scrimmage that included 15 minutes running clock of 4-on-4 followed by 15 minutes running clock of 3-on-3 followed by an extended shootout. I should know exactly how many players shot but do not – maybe 6 or 7.
Carolina Hurricanes prospect pool at a summary level
—Increased depth: In only 2 years Ron Francis has upped the quality of players in the system and therefore the players in this game significantly. It makes sense. At the 2014-15 trade deadline Francis added an extra prospect in McKeown (who looked very good this week) and also had 2 extra picks above the normal 7 in the 2015 NHL draft that followed. At the 2015-16 deadline, Ron Francis added Valentin Zykov and again had 2 extra picks at the 2016 draft. When you net it out, Francis has added 6 extra players over the course of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons relative to the normal 14 that an average team gets by simply using their own 7 draft picks. Right now, the Hurricanes again have 2 extra picks relative the average 7.
—With depth comes more quality: With the increased depth comes better quality and more chances to play the odds to develop NHL players even from the lower draft picks. This afternoon after the scrimmage someone asked me if I thought that the Hurricanes would sign any of the free agents invitees. I actually think that group of players looked pretty good overall and especially liked Alex Peters as a big defenseman with better than anticipated mobility. Two years ago that might have been good enough to win a contract like it was with Sergey Tolchinsky. But with so many more players entering the pipeline, my guess is that none of the invitees will be offered contracts simply because the Hurricanes do not have the roster space. The NHL limit is 50 contracts total counting all players signed regardless of where they are playing. With the signing of Jake Bean and Julien Gauthier today, the Hurricanes have 42 players signed with 6 restricted free agents pending which would push the total to 48. That forces Francis to be cautious how he spends the last 2 slots, if at all, and tries to maintain some flexibility.
—Bigger and faster: At a general level, what stands out at a total group level compared to a couple years ago is how much bigger and faster the current group is. Especially at forward, the majority of the players are at least average if not above average in terms of size. And the majority of these players, especially from the group of wings is at least average if not better in terms of speed. This NHL-capable physical starting point should make it possible to develop more depth players even if many do not turn out to be NHL scorers capable of playing in the top 6.
Shorter version: At a general group level, the Hurricanes prospect pool is much deeper and also better than it was when Ron Francis became GM 2 years ago.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes prospect scrimmage
While it makes for more entertainment and theoretically more goals, I am not a fan of the 4-on-4 or even more so the 3-on-3 format for evaluating players. 4-on-4 at least resembles regular hockey with 2 defenseman back and at least 2 forwards to work together upfront. As we know from overtime last year, 3-on-3 is an absolute blast but basically a strange mutation from regular hockey.
—Goalies win: On the whole, the goalies won the day. The game was the normally loose variety of prospect camp hockey that saw a good number of breakaways and odd man rushes. It is not completely that the defense was horrible, but more than less than 5-on-5 opens things up as does the friendly version of physical that battles for pucks but stops short of finishing checks and banging bodies like a real game. Despite the volume of pretty good chances, the 30 minutes of play finished at a modest 2-2 score. I thought all 4 of the goalies played well. Nedeljkovic did let in 1 soft goal when a Roland McKeown rush trickled through him and into the net, but past that the other 3 goals were earned and the volume of good chances could easily have justified more.
—Callum Booth: He had an incredibly strong game and arguably matched the lead horse Alex Nedeljkovic. He was generally sound and tossed in a couple highlights to boot. I give the nod to Ned (see below), but Booth’s lunging safe on a Max Zimmer rebound chance was a candidate for save of the game.
—Alex Nedeljkovic: The only mark on his game was the Roland McKeown goal off the rush that saw a close in, bad angle shot somehow get through Nedeljkovic’s pads and into the net. Otherwise he was solid. His diving save on Josh Wesley was Sportscenter highlight-worthy, and he added some other good saves to it. He exits the week with every bit of Hurricanes fans’ optimism that he will be a regular in Raleigh in 1-3 years intact.
—Julien Gauthier: He was utterly phenomenal. During the week of practices, he showed a decent amount of physical ability across the board including size, strength, skating, soft hands and whatever else you want to put on the list. As a heavy goal scorer and a player who likes to shoot (nothing wrong with that), I guess the 1 open question if you wanted to nitpick was whether he also had the ability to read situations correctly on when to pass and to execute. I actually noted in 1 of my weekday practice posts that he was not great in that regard. So in Saturday’s scrimmage he comes out and before the first 15-minute period is up, he makes 3 great tape-to-tape passes on 2-on-1s that led directly to grade A scoring chances for his line mates. Then later when left 1-on-1 on the rush, he took a big stride at the offensive blue which backed up the defenseman probably fearful that he might get ‘bused’ (you can read that as either short for getting hit by a bus or slang for abused – either works). Once the defenseman backed up, Gauthier stepped into the open space and ripped a shot to the far side and in that the goalie had no chance on. So with that little display on Saturday, my list of potential weaknesses in Gauthier’s game has dwindled to thinking he might not be that great at playing goalie. More seriously, I am not seeing the other teams’ prospect camp practices and scrimmages, but I cannot see any way possible that there were really 20 players better than him in the 2016- NHL draft.
—Valentin Zykov: He was 1 of 3 players who did not particularly stand out in the 3 practices but made a bigger impression on me on Saturday (others were Callum Booth and invitee Adam Karashik). Other than possibly a secondary assist (which are hard to track for these games), I do not think he actually got on the score sheet, but he played well. He looked especially comfortable playing where it was crowded which bodes well for 5-on-5 at the NHL level. His play including finding the right place to be open for a one-timer and ripping the puck a couple times, showing appropriate poise and patience with the puck on his stick until he could find a good pass and just generally being on or around the puck. Zykov also scored a pretty shootout goal going forehand to backhand then up under the cross bar in 1 motion. He did not have a great 2015-16 season and also suffered an injury setback which is probably partly why he was available despite being a second round pick. Saturday showed flashes of why the Kings scouting staff rated him highly in the 2015 draft.
—Jake Bean: Bean was not dominant in the scrimmage in way that jumped out at you like Gauthier, but he made some heady plays that led directly to offense. He was the defenseman who made a quick pass forward on Gauthier’s goal. The ability to get the puck there in a hurry and hit the player in stride is significant on this play. If the pass is slow or off just a little bit, Gauthier does not enter the offensive zone with the head of steam that made him dangerous and created the space for him to step into his shot. Bean also had another nice cross ice pass through a seam to regular defense partner Haydn Fleury who had a decent scoring chance on the play. On the whole, I would not say that Bean’s camp was as impressive as Gauthier’s or a few other players. People might agree or disagree with my assessment, but regardless how he performed in a new environment with a bit of pressure for 4 days is a blip on the radar of his longer-term development process. He is a top 10-18 player for the current draft. This is not just the Hurricanes assessment but also that of pretty much every scouting expert who had him ranked somewhere between 10 and about 18. Most exciting for entertainment would have been Jake Bean coming into Raleigh, dominating everything all week and finishing with 3 goals and 4 assists in the scrimmage. But most important for his long-term development is more simply that he move past the draft, take his first steps with the organization and get some coaching and experience for the next level of challenges this week. Ron Francis made a comment in 1 of his interviews (not specific to Bean but to the group in general) to the effect of it being a process for all of these players that takes time.
On the same note, Kevin LeBlanc who covers Hurricanes prospects for Dobber Prospects said:
Remember, give these kids time to grow and improve. Not everyone develops at the same pace and there isn’t anything wrong with that. Excitement is great, but it’s also important to temper expectations.
—Janne Kuokkanen: He did not dominate the game but had a few chances and showcased his ability to move the puck quickly through the middle of the rink with his head up and an ability to assess what is in front of him at the offensive blue line at the same time he is adding speed and attacking it. His ability to play and attack with pace is today’s NHL success in a nutshell. It is exactly how the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2016, and it is exactly the skill set that put the Lightning and Blackhawks in the Finals the year before.
—Spencer Smallman: He would be an honorable mention among the players who did not jump out at me during the week but had a solid game on Saturday. He is in the batch of decent size forwards with decent speed. What stuck out about Smallman’s game on Saturday was his consistency in the offensive zone. He played with the puck some but in true power forward training consistently went to the front of the net where goals happen when his team had the puck in the offensive zone. He created problems for the goalie a couple times and was ultimately rewarded with a goal when Poturalski got the puck to the danger area and it found Smallman’s stick, an open net and a goal.
—Adam Karashik: Invitee Adam Karashik had a solid game as an offensive defenseman from the mold of a Torey Krug or Tobias Enstrom. He was poised with the puck and had an ability to buy time when he needed it such that he rarely parted with the puck until he could put it on a team mate’s stick. He also scored in the shootout.
—Matt Filipe. My notes from earlier this week had him pegged as the player from the group of mid/late-round forwards who stood out most offensively. He backed that up on Saturday largely on a single shift. First, he blew by Hudson Elynuik who as a forward was overmatched defending skating backwards like a defenseman. Then on the same shift he entered the offensive zone with speed and made a perfect pass to a streaking Haydn Fleury who scored on the rush.
—Nicolas Roy. He was back after being out for a few days due to illness but back on Saturday. He had a solid game overall, and he gets it positionally. My biggest question with him is whether he can play at NHL pace or if he needs a bit longer to polish his skating and add a bit more speed. I equate him a bit to Victor Rask in the sense that he will not always be able to match speed in the NHL. Victor Rask is a bit faster but similar but looks fine because he is nearly flawless positionally and in terms of reading plays quickly. That said, in today’s NHL lack of raw speed creates a tiny margin for error that is difficult to overcome. My early check on Roy in September will be whether he is mobile enough to get back and forth through the neutral zone fast enough when the game changes direction.
A special moment
—Josh Wilkins. The local kid who grew up playing hockey in Raleigh had a generally solid showing during the 30-minute scrimmage. He had an ankle-breaking drag move that was only a goal short of being highlight reel-worthy. But then he topped that with a circus move and goal in the shootout that was a ‘play of the day’ type of highlight and right up there with the wizardry of Sergey Tolchinsky in the previous 2 prospect camps. If you have not seen the goal yet, it is worth the time to hunt it down on Twitter or the Hurricanes web site. For me personally, those 5-6 seconds were the highlight of the entire week, not so much because of the 5-6 seconds but because I can at least imagine what he must have felt like standing at the center line of PNC Arena, wearing a Canes jersey in front of a crowd, deciding that he would in fact go with the high-risk crazy move and then executing it to perfection. I have no idea how far or where his hockey career will take him, but regardless of what he accomplishes, his grand kids are going to hear about his shootout goal at the Carolina Hurricanes prospect scrimmage on July 9, 2016.
Prior to finding time to post these notes, I put up a set of reader polls about the festivities today.
Notes from the 3 practice days are here: