After the departure of multiple AHL veterans following the Charlotte Checkers’ Calder Cup Championship, there is a sizable list of gone but not forgotten former Canes veteran AHLers. That list grew during the past season with a number of more prospect category players traded around the 2020 NHL trade deadline. With the next wave of prospects including a haul from the 2019 NHL Draft yet to arrive at the professional ranks in the AHL, current AHL group which is still being assembled has seen massive turnover. But today’s Daily Cup of Joe actually looks at the flipside of a couple Canes prospects who are maybe forgotten but not actually gone.
With the core of the Canes blue line set with young players and the team’s propensity to still add NHL level defensemen to go five or six deep with players who are at least borderline top 4 defensemen, it has been hard for prospects to garner NHL ice time. Most notable in this group is first-rounder Jake Bean who has won awards and accolades for his play at the AHL level but still not really received an NHL audition. That figures to change in 2020-21.
But nowhere on the depth chart these days is Roland McKeown who seemingly has also earned at least a shot at the NHL level. The negative on McKeown is probably that his ceiling is fairly low compared to Bean. McKeown does not have the skating ability or offensive upside as Bean, and I have always believed that his ceiling was probably that of a third pairing defenseman. But there are two significant positives on McKeown. First of all, like Bean, he has mostly mastered the AHL level. He is not as flashy, but McKeown has become a good AHL player. Second and maybe more significantly, McKeown has shown a knack for dialing up his game to meet the level of competition when given the chance at a higher level. Two years ago he rose from not even considered to basically winning the #6 slot on the Hurricanes blue line (over Jake Bean and others). The team thought better of the tryout and added Klas Dahlbeck and Jakub Nakladal at the last minute sending McKeown back to the AHL In general, McKeown has always risen to the occasion and looked competent in a Hurricanes sweater whether it be preseason or the regular season.
I am not wavering from my long-time assertion that McKeown’s ceiling was fairly low, but if COVID-19, injuries or maybe the expansion draft deplete the Hurricanes blue line, I would be curious to see version 3.0 of McKeown and if he could be a steady and solid even if unexciting #6 defenseman.
Awhile back, the Hurricanes had a run of consistently using mid-round picks to add more goalies to the prospect pool. Much of that group is reaching the point where it is go/no go time on entry-level contracts or being re-signed. Alex Nedeljkovic is primed to get his NHL chance, but the depth chart behind him is uncertain. At the AHL level, Callum Booth was not re-signed, and without an attention-grabbing 2020-21 campaign, Jeremy Helvig likely meets the same fate next summer. Since he was bound for the NCAA when drafted, the Hurricanes still have Jack LaFontain’s rights for another year, but he too seems unlikely to be in the mix past when the Hurricanes’ rights expires. From sort of a next generation are Pyotr Kochetkov and Jake Kucharski. But maybe lost in the shuffle developing in Finland, Eetu Makiniemi could ascend the depth chart into the slot behind Nedeljkovic when hockey returns in earnest to North America.
Makiniemi’s development had been slowed a bit by lack of ice time from a couple injuries and a struggle to carve out a bigger role in Liiga in Finland, but he had a very promising finish to the 2019-20 season posting a .936 Save Percentage and 1.53 Goals Against Average in seven games for Ilves. Was that a random blip? Or was it a young goalie suddenly putting things together after some ups and downs? Without any heir apparent for Nedeljkovic’s long-time role as top goalie prospect, Makiniemi might have garnered a contract and AHL ice time in 2020-21 if not the COVID-19 chaos. Even minus that, with play underway in Europe Makiniemi is worth watching to see if he can build on his short stint of strong play in 2019-20 and stake a claim to more consideration.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you see as Roland McKeown’s potential ceiling and usefulness at the NHL level? Could he fill a role, or is he just a good AHL player only capable of spot duty in the NHL?
2) What do you make of the Canes depth chart at the goalie position behind Nedeljkovic? Which, if any, of the other prospect netminders have NHL potential?
3) Are here any other Canes prospects maybe a bit off the radar that you are high on?