In exactly one week away from Canes hockey in the middle of the slow time of the off-season, the Hurricanes of course reeled off a run off transactions, I will comment at least briefly on the re-signing of General Manager Don Waddell and the hiring of Goalie Coach Jason Muzzatti in the next few days. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe will address the most recent news of the Carolina Hurricanes signing NCAA free agent defenseman Chase Priskie.
Quick background on the situation
Chase Priskie was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 6th round of the 2016 NHL draft. Since then he has completed his NCAA career at Quinnipiac University. When a team drafts a player who heads to the NCAA, the team then has that players rights until his class’s graduating year — so basically four years. After those four years, usually when the player graduates, he becomes a free agent if not signed by August 15. So for a player who is not signed and who then decides to play out his senior year, the chance to become a free agent is a no-brainer unless he really wants to join the team that drafted him. That is what happened to defenseman Chase Priskie who finished up his senior season in 2018-19 and exercised his right to become a free agent. The free agency is unique. The contract to be signed is pretty much defined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement in terms of salary, signing bonus, playing bonuses and term. So there really is not much for the player to gain financially at least in terms of the contract. But what the player does get is the chance to handpick which team he wants to join. In the case of good NCAA prospects like Priskie, they basically get their pick of the litter. As a free prospect with a contract that is fixed at a regular prospect level, a number of teams would be happy to add a free higher-end prospect. So the result is an odd bidding war where a bunch of teams bid exactly the same, and the player chooses where he wants to go based on other factors.
A statement signing for the Carolina Hurricanes
In addition to the top level win of adding a good NHL prospect at no cost, this signing is also a sizable statement win for the Carolina Hurricanes. Per the terms above, Priskie chose the Hurricanes over certainly a good number of other offers that were more or less the same financially. Part of this signing would surely be Priskie’s and his agent’s assessment of the near-term opportunity to crack the NHL lineup with the Hurricanes, but part of it is also just Priskie liking the Hurricanes organization over many others who surely offered. At least as far as reported, the Hurricanes have not really even been in the mix for this type of player in recent years, so signing Chase Priskie is a vote of confidence for the organization.
Background and organizational statement noted, the most significant thing is that the Hurricanes added a quality prospect to their blue line with this signing. Priskie is coming off a strong senior season with a whopping 17 goals and 39 points in 36 games as the captain of a Quinnipiac team that made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth. He was a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker award. Priskie’s skill set is that of an offense-leaning defenseman who has a skill set to boost scoring both on the power play and at even strength. His skill set is a bit different, but as a right shot who leans offense some might view him as a replacement for Adam Fox who was obtained in last summer’s Calgary trade but then shipped off to the Rangers this summer.
Where does Priskie likely enter the blue line depth chart?
Priskie’s timeline is an unknown until he steps into training camp and preseason action, but he figures roughly to fit into the group of Haydn Fleury, Gustav Forsling, Jake Bean and Roland McKeown who will be the bottom of the NHL blue and the top of the AHL blue line. For the team, there is not really any incentive to pre-project where he lands once he touches down in Raleigh in September. He will be given the chance to play his way to whatever level he is capable of, but there is no huge rush for him to push up to the NHL level. In fact, at least short-term I would say the opposite is true. Like Bean, Priskie will not be subject to waivers, so he can go to Charlotte without risk of being lost whereas any of McKeown, Fleury or Forsling would need to clear waivers. That could give those players a greater chance of starting the season in the NHL.
In general, I think higher-end NCAA prospects who graduate tend to be overrated. (Sorry for throwing cold water on the fun.) Every summer there are one or two players like Priskie who become free game and do so with high expectations. Last summer’s biggest prize was arguably Ryan Donato. Donato jumped immediately to the NHL, but after a slow start with the Bruins, he was sent to the AHL in early November. Donato was then the trade chip to obtain Charlie Coyle and finished the 2018-19 season strong with 16 points in 22 games for the Minnesota Wild. So while his career trajectory is promising coming out of the 2018-19 season, Donato had a mixed rookie campaign and is not so much a sure thing to be an NHL star. There are many cases of undrafted NCAA players playing at the NHL level, but there were many others whose ceiling proved to be that of a good AHL player.
In that vein, I think tempered enthusiasm is where I land. No doubt he is a good prospect to add especially for free. And like any other good prospect, he has the potential to become a difference-maker at the NHL level. But at the same time, I think those who think this immediately affects the future of proven NHLers like Justin Faulk and Dougie Hamilton (also right shot offensive defensemen) are putting the cart well before the horse.
I have been true to my word and away from Canes hockey for the most part over the past week, but my hope is to see if I can follow up with an article assessing Priskie in more detail based on reports from a contact or two who have tracked him more closely over the past year or more.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What is your opinion on claiming this as a big win for the Hurricanes organization?
2) What are your initial thoughts on Chase Priskie?