Today the Carolina Hurricanes announced that they had signed 2015 six-round draft pick David Cotton to a two-year entry-level contract. The team also signed his brother Jason Cotton who is an undrafted free agent graduating from Sacred Heart University.
On David Cotton
David Cotton is an interesting prospect. As a sixth-round pick, he is the type that is a long shot to make the NHL when drafted, but he has made steady progress over the course of his college career. He possesses the size and skating ability to have a chance at the NHL level and has developed a decent power forward scoring tool bag over the four years since being drafted. He also developed as a leader being the captain of his Boston College team as a senior in 2019-20 and also one of two veteran leaders (along with Matt Filipe) for the most recent Carolina Hurricanes prospect camp.
My big question with him is how he will look against NHL preseason competition and then at the AHL level. As an NCAA player, he has not been able to participate in the prospect tourneys or preseason action, so the only reference points for him are against prospect camp and NCAA competition. He looked very good at the most recent prospect camp, but playing against mostly 18-20-year olds most of whom will not see the NHL is not a great reference point for a player drafted four years ago. But in giving credit where it is due, Cotton did stand out in that group and had a strong senior season with 39 points in 32 games.
He figures to get a significant look in preseason next fall to assess where he stands relative to NHL-ish competition before almost certainly starting the season in the AHL. He will be 23 years old when he takes the ice next fall, so his window as a prospect is a bit shorter than a 19-20-year old coming out of Canadian juniors. NCAA players like David Cotton are hard to gauge because of lack of visibility in preseason and the prospect tourneys, so I will be watching him especially closely in his first NHL training camp next fall.
On Jason Cotton
The signing of Jason Cotton is an interesting move. His name is not one that has been bandied around as a target NCAA free agent, so best guess is that this signing is largely part of the negotiating process with David Cotton who could instead have become a free agent. The entry-level contract for David Cotton is fixed in terms of length, salary and bonuses, so best guess is that this was one small thing he could as for in a negotiation. Jason Cotton adds another player with captain qualities to the AHL mix. As a 25-year old professional rookie after a transfer year in college, he figures to have an AHL ceiling. But that ticket to the AHL also represents a chance to defy the odds and play his way up into the NHL.
On the other upcoming prospect contract decisions
Inking David Cotton to an entry-level contract is the kickoff for what will be a fairly busy off-season with prospects whose rights expire this summer.
I wrote about the group of NCAA and Canadian Junior players whose rights expired this summer in this article from September 18, 2019.
I still think my projections in that article were mostly on target.
In that article, I had David Cotton and Matt Filipe as nearly certain to be signed if they did not instead exercise their right to go the free agent route. The Hurricanes managed to get Cotton under contract and will no doubt try to do the same with Filipe.
After those two, it becomes murkier. I had other NCAA players forward Luke Stevens and Max Zimmer on the outside looking in. Max Zimmer garnered a PTO contract with the Checkers, so there is a chance that he still ends up in the organization next fall but not with an NHL contract. I would still be surprised to see Luke Stevens receive a contract. Luke Martin is the other NCAA player whose rights expire this summer. Martin has a high draft pedigree as a second-round selection in 2017. His development has been slow, and he has not really played his way into a sure contract like most second-rounders do. But the Hurricanes do have some room within the 50-contract limit, so just maybe his size, raw skill set and draft pedigree garners him a longer look on an entry-level contract.
That leaves Luke Henman as the lone Canadian junior player whose rights expire this summer. Like the previous group, I had Henman entering the 2019-20 season needing to have an impressive season to play his way onto the positive side of the cut line this summer. Henman did his best to make his case for an NHL contract by boosting his scoring from 46 points in 2018-20 to 74 in 2019-20 while playing in all situations. He is the prospect most impact by the pandemic-shortened season. The QMJHL playoffs would have represented a good opportunity to make a statement that he had truly played his way up to the top of the Canadian junior level.
The impact of NHL legalese
If I had to guess based solely on trajectory, I still have David Cotton and Matt Filipe as the only sure things if neither instead chose free agency.
At the other end of the spectrum, I have Luke Stevens and Max Zimmer as not receiving NHL contracts.
The legalese of the NHL could come into play for both Luke Martin and Luke Henman. Luke Henman would be due a three-year contract and Luke Martin a two-year deal. In addition, each player would take up one of the maximum 50 roster slots that each team has. The commitment and need to keep some flexibility within the 50-player limit could be a negative, but with a number of prospect-related trades dating back to last summer, the Hurricanes currently sit at only 41 out of 50 slots used with the next lowest team being four higher at 45. That situation seems to leave extra room to add another prospect or two specifically for 2020-21. But with the required contract terms, the mitigating factor is that the Hurricanes have four Canadian junior players plus goalie Eetu Makiniemi on the clock for next summer.
Best guess is that the Hurricanes try to sign both Canadian junior forward Jamieson Rees and Finnish goalie Eetu Makiniemi a year early to avoid any free agency temptations. If that occurs, it could leave a bit less room for a player like Henman or Martin.
My wild guess
I think the Hurricanes do get Matt Filipe signed rather than seeing him exercise his free agent rights.
After that, I think the team signs Jamieson Rees and Eetu Makiniemi this summer a year early.
Then I will go out on a limb and guess that the Hurricanes do decide to invest an entry-level contract and contract slot on Luke Henman.
Then I think the Hurricanes pass on remaining college players Luke Martin, Luke Stevens and Max Zimmer, who could seemingly garner an AHL contract.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you think the Canes get Matt Filipe signed? Or does he flee to free agency?
2) Does Luke Martin’s draft pedigree win him an entry-level contract? Does Luke Henman’s strong 2019-20 season win him an entry-level contract?
3) Does anyone have a different read on Luke Stevens or Max Zimmer?
1) I don’t have a strong opinion about Filipe. I think he is a long-shot to make it to the NHL, so not too worried either way.
2) I think Martin definitely should be signed. Matt, you mentioned early in one of the prospect camps how Martin was excelling. So I tried to pay extra attention. He seldom (actually one day never) got beat by forwards. I think this is reflected in the “garbage” stat +/-. For D-men who aren’t on the ice with the offense-first unit, I think +/- is indicative. Martin was first or second on Michigan in 3 of his four years. He was + all four years. I think Martin becomes an NHLer as a big, really effective defender. His offense will never wow, but if he can become a d-man like Stephen Johns, he will be really valuable.
Henman likely gets a shot to see if he can produce as a pro.
3) I don’t.