Today’s Daily Cup of Joe continues down that path and offers a quick assessment and ranking of the Carolina Hurricanes’ goalie prospects.
Graduated with honors from the junior level/still working to make the grade at the AHL level (3)
Alex Nedeljkovic, Callum Booth and Jeremy Helvig
From the draft classes back a few years, the Hurricanes have three goalies who wrapped up Canadian Hockey League careers on high notes and made the jump to the AHL level with high marks at the previous level. Alex Nedeljkovic was the first to make the jump for the 2016-17 season. After a stellar juniors career and similarly strong play in international play, some luster came off of Nedeljkovic’s star after a rough transition to the AHL level in 2016-17. But he rebounded with a better season behind a strong team in 2017-18 and regained some optimism in the process. Callum Booth followed a year behind Nedeljkovic in 2017-18. He played primarily in the ECHL, so he has yet to truly be tested at the AHL level. Finally, Jeremy Helvig will join the group in the professional ranks after finishing up a strong career in the OHL. All three of these goalies have NHL potential and did about all one could hope before jumping to the AHL. All three are in different stages of mastering the AHL level and making a case for being an NHL goalie. Though none are a sure thing, having three goalies with NHL potential in the professional ranks is decent math.
Longer-term wild cards (3)
Eetu Makiniemi, Jake Kucharski, Jack La Fontaine
Below the group of three in the professional ranks is a next wave of three goalies who all have some runway at lower levels before the team needs to decide whether to sign them or not. All three players were mid to late round flyers who will take some time to develop even to determine if they are worthy of an NHL contract and AHL ice time. After a tough 2017-18 season that saw him cede the starting job at the University of Michigan, Jack La Fontaine will take his netminding the the BCHL where he will look to rebound and get back on track. 2017 draftee Eetu Makiniemi will continue his development in 2018-19 in Finland. And the newest member of the group is 2018 draftee Jake Kucharski. All three of these players are set to develop for a few years before the Hurricanes need to make a decision. The Hurricanes retain draft rights for LaFontaine for two more years, for three years for Makiniemi and for four years for Jake Kucharski. With the current logjam at the AHL level, the setup is perfect for having a number of options in the pipeline without issues trying to allocate ice time within the organization.
Netting it out
Ron Francis left the team in a pretty good place as far as goalie prospects go. Sure things are few and far between, but the Hurricanes ability to find goalies who would go on to master the juniors level does well to at least generate potential NHL netminders up to the AHL level. With two more goalies (plus Kucharski added after Francis’ departure) playing at lower levels, the Hurricanes have good volume even if not having a sure thing.
Taking a shot at ranking the Carolina Hurricanes goalie prospect pool
Ranking prospects is a very imperfect process and subject to change by wide amounts in just a couple months when preseason action arrives. But for the sake of July hockey debate, here is my ranking of the Hurricanes prospect goalies.
As compared to position players, my rankings for goalies are bit more holistic and big picture-based and less slanted toward my assessments watching them live.
Without further ado, here are my rankings:
1) Alex Nedeljkovic
As noted above, he lost some luster in 2016-17 but regained at least some of it in 2017-18. I think he is maybe lower than people hoped when he transitioned to the AHL level, but with a better 2017-18, he is the Hurricanes #1 goalie prospect until either Booth or Helvig can outplay him in the AHL.
2) Callum Booth
Booth is tracking a year behind Nedeljkovic. He posted decent numbers at the ECHL level and was good in limited play (only four games) at the AHL level in 2017-18. If he wins more AHL ice time in 2017-18, he gets a chance to outplay Nedeljkovic and jump to #1 on the goalie prospect depth chart.
3) Jeremy Helvig
Helvig is the latest to join the professional ranks. He is trending upward right now after a strong final season in the Ontario Hockey League. If he can garner AHL ice time in 2018-19, he is only a short 3-4 week burst away from vaulting to #1 if he can seize the AHL starting job.
4) Eetu Makiniemi
Makiniemi is quietly developing far away in Finland, but thus far looks like a decent value pick in the fourth round. He did not attend the recent prospect camp because of an injury but still rates highest of the three wild cards entering the 2018-19 season.
5) Jake Kucharski
The newest to join the ranks is 2018 seventh-round Jake Kucharski. Kucharski looked good at times in his first visit to prospect camp. He is slated to play at Providence College in 2018-19 and has up to four years to develop before the Hurricanes must decide whether to offer him a contract or not.
6) Jack LaFontaine
As noted above, LaFontaine’s development suffered a setback when he lost the starting job at the University of Michigan and had a light 2017-18 season. Further, driven by a numbers game, LaFontaine elected to leave Michigan and will try to rebound in the BCHL. Important to note is that everything that made LaFontaine a mid-round draft pick is still intact. He still has decent size, high-end agility and with it NHL potential. Perhaps it is just a matter of getting a restart and more ice time. I actually like his chances to rebound, but based on 2017-18, he starts from the bottom of the depth chart.
What say you Canes fans?
1) After a better 2017-18 season, do you think Alex Nedeljkovic is back on track to become the next internally developed goalie for the Hurricanes?
2) Sort of related, which of the three AHL netminders do you think will emerge as the team’s #1 goalie prospect when we again start measuring these things based on actual play during the 2018-19 season?
3) Does anyone feel like he/she has enough visibility to any of the wild card goalie prospects to really like one of them?