The past year has been a significant one for either using or punting on prospects from the draft classes a couple years back.
2014 Carolina Hurricanes draft class
With Haydn Fleury establishing himself at the NHL level in 2019-20 and Alex Nedeljkovic seemingly destined to finally get some kind of chance in 2020-21, the top two draft picks after gradual, step-wise development are both at the NHL level, and Warren Foegele will be entering his third season in the NHL. Lucas Wallmark was included in the Vincent Trocheck trade. That leaves only Clark Bishop as a depth type player at the AHL level.
2015 Carolina Hurricanes draft class
From the 2015 draft, first-rounder Noah Hanifin already had a trial and has been traded away, and Sebastian Aho quickly established himself at the NHL level too. The team traded Nicolas Roy last summer and Alesksi Saarela (who was acquired from the Rangers) the summer before.. This class still has a group of players in play, but they figure to be more depth players than top half of the lineup players. Spencer Smallman, Steven Lorentz and newly-signed David Cotton are still in the mix. Cotton probably has the greatest upside as a player just transitioning to the professional ranks, but he is 23 years old already.
2016 Carolina Hurricanes draft class
The 2016 draft class has also gone through a significant sorting process this year. First-rounder Jake Bean will finally get some kind of audition in the 2020-21 season. The team parted way with its next three picks in Julien Gauthier and Janne Kuokkanen who were both traded and Matt Filipe who the team was unable to sign coming out of college. (He exercised his right to become a free agent and signed with the Bruins.) Past that only goalies Jack La Fontaine and Jeremy Helvig are still in the organization. La Fontaine would be a long shot to receive a contract next summer, and best bet is that Helvig will not be re-signed when his entry-level contract expires.
2017 Carolina Hurricanes draft class
The 2017 class sees first-rounder Martin Necas and third-rounder Morgan Geekie at the NHL level. Second-rounders Eetu Luostarinen and Luke Martin have both departed the organization. Luostarinen was part of the Trocheck trade, and Martin did not develop as hoped in college and was never signed. An interesting wild card still in play could be Finnish goalie Eetu Makiniemi. His development has had fits and starts with some injuries and limited ice time, but he played well in 2019-20 and could be one to watch. Stelio Mattheos is the only other 2017 draftee who could still play a role with the Hurricanes.
Netting it out
Considering those four draft years in total, the past year has seen a significant sorting and culling of the group.
Five players have recently pushed up to the NHL level (Necas, Geekie, Fleury, Bean, Nedeljkovic) if Jake Bean and Alex Nedeljkovic do in fact stick in 2020-21 which makes six counting Warren Foegele.
Six players with NHL potential and/or experience have also been traded (Roy, Luostarinen, Gauthier, Kuokkanen, Wallmark, Saarela) in a quick exercise in sorting/culling the group and collecting some value for players who did not seem to fit in the team’s plans. Of this group, four of the players were first or second round draft picks and the other two (Wallmark, Roy) were players who were NHL ready or even proven in Wallmark’s case.
Another group was not signed to entry-level contracts.
I think the fairly rapid series of moves could be two things. First, that group of draftees was all under Ron Francis’ regime as general manager. The new group seemed to make expeditiously sort that that group into players who fit the long-term plans and maybe those who did not and acted accordingly. Second and more interestingly, I think trading players like Roy, Kuokkanen, Gauthier and Luostarinen could signal strategy for how the new group plans to deal with prospects. Common in the NHL and with the Hurriacnes in the past is to give players every opportunity to make the NHL level such that if things do not work out the players no longer have trade value as prospects because of their age and/or the fact that they did not show promise in NHL auditions. By more aggressively trading players like Roy, Kuokkanen and Luostarinen at a point when they have had AHL success, are still young enough to be considered prospects but have not really had extended auditions at the NHL level, these players have some trade value. The sample size is too small to declare for sure, but my hunch is that the team, possibly driven by Eric Tulsky’s research, is making a concerted effort to collect value for some prospects who have made progress but that the team does not see as difference-makers at the NHL level.
Time for the next wave
With so many players recently moving up to the next level or departing the organization, the Hurricanes prospect pool is at a bit of a transition point. The volume of near NHL-ready players who have mastered the AHL is lower than it has been in recent years. That has the organization looking to the 2018, 2019 and 2020 NHL draft classes for the next wave of prospects for depth and wishfully for a difference-maker or two. Four Canes draftees are still in play from the 2018 NHL Draft in addition to Dominik Bokk who was acquired in the Justin Faulk trade. In addition, a couple extra draft picks and a couple draft day trade downs sees 12 players from the 2019 NHL Draft still in the organization.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How would you rate the 2014 to 2017 NHL Drafts for the Carolina Hurricanes now with most of those players either reaching the NHL or being gone?
2) What are your thoughts on the next wave from the 2018 and 2019 NHL Drafts? Which players do you like from this group?
3) What do you think of my hunch that the team recently made an intentional shift to collecting trade value for more players at the cusp of the NHL in cases where management does not see players as potential difference-makers?
1) Those four drafts were really strong. Getting multiple players after the second round is the key to building a long-term consistent contender. Tampa has obviously outpaced all teams—Point, Cirelli, Palat, Paquette. Pittsburgh was similar a few years ago with Guentzal and Rust.
Carolina in these four drafts has NHLers in Foegele, Wallmark, Roy with both Luostarinen and Kuokkanen looking likely to play in the league in 20/21. Also, as you mention, Makiniemi is looking like an above-average goalie prospect.
2) From 18 and 19 I think Suzuki is the most impressive. Rees excites a lot of people. He has speed and scoring touch, but I am concerned that he is too undisciplined. Sellgren is the one late-rounder who has developed beyond expectations.
3) I somewhat agree with your hunch. But I think you are being too analytical. My hunch is that the front-office isn’t thinking long-term. It is almost as if they are playing fantasy hockey and trying to find either a player who can replicate a career year (Haula, then Trocheck) or is better than their production indicates (Gardiner and Skjei). The front office seems to be sacrificing the fruits of organizational development—Roy has been excellent for Vegas as a 3C and the RW on the second line. The salaries for players like Skjei, Trocheck, Gardiner, and Dzingel will cause some heartburn in the next 2-4 years. Whereas players like Bean, Roy, and Kuokkanen would still be on ELC or bridge contracts. Again the teams that contend for 5-8 years are the teams that develop talent internally.
1. The draft itself was a B (great job after the first round, but very poor drafting in the first round), actual value is a C+, see 3. I think Lawrence has a higher ceiling than you give him credit for, Mat, at least based on how he came out of nowhere and tore up the AHL last year. I’ll go out on a limb and predict we will see him get a tryout and look good before spring of 2021.
2. I don’t know enough to say anything meaningful about it. Look forward to seeing Bock, Dreury and Suzuki play, though I have no predictions for them at the moment.
3. I don’t agree that the Canes have used smart analytics to trade prospect. If you look at the glut of overpriced veterans that have either been retired or are weighing the team down with bad contracts I can’t see smart analytics at play. The Canes swung from one bad extreme (thrusting draft pick players into key roles without sufficient preparation) to the other, not trusting them or giving them a fair chance with the big club. Roy is a big body we needed, Hala disappeared, we essentially got nothing for him, in fact we paid to give him away. Ditto Gauthier, in my opinion, though I’m not convinced on his NHL readiness, but he was beginning to put things together when we traded him for the last thing we needed, more random D depth. If the Canes can follow the Lightning and the Bruins in drafting well and giving players the optimal situation to learn and thrive, the Canes will truly move into the top third of the NHL.
1. I have to view those 4 years (speaking entirely to our draft picks) as okay – only 1 player remains as a star for the first 3 of those years (Aho, if anyone was guessing who I meant). 2017 may prove to be excellent with Necas (star quality) and Geekie (journeyman quality). I don’t think you can do much better than that. I do think Bean will be a star, but not in the Canes organization.
2. Suzuki has what it takes to make a big play in the NHL (star, not superstar) and Bokk – although a trade – could be amazing on NHL ice. Time will tell on both of them. I do like Sellgren as well.
3. I was amazed at how we emptied the cupboards of Francis draft picks the past two seasons. The return on those trades (or “let ’em walk”‘s has been iffy, but these players – Brown, Potsy, Roy, Luostarinen, Gauthier, Kuokkanen, Wallmark, Saarela – are players I call “parts”. Although Gauthier and Roy have found roles at the NHL level – and I expect Wallmark and Saarela will too (Wallmark again) – they are replaceable by others of the same age, experience, salary. I do think we could have gotten better returns on some of these trades – where’s Haula???