I wrote two-thirds of my closing player notes from the Carolina Hurricanes prospect camp shortly after it ended and then spent the rest of the next week being interrupted by Canes news (Mrazek=> de Haan=> van Riemsdyk) and also family time around the holidays.
So a bit belated, here is part 1 of 2 of individual notes for all 22 of the Carolina Hurricanes prospects who attended prospect camp.
I am on record as being less high on Jake Bean’s schedule/nearness for NHL-readiness than most who track or write about the Carolina Hurricanes. I would not say that I am biased. I evaluate players based on what they do, not what I expect them to do. But I am admittedly difficult for Bean to impress simply because I am so focused on the defensive part of his game that is not his natural strength. Especially in the scrimmage and playing alongside fellow offensive defenseman Adam Fox, Bean was as advertised knowing where and when to step into the play offensively. He did not look bad defensively in the scrimmage or otherwise, but the thing that still jumps out at me about his game is his propensity to just keep backing up when under pressure. That is a recipe for trouble against NHL forwards who use the space to generate offense. In closing, all of the upside of Bean’s offensive game is still intact. Playing with the puck on his stick with room to assess as he goes, joining the rush as a third or fourth option or handling the puck at the point on the power play, I think he could be ready to learn at the NHL level now. But I continue to think that he has work to do at the AHL level in terms of defending before he is serviceable enough defensively to play NHL hockey. How he holds up against NHL-ish competition in training camp and preseason will be the real test as to whether his game is farther along than I give him credit for.
If I had to describe David Cotton in one word, I think I would pick “capable.” He skates well enough for a player who now lists at 200 pounds, and he has enough puck skills to score in different ways. That projects to NHL potential. But personally, I just do not see a ton of upside or dynamic in his game. He is not so much a Warren Foegele type who is just always on the puck and a pain to play against because of it, nor does he project to be a dynamic finisher in my book. His step-wise development at the college level projects to earning an entry-level contract, but I think it takes a different trajectory in some aspect of his game for him to be more than a depth forward at the NHL level.
Brendan De Jong
Brendan De Jong is the third amigo of the defenseman group. I have always rated De Jong’s play as mixed. He is reasonably mobile for a big man skating forward and once he gets moving, but he sometimes gets beat defending with his back to his net and also in transition situations. As a rangy 20-year old, the hope is that he continues to grow into his frame and gains some smoothness in terms of mobility as he does so. His 2018-19 season will be a big one, as he tries to grow enough to defy the odds and win an NHL contract by next summer. The Hurricanes 2016 sixth-rounder Noah Carroll who was also a defenseman was unable to do so, but perhaps De Jong gets more benefit of the doubt because of his size.
What consistently stood out to me about Jack Drury was that the closer the play was to game-like action, the better Drury looked. He was not atop my most noticeably impressive list for most of the week, but he turned in a solid effort in the scrimmage. He scored a pretty goal on Jeremy Helvig when he moved quickly to get him to open up and then quickly deposited a goal right through the five hole. He also showed a good knack for when/where to support or engage the puck defensively and also how to find open areas on offensively. His raw skill and maximum ceiling is maybe not as high as other high risk/high reward options available early in the second round, but I can see the the book on him as a heady all-around player who projects to the NHL level.
From the group of NCAA forwards drafted in the middle rounds during Francis’ tenure that I have dubbed the ‘big kids who can skate’ Filipe is the one who has most impressed me in the past. At 6 feet 2 inches tall and 198 pounds, he still has the big and skating going for him, but I think the NHL cut line for him and the others is either being able to play more of a disruptive game (think Erik Cole or Tuomo Ruutu) or being able to score at a high level (think Jeff O’Neill). To be either at the NHL level and more than a deep depth forward, I think Filipe still needs to find a higher gear in one respect or the other.
I took to thinking of Fora as Luke Martin light. Like Martin, Fora used his big body and long reach well in defending and had the courage to step up and make players try to beat him wide. He was occasionally beaten to the outside in various drills but held up reasonably well against speed. Fora will turn 23 in October. In that regard, he is a bit like Niclas Wallin as a European player on a shorter schedule but possibly farther along in his development. The question for Fora is how rapidly he can adapt to North American play and how effectively he can use his size/reach to thwart speed.
I had him as the first star in the Saturday scrimmage finale. He had three primary assists all of the heady playmaker variety and was the best offensive player in the game (that included highly-touted offensive forwards Svechnikov and Necas). Somewhat similar to Bean, Fox must reach some base level of defensive competence to be a going concern at the NHL level. That said, the game is rapidly shifting in the direction of skating defensemen who can generate offense, and size really is not important for players who can skate and create. I started training camp expecting to be reasonably impressed by Fox’s offensive prowess but actually came away putting him a notch higher based on his ability to not just exploit open passing lanes but also know how to make plays that create passing lanes out of nothing. Unless the Hurricanes sign him, he will not return to Raleigh until next summer, but he impressed me enough that he has quickly jumped up my prospect watch list.
Morgan Geekie is not a player who jumps out as dynamic offensively, but he has a nice set of tools in his offensive tool bag and good hockey sense to go with it. While maybe not visibly driving play shift in and shift out, he just seems to regularly play his way into good offensive situations. From there, he has a good balance of passing versus finishing skills and pretty good sense for which to use when. If I had to point out a negative or area for improvement, it would be his ability to match pace during stretches of rapid transition. I will be watching to see if/how quickly he can adapt to the AHL and dial up the offense that has been a center point of his last two seasons i the WHL.
To be honest, I find it nearly impossible to evaluate goalie play during the drills during prospect camp. With the runs of odd man rushes one after another, trying to judge whether a goalie should have given up 10 goals or maybe 12 or maybe 14 offers little for evaluation. That said, as the veteran of the group, Helvig was touched up good in the scrimmage finale. Three of the goals he allowed were break downs where he had little chance, but he did get worked over on the Drury goal that saw him beaten in close right through the wickets. He should be the #1 at the Traverse City Tourney, and that will be his first chance to make a case for AHL ice time in place of Callum Booth and Alex Nedeljkovic who are one year and two years ahead of Helvig development-wise.
Two things stood out about Luke Henman in his first visit to Raleigh. First is his vision and play with the puck and room to operate. The fit of his skill set for the center position is noticeable. The other thing that stands out about Henman is his need to develop physically on the path to becoming an NHL player. At an even 6 feet tall and 150 pounds, Henman was fine with room to move but easily bumped off stride in tighter spaces. For a mid-round pick, I like the idea of drafting for skill and potential above all else and then just having patience with the physical side of things.
My first impression of the latest Finnish forward added to the organization was that he had a nice mix of size and skating ability. That general impression of him help up throughout the week, but I felt like I had to be watching for him to notice him. He did not really stand out offensively, nor did he come across as a Warren Foegele puck-hounding/disturber type. As such, he looked capable but not necessarily special. As a European player, he is a player with time to develop at home in Finland while improving to earn an NHL contract.
For anyone who missed the daily coverage during prospect camp, the recap of the scrimmage is HERE and links to the other articles during the week can be found HERE.