After a disappointing home drubbing at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday and with a late start on writing a daily post today, I am going to steer away from more controversial topics and instead write about something I was researching one night during the bye week. Basically, my starting point was considering the Charlotte Checkers under contract and also the pipeline of prospects at lower levels who are headed in that direction.
At the AHL level, players have two ways to earn their next contract. First is to be a young prospect with high-end potential. Regardless of level of play, players who are young and with significant upside are given time to hone their game and hopefully push up to the NHL level. Second is to be a veteran or at least slightly older player who has become a valuable top half of the roster AHL player. Good AHL teams have a mix of players who maybe topped out at the AHL level but are good at it combined with young players who are still very raw but with high-end talent.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at the Carolina Hurricanes’ prospects and Charlotte Checkers’ roster at the forward position.
Current Charlotte Checkers forwards
The start of the 2017-18 season saw a massive influx of Hurricanes prospects moving up from below, especially at the forward position. Julien Gauthier and Janne Kuokkanen who both could have stayed in Canadian juniors for another year moved up as did Steven Lorentz, Warren Foegele, Spencer Smallman and Nicolas Roy. After adding Aleksi Saarela who played most of the 2016-17 season in Finland, the Charlotte Checkers added seven new players to their lineup from lower levels to start the 2017-18 season. The biggest upshot is that the Hurricanes have a forward logjam developing at the forward position at the AHL level.
To go with the seven rookies, the Hurricanes also have veterans Patrick Brown and Andrew Miller and prospects Lucas Wallmark, Valentin Zykov, Sergey Tolchinsky, Clark Bishop and Andrew Poturalski who all had AHL experience prior to the 2017-18 season.
That makes for 14 forwards signed to NHL contracts for 2017-18.
On the way to Charlotte for 2018-19
The 14 players at the AHL level for 2017-18 would suggest that there is not much room and that any additions for the 2018-19 season could require a player or two to be dropped. But with Kuokkanen and Gauthier moving up early and a collection of NCAA prospects, the Hurricanes have only two players likely to join the AHL ranks next year. First is Hudson Elynuik who is playing in the WHL, and second is Martin Necas who seems probable to jump to Charlotte if he does not stick at the NHL level to start the 2018-19 season.
So only two more forwards seem fairly certain to jump to the AHL level for the 2018-19 season.
Finding room for everyone
The tally of players already at the AHL level or likely to land there in 2018-19 is potentially 16 players. The Hurricanes can make room by sending a player or two to play at the ECHL level, and there is also the possibility that a player or two make the jump to the NHL level, so there could be barely enough room to keep everyone for the 2018-19 season as long as the team does not add AHL-level players or wish to have another veteran or two in the mix.
It could be possible to keep everyone short-term.
Players playing for their next contracts
But despite the fact that the organization can make the numbers work for the 2018-19 season, the NHL’s 50-contract limit could pressure the team to drop a player or two. In addition, the need to make sure there is enough ice time available for top prospects could also see the Hurricanes prune the forward prospect pool by not re-signing a player or two.
The potential to drop a player or two puts a few players on tryout to earn their next contract.
Veterans Brown and Miller both have expiring contracts as do prospects Wallmark, Zykov, Poturalski and Tolchinsky. As long as the team values Brown’s leadership as a captain he stays. In addition, Wallmark and Zykov have clearly made progress in their development and will be re-signed.
That leaves Tolchinsky, Poturalski and Miller as players coming off contract who could be culled from the system. Miller is a good player and a valuable AHL veteran, but if push comes to shove and the Hurricanes need another contract or roster spot, he could be vulnerable. The Hurricanes will also need to make decisions on restricted free agents Tolchinsky and Poturalski. Tolchinsky who is suddenly in his third year as a professional has had his ups and downs but is scoring at a higher rate in 2017-18. Poturalski is similarly a capable offensive player who needs to produce on the score sheet to guarantee himself a next contract.
But I still think there are three players who could right now be playing for their next contract.
Another wave at the NCAA level
In addition to the team’s growing stable of prospects at the AHL level, the Hurricanes have another stockpile or prospects who are playing at the NHL level. The team has the draft rights for Luke Stevens (Yale), David Cotton (Boston College), Max Zimmer (Wisconsin) and Matt Filipe (Northeastern) while the group continues to develop gradually at the NCAA level.
The Hurricanes also have four forward prospects developing gradually at the NCAA level.
The Hurricanes are close to full up with prospects for whom the team can find playing time at the AHL level.
Short-term that is not a huge issue as the team likely has only two forwards who will join the AHL ranks for the 2018-19 season.
But there could still be contract decisions to be made for Sergey Tolchinsky, Andrew Miller and Andrew Poturalski this summer.
The Hurricanes also have four forwards developing in the NCAA ranks and another set of three (not counting Martin Necas who I counted as moving up to the AHL next year) players from the 2017 NHL draft.
Exactly how many of these players grow to become difference-makers or at least contributors at the NHL level remains to be seen but at least in terms of quantity, the Hurricanes prospect pool is deep at the forward position with a variety of players at different stages of development.
Within the next few days, I will also look at the goalies and defensemen at the AHL level or on the way soon.