After the departure of multiple AHL veterans following the Charlotte Checkers’ Calder Cup Championship, there is a sizable list of gone but not forgotten former Canes veteran AHLers. That list grew during the past season with a number of more prospect category players traded around the 2020 NHL trade deadline. With the next wave of prospects including a haul from the 2019 NHL Draft yet to arrive at the professional ranks in the AHL, current AHL group which is still being assembled has seen massive turnover. But today’s Daily Cup of Joe actually looks at the flipside of a couple Canes prospects who are maybe forgotten but not actually gone.
With the core of the Canes blue line set with young players and the team’s propensity to still add NHL level defensemen to go five or six deep with players who are at least borderline top 4 defensemen, it has been hard for prospects to garner NHL ice time. Most notable in this group is first-rounder Jake Bean who has won awards and accolades for his play at the AHL level but still not really received an NHL audition. That figures to change in 2020-21.
But nowhere on the depth chart these days is Roland McKeown who seemingly has also earned at least a shot at the NHL level. The negative on McKeown is probably that his ceiling is fairly low compared to Bean. McKeown does not have the skating ability or offensive upside as Bean, and I have always believed that his ceiling was probably that of a third pairing defenseman. But there are two significant positives on McKeown. First of all, like Bean, he has mostly mastered the AHL level. He is not as flashy, but McKeown has become a good AHL player. Second and maybe more significantly, McKeown has shown a knack for dialing up his game to meet the level of competition when given the chance at a higher level. Two years ago he rose from not even considered to basically winning the #6 slot on the Hurricanes blue line (over Jake Bean and others). The team thought better of the tryout and added Klas Dahlbeck and Jakub Nakladal at the last minute sending McKeown back to the AHL In general, McKeown has always risen to the occasion and looked competent in a Hurricanes sweater whether it be preseason or the regular season.
I am not wavering from my long-time assertion that McKeown’s ceiling was fairly low, but if COVID-19, injuries or maybe the expansion draft deplete the Hurricanes blue line, I would be curious to see version 3.0 of McKeown and if he could be a steady and solid even if unexciting #6 defenseman.
Awhile back, the Hurricanes had a run of consistently using mid-round picks to add more goalies to the prospect pool. Much of that group is reaching the point where it is go/no go time on entry-level contracts or being re-signed. Alex Nedeljkovic is primed to get his NHL chance, but the depth chart behind him is uncertain. At the AHL level, Callum Booth was not re-signed, and without an attention-grabbing 2020-21 campaign, Jeremy Helvig likely meets the same fate next summer. Since he was bound for the NCAA when drafted, the Hurricanes still have Jack LaFontain’s rights for another year, but he too seems unlikely to be in the mix past when the Hurricanes’ rights expires. From sort of a next generation are Pyotr Kochetkov and Jake Kucharski. But maybe lost in the shuffle developing in Finland, Eetu Makiniemi could ascend the depth chart into the slot behind Nedeljkovic when hockey returns in earnest to North America.
Makiniemi’s development had been slowed a bit by lack of ice time from a couple injuries and a struggle to carve out a bigger role in Liiga in Finland, but he had a very promising finish to the 2019-20 season posting a .936 Save Percentage and 1.53 Goals Against Average in seven games for Ilves. Was that a random blip? Or was it a young goalie suddenly putting things together after some ups and downs? Without any heir apparent for Nedeljkovic’s long-time role as top goalie prospect, Makiniemi might have garnered a contract and AHL ice time in 2020-21 if not the COVID-19 chaos. Even minus that, with play underway in Europe Makiniemi is worth watching to see if he can build on his short stint of strong play in 2019-20 and stake a claim to more consideration.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you see as Roland McKeown’s potential ceiling and usefulness at the NHL level? Could he fill a role, or is he just a good AHL player only capable of spot duty in the NHL?
2) What do you make of the Canes depth chart at the goalie position behind Nedeljkovic? Which, if any, of the other prospect netminders have NHL potential?
3) Are here any other Canes prospects maybe a bit off the radar that you are high on?
Makiniemi is only 21, so he’s still a legit prospect especially as a goalie, but if you aren’t good enough to play in Finland, you aren’t good enough for the AHL. He needs to nail down a job soon.
MacKeown is 24. It’s really hard to call him a prospect anymore. He’s defensive depth and likely an AHL lifer at this point.
McKeown reminds me of TVR. Solid 3rd pair guy who isn’t flashy but just what you want as far as steady play and affordable contract.
I’m sure Canes are looking for ways to move Gardiner, and if they are able, McKeown might be able to make grab the #6 spot. Bean certainly has the higher ceiling, but he projects more as a top 4 guy than 3rd pair grinder.
Typically I would agree that a D men who is 24 and still in the AHL is likely not good enough for the big league.
But in the curious case of McKeown, the fact is he’s always performed quite adequately in the very limited auditions he’s got on the big stage. And those auditions have been so limited that I can’t see how the Canes brass have gotten a full read on him.
He could be a reliable third pairing guy for close to NHL minimum wage, those are the types of guys that teams need in order to afford to pay the top end talent to win the cup.
Those are the types of guys that I think the Canes have not fully appreciated recently by giving away all their prospects and signing journeymen NHL guys on high salaries to fill those roles.
The devil is in the detail of course, and I don’t have the insights that the coaches and managers do, but to me it seems like the Canes need to identify support roles and give their picks and prospects full auditions for those roles in order to create a consistent cup contender.
I have seen Ned play, but can’t remember being impressed with him!
Does anybody have a good feel for his upside?
1. McKeown is a solid AHLer who never got a real shot in the NHL – but you don’t earn a shot at the NHL just because you have spent a lot of time in the AHL. He made the team coming out of training camp a few years back only because he was RH D and we needed one until we picked up a veteran which was in the works. He was definitely a hot prospect when we picked him up (Sekera trade to LA?) but I don’t think he sees ice time with the Canes.
2. Helvig will get the prospect slot in CHI, but he will be paired with a veteran. Matuniemi is at least a year away.
3. You will like Sellgren when he comes to play in NA (should be this year). I was impressed by Oliwer Kaski in Charlotte last year, and he is doing quit well in the KHL right now. He was a late-age signee of an ELC Not but I think the way he plays makes him a strong prospect for the NHL. Not many people have hear (yet!) about Joey Keane – young D with a strong rookie season in the AHL. He is a year or two away from the NHL but he slots equal with McKeown skill-wise I think.
That’s 3 prospects on D – as if we are not fully stacked there now.
It’s been awhile… just hoping the silence is because of not much happening and not health issues! Everyone stay safe!
Well, it’s been a much longer time now! I certainly hope everyone is well. Wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy New Years, and Happy Holidays!
Best of all, hockey is right around the corner! Stay safe everyone.
Hope everyone is well and enjoying the holidays. 2021 has to be better for most folks—hoping all the C&C posters have a terrific year.