It’s finals time in juniors hockey. Two teams remain in each of the QMJHL, OHL and WHL, with the teams fighting for their league’s coveted spot in the all-league Memorial Cup later this month. Luckily for us hockey-deprived Caniacs, there are still four Carolina prospects rocketing around the rinks, trying to bring their teams glory. We’ll go into all of this in the rankings, but to begin we give a tip of the cap to all the prospects whose teams have fallen despite their best efforts. Names like Lorentz, Kuokkanen, Bean…and new to that list – Nicolas Roy. His last week on our Prospect Playoff rankings has him sitting currently as the top scorer among Hurricanes prospect with 21 points. The valiant efforts these four, and the other Hurricanes prospects, put forth for their teams may have come up short, but they serve to highlight the continued excellence of those still active. And so, without any more needless rambling, let’s get to the rankings:
Hurricanes Prospect Playoff Rankings
1. Warren Foegele – Erie Otters
9 Goals – 10 Assists – 19 Points in 18 games
I will admit it. I was disappointed by Warren Foegele’s stat-line this season. He’s barely a PPG player; how is that good? Well, what Foegele lacks in prolific scoring, he makes up for in outstanding consistency. And when the lights are brightest, Foegele continues to be at his absolute best. He has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 3 games, helping Erie finish off Owen Sound, and then jump out to a 2-0 series lead in the final against Mississauga. Still, this is just focusing on his offense. Victor Fernandes of GoErie.com profiled Foegele last week, saying “Foegele is one of the league’s top face-off specialists, and he’s equal parts reliable and dangerous on the penalty kill.” He’ll likely benefit from an AHL year, but I would not be shocked to see Foegele push hard for that fourth-line roster spot this fall.
Warren Foegele is a clutch stud!! pic.twitter.com/myNc4KXmBM
— erie (@NewsOtters) May 8, 2017
2. Julien Gauthier—Saint John Sea Dogs
11 Goals – 6 Assists – 17 Points in 16 games
Whoa, did Gauthier find his hot streak in a hurry. As we’ve noted, Gauthier had been having a very ho-hum playoffs. That ended quickly in the QMJHL finals. In two games against Blainville-Boisbriand (BB, TL;DW), Gauthier has 4 goals and 2 assists. He gets the two spot, first because I value Foegele’s consistency and defensive game very highly, and second, because while Gauthier is white hot in one of the most crucial times for the Sea Dogs, he also just got suspended for two games for a hit to the head. I did not see it.* I don’t know the circumstances. But that’s not good. So at this point, we all know that Gauthier has a lot to work on to get his game NHL-ready. Still, Caniacs would be very wise not to write him off to the AHL just yet, because this kid can flat out score.
*Edit: Here’s a poor quality video of Gauthier’s hit. I don’t know juniors rules very well but that seems like a weak hit for a 2 game suspension. Maybe the elbow was a bit much, but the guy Gauthier hit was clearly skating with his head down. You don’t do that, especially in a corner. I now see why this tweet was necessary.
— Gerry Green (@GGreenMachine) May 8, 2017
3. Callum Booth – Saint John Sea Dogs
14-1-1, 1.81 GAA, .917 Sv Pct
I am cautiously optimistic about Callum Booth. His win-loss numbers are clearly inflated by a dominant Saint John team, and his save percentage is comparatively okay with his QMJHL goalie comrades. Still, Booth has been very stingy allowing access to his net. He is the only ‘Q’ goalie with more than one playoff shutout, picking up his third in Game 2 of the finals against BB. In good QMJHL form, he’ll allow 5 goals in a game at some point this series, so I have no read on where he’ll play, or how he’ll do next year. But hey, no need to rush him, BECAUSE WE HAVE SCOTT DARLING!!!
4. Nicolas Roy – Chicoutimi Saguenéens
8 Goals – 13 Assists – 21 Points in 17 games
RIP Sagueneens. Roy and friends fought valiantly. Chicoutimi is still the only team to have beaten Saint John this playoffs, and Roy finished off Game 6 with three assists in a 6-5 loss. While Foegele, Gauthier and Smallman all have a legitimate shot to overtake Roy and win the Hurricanes Prospect Playoff Scoring Title, all will have played more games than Roy to earn the faux award. But now, to the future. He’ll be moving from a team where he was nearly all the offense, to a Carolina organization with legitimate scorers on every level (Whoa, that’s weird to say). Whatever level he plays at next year, with his playmaking skill set, he will be in a prime position to excel.
5. Spencer Smallman – Saint John Sea Dogs
9 Goals – 10 Assists – 19 points in 16 games
Smallman is ever the quiet leader. The Sea Dogs captain has 5 points in his last four games, including a couple assists on Gauthier goals. His leadership acumen should not be a question. Much like Erie, Smallman and the Sea Dogs have an embarrassing glut of juniors talent, and brought in much of it through midseason trade, in hopes of a deep postseason run. Well, Smallman and friends have clearly done that, so that definitely warrants some kudos for the captain. Even if it still doesn’t give any hints whether he’ll be playing in Charlotte or Florida next year.
Hurricanes Prospects: Where Will They Play in 2017-18?
So, throughout this prospect playoff coverage, we’ve discovered that the Hurricanes are going to have a glut of incoming talent next year. As discussed two weeks ago, Foegele, Smallman, Lorentz, Roy, Booth, Saarela and likely Gauthier and Kuokkanen, will all be embarking on their professional careers. Booth will compete with Nedeljkovic and Altshuller (an RFA) for a spot with the Checkers with the loser starting for Florida. That’s actually a pretty simple situation. The complex part will be integrating the SEVEN new forwards competing for ice time.
We know that Bill Peters would prefer a legit NHL scorer to bringing up a prospect. We also know that the Hurricanes have had no qualms bringing up rookies if they think they’re ready. That said, given the team’s needs and making the giant assumption that they bring in another top forward, I believe the two players with the best shot of a Hurricanes roster spot out of training camp are Foegele and Gauthier. I don’t think either of them will, seeing as they also have to beat out the likes of Wallmark and Zykov, but Foegele especially should push. I would not be surprised to see Roy, Kuokkanen or Saarela force their way into the conversation either. More realistically however, the Hurricanes opening roster will look mostly similar, outside of that forward and our super-awesome new goalie.
As for the Checkers, only Danny Kristo and Andrew Miller are UFAs. Brown, Nestrasil, Brickley and Woods are RFAs, along with a few defensemen. Assuming Brown, Brickley and Woods get re-signed (pretty big assumption) that leaves three spots for the seven new forwards. If one of the seven or a Checker makes the big club, that’s only four spots. So, as you see, the Florida Everblades are going to be really good next year. And I really don’t see a low-scoring scenario in Charlotte’s 2017-18 future. You weren’t excited yet, were you?
If you have not seen it yet, Matt’s Daily Cup of Joe for today also took a look at beginning to sort out the Charlotte Checkers roster that will will see a youth infusion for the 2017-18 season.
What say you Canes fans?
Which Canes prospect, if any, do you think has a shot to crack the NHL lineup next year?
Which prospect has you most excited for the future?
Who has a better season next year, Carolina or Charlotte?