This blog is part 3 of a short series that identifies next development steps for some of the young players in the Canes system or new at the NHL level.
Ryan Murphy. With a pack of young defensemen suddenly behind him in the Canes system, I think 2015-16 is a huge year for Murphy. Now two years deep into his professional career after spending two years after being drafted in juniors, I think the time is now for him to seize a spot with the Canes.
I think the next step for Murphy is twofold. He needs to be a bit more solid without the puck such that he can at least take regular shifts in a third pairing slot where you can protect him a little bit. The goal is not for him to suddenly become elite defensively. Rather, it is for him to get to the point where he is serviceable defensively. Then on top of that, he needs to be a difference-maker offensively. If he can do both, I think he stakes a claim to one of the third pairing slots as an offensively capable defenseman. It is always possible for him to rise up further from there, but I think at this point he starts to have a longer term spot on the roster even if the elite kids eventually rise above him and claim the top 4 slots. With Liles a free agent next year and Wisniewski and Hainsey signed for only one more year, there is room for the projected young stars to take their spots AND for Ryan Murphy as more of a depth defenseman who leans offense.
Andrej Nestrasil. I view him as potentially very similar to Jiri Tlusty. I do not see Nestrasil as likely to become the driver of a scoring line, but he has enough of a combination of size, skill, skating and hockey sense that he could be a decent complementary player on a scoring line. I think the next step for him is to find chemistry and a role on one of the top three lines where he fills a role and makes his line better. Could he be part of a big, puck cycling checking line with Jordan Staal if Peters separates the Staals? Could he bring size and chaos in front of the net on a line with Skinner and Lindholm? Could he fill an Erik Cole/Tuomo Ruutu role as a power forward who creates space playing next to Eric Staal if he moves back to center? Could he complement Victor Rask on a line that is sound defensively and scores just enough? As a big wing with decent all-around skill, the list of places that Nestrasil could theoretically help is a big one. The next step is for him to find a role and chemistry and make his line mates better.
Trevor Carrick. With a quick and successful transition and a solid season in Charlotte in 2014-15, Carrick jumped up the rankings of Canes prospects. NHL.com had him ranked #5 amongst all Canes prospects in this article. He put up a solid 32 points in his first season in Charlotte and generally made good strides toward the NHL. The next step for him is to continue to solidify his defensive game in the AHL and if called upon to translate his AHL success to the NHL level. At the NHL level, I think the key first step is to look competent defensively. At the point that is accomplished, it becomes easier for the coaches to get a player like him a bit more ice time and try to leverage his offensive upside.