The first right of passage into the new season for Canes hockey is always the prospects tourney in Traverse City. The tournament offers game action right at the front of training camp.
About the Traverse City tourney
The tournament pits prospect teams against each other in a round robin style tourney that concludes with a one-game championship based on rankings during the round robin. As such, the tournament offers a good chance to gauge the team’s prospects from watching them play against similar age competition. Though there are no really formal rules for team composition, the tournament is primarily for junior age players 18-20 and newer AHLers. The tournament does not include NCAA prospects as they are already at school and generally does not include European prospects since they are already starting up their 2018-19 training camps in Europe. That roster composition leaves the Hurricanes a bit short, as the team’s prospect pool includes about a dozen players who are in the right age range but already into their NCAA or European training camps for the 2018-19 season.
Hurricanes’ history of players using prospect tourneys as a spring board
The tournament has an interesting history for the Carolina Hurricanes. Multiple times, players who were well off the depth chart used the Traverse City tourney as a spring board into NHL training camp and rode the momentum all the way onto opening game rosters. Josef Vasicek rose up as a 19-year old to surprisingly win a third line center slot long ago, and Victor Rask similarly made an impression in Traverse City that started him toward an NHL roster spot ahead of schedule. Both of those players entered the front part of training camp as afterthoughts in building the roster and lineup. Of less surprise, higher-end prospects like Eric Staal and others used Traverse City to put themselves above the prospect fray and show that they were ready for NHL consideration. As such, the tournament is worth watching closely for players to show that they are above this group and ready for consideration at a higher level regardless of where they might be on the current depth chart.
The Carolina Hurricanes’ prospects schedule
The format is three games of round robin with a single seeded game for final tournament ranking.
The Hurricanes schedule is:
Friday: 3:30pm vs. Blues prospects
Saturday: 3pm vs. Blackhawks prospects
Monday: 7pm vs. Blue Jackets prospects
Tuesday: TBD for placement round
All of the games will be streamed live via the Fox Sports App.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes at Traverse City
In addition to the great opportunity to evaluate many of the Carolina Hurricanes prospects in game action, here is what I will be watching for during the four games of the tournament.
1) Rising above and chemistry – Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas
The Hurricanes 2017 and 2018 first-round draft picks Andrei Svechniov and Martin Necas are both expected to compete for NHL roster spots in the coming weeks and could even play on the same line at the NHL level in October. One would expect the duo to be head and shoulders above most of the competition in a tournament that features a high percentage of 18-20 year olds, many of whom will never play at the NHL level.
So I will be watching and expecting/hoping to see the Canes duo play dominant hockey and produce in this tourney. In addition, I will be watching to see what chemistry they have together with an eye for the NHL training camp that follows.
2) A chance to reclaim depth chart ranking – Janne Kuokkanen, Nicolas Roy, Julien Gauthier and Aleksi Saarela
With the strong 2017-18 campaign by Martin Necas after being drafted in 2017, and the lottery ball win that saw the Hurricanes net the top forward in the 2018 NHL Draft in Andrei Svechnikov, the Hurricanes’ prospect rankings were rewritten. Former high flier prospect forwards who were bumped down a notch or two include Janne Kuokkanen, Nicolas Roy, Julien Gauthier and Aleksi Saarela who will all be veterans in the weekend tourney. With the NHL training camp to follow immediately afterward, this tournament represents an opportunity to stake a claim to more consideration for an NHL roster spot in 2018-19.
So I will be watching to see which, if any, of these tournament veterans stand head and shoulders above the group and clearly demonstrate that they should be considered for work in Raleigh come October.
3) Seeking a launching pad for the crease – Jeremy Helvig
Jeremy Helvig will be third goalie in three years to exit a strong final season in Canadian juniors and make the jump to the AHL. Despite promise and pedigree, neither of Alex Nedeljkovic or Callum Booth who preceded Jeremy Helvig in making this jump have firmly staked a claim to a ‘goalie of the future’ tag for the organization. Despite team success, neither ‘wowed’ in the Traverse City tourney and neither really excelled in their first season at the professional ranks. Behind a strong team that offered a ton of goal support, Nedeljkovic rebounded in 2017-18 after a tough rookie campaign in the AHL the year before, but I would not say that he has yet solidified himself as an heir apparent to the NHL netminding job. Booth had a quiet 2017-18 rookie season as a professional. An injury limited him to 28 games at the ECHL level and only four in the AHL. As such, Helvig will starts the fall as third on the prospect goalie depth chart as the new guy, but the opportunity is definitely there for him to leap frog the competition if he starts strong. With a defense primarily composed of invites, the situation could be challenging for Helvig, but just maybe that is exactly the opportunity he needs to make a strong statement.
I will be watching to see if Helvig looks confident and solid on the bridge up to the next level and if he can build a platform to challenge for AHL starts.
4) Which side of the fence – Jake Bean and Julien Gauthier
The Hurricanes have been committed to rebuilding through the draft for some time now, but success has been limited and progress only modest at least in part because the team has been unable to convert high first round draft picks into difference-makers. As noted above, the team is rightly very high on recent first-rounders Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas, but the success from the players that have come before them is extremely limited. With the trade with Calgary this summer, the team parted ways with 2013 #5 overall pick Elias Lindholm and 2015 #5 overall pick Noah Hanifin. Haydn Fleury who was the #7 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft is still in tow and a useful player at the NHL level but would require a leap in play to become a difference-maker. That builds up to the 2016 NHL draft that saw the Hurricanes take Jake Bean at #13 overall and Julien Gauthier #21 overall. Neither player has fast-tracked to the NHL, and both have arguably lost some luster since being drafted. Gauthier still possesses every bit of the impressive physical abilities that projected him as a bona fide NHL power forward, but he struggled out of the gate at the AHL level in 2017-18 before rebounding a bit as the season wore on. Bean played out his junior career and is just making the jump to the AHL level this year. Both players enter the tourney with a high draft pedigree and two years of experience in the tourney but also on the clock for deciding if they will join the mostly misses from the few drafts before them or if they will join Svechnikov and Necas as players who hopefully drive future success. If Gauthier and Bean are going to become top half of the roster NHL players, at some point they need to excel. Playing in a group where they are on the older side would seem like a good chance to do so to demonstrate unmistakably that they have at least mastered this level before trying to take on the next challenges at the AHL level and above.
Specifically, for Gauthier I will be watching to see if he can again offer a good number of ‘wow’ type plays with the puck on his stick, but for him the bigger watch point is whether he can rid himself of the invisibility cloak and impact the game more regularly on an every-shift basis. For Bean, the tourney is all about his defense. I feel incredibly confident that he will look strong with the puck on his stick and will impact the game offensively. But to impress me, I will be watching to see if he can also excel on the defensive side of the puck his third year and playing in a first pairing role.
Additional Traverse City reading
Michael Smith previewed the game with his watch list at the Hurricanes website.
Nicholas Niedzielski posted a Charlotte Checkers-centric preview at the Checkers website.
If you missed it or want to revisit it, the team’s roster for the tourney is HERE.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Has everyone arranged their schedule to partake in 3pm afternoon Canes prospect hockey on Friday?
2) What do you have as watch points for this tourney?
3) Which players have the most to gain and lose in the Traverse City tourney?