At this time last year I said Carolina had one of the weaker prospect pools in the NHL. They have a poor track record of drafting and developing over the past decade.
Ron Francis has done yeoman’s work in this area and in his short tenure as the Carolina GM, he has made vast improvements. Now Carolina under his leadership has done an excellent job of drafting and developing players. He has also done an admirable job of bolstering their prospect pool via trades and free agents.
Today the Canes prospect pool was ranked fourth overall by the Hockey News in their latest Future Watch magazine.
Top 10 Carolina Hurricanes Prospects
1. Sebastian Aho – Center/Wing
2015-16: Karpat (FIN)
Drafted: 35th overall in the second round of the 2015 draft by Carolina
It would be difficult to find a prospect outside of Patrik Laine that had a better season than Aho. He played first line on Finland at the World Junior between Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, had a breakout season playing pro in his native Finland and was a stand out playing for Finland again against pros at the World Championship.
Aho is a lock to crack the Canes roster and is a dark horse for the Calder Trophy.
2. Haydn Fleury – Defence
2015-16: Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Drafted: Seventh overall in the first round of the 2014 draft by Carolina
After regressing in his post draft year significantly, seeing his offensive output fall from 46 points to just 28, Fleury had a strong bounce back campaign posting 41 points in 56 games with a plus – 18 rating. He lead Red Deer to a Memorial Cup appearance where he was named a tournament All-Star.
He carried that momentum into the Canes prospect camp this summer and was a standout there. He will turn pro this coming season, but barring an unbelievable training camp, he will debut in the AHL as Carolina will take their time and develop their top defensive prospect properly.
3. Alex Nedeljkovic – Goaltender
2015-16: Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)
Drafted: 37th overall in the second round of the 2014 draft by Carolina
Nedeljkovic was freed from the disastrous situation in Flint with a trade to the contending Niagara Ice Dogs where he backed stopped them to an Eastern Conference championship until they ran into the London Knights in the OHL final.
Nedeljkovic also backstopped USA to a bronze Medal at the World Junior. With Cam Ward and Eddie Lack holding down the crease in the NHL, Nedeljkovic will get the starting job in the AHL this season, but make no mistake, he is the goalie of the future for Carolina.
4. Jake Bean – Defence
2015-16: Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Drafted: 13th overall in the first round of the 2016 draft by Carolina
Bean had a monster draft year posting near point per game totals as a defenceman with 64 points in 68 games. He had a strong showing at the Top Prospects game in Vancouver and was a key player in Canadas Gold Medal win at the Ivan Hlinka tournament to start the year.
In terms of fantasy hockey, he could arguably be the most valuable defenceman in his draft class. He is still a few years away from the NHL, but Bean projects to be a high scoring, top pairing offensive defenceman in the future.
5. Julien Gauthier – Right Wing
2015-16: Val-d’Or (QMJHL)
Drafted: 21st overall in the first round of the 2016 draft by Carolina
Gauthier is a big and strong power forward, he drives the net with reckless abandon, overpowering opposition with power and skating skills. He has a quick release and a hard shot evident by his 41 goals in 54 games.
He has the size, and skating ability to play pro now, but may need more development before he is ready for the NHL. Since the AHL is not an option, look for Gauthier to return to junior where he should flirt with 50 goals and help Canada win another Gold Medal on home soil at the World Junior.
6. Roland McKeown – Defence
2015-16: Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Drafted: 50th overall in the second round of the 2014 draft by Los Angeles
Acquired from the Kings at the trade deadline in 2015, the former Kingston Frontenacs Captain will make the jump to the pro ranks this year. McKeown ran the Frontenacs blueline for years and in his final season developed his offensive game posting 42 points in 59 games.
McKeown’s game is based on the strength of his incredible skating ability, acceleration, agility, pivots, edge work are all excellent. His ability to manage the puck while under duress and make smart quick decisions is impressive. He has an astounding combination of high compete level with a low panic threshold.
McKeown may need a couple of AHL seasons of development and his offensive NHL ceiling may limit him to a middle pairing defenceman, but he is a sure-fire NHL prospect.
7. Aleksi Saarela – Center
Ht/Wt: 5-11/ 198
2015-16: Assat (FIN)
Drafted: 89th overall in the third round of the 2015 draft by New York Rangers
Saarela was one of the key pieces acquired in the Eric Staal trade with the Rangers. Saarela had a breakout season in Finland scoring 33 points in 51 games and was even more impressive at the WJC with Finland scoring seven points in seven games and winning the Gold Medal on home soil.
The 19-year-old is a year or two away from the NHL, but he is definitely trending in the right direction to make the Staal trade a complete steal for Carolina. A nice feather in GM Ron Francis cap to be sure.
8. Trevor Carrick – Defence
2015-16: Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
Drafted: 115th overall in the fourth round of the 2012 draft by Carolina
The Canes have been patient in slow cooking Carrick. He had his NHL debut seeing two games and now has 146 career AHL games under his belt.
Carrick has developed slowly and has seen other prospects such as Jacob Slavin and Brett Pesce surpass him recently on the depth chart and break into the NHL. With Noah Hanifin, Haydn Fleury, and Justin Faulk inked in as the top three defencemen in the immediate future and Jake Bean and Roland McKeown ahead of him on this list as well, his future is uncertain.
Despite this fact, Carrick is still a promising prospect who made the AHL All-Star team and can provide the backend with a healthy mix of offence, defence and grit. He should force his way onto the roster at some point this year and just might stick.
9. Valentin Zykov – Left Wing/Right Wing
2015-16: Ontario/Charlotte (AHL)
Drafted: 37th overall in the second round of the 2013 draft by Los Angeles
Carolina acquired the former QMJHL rookie of the year in a trade that sent Kris Versteeg to LA in yet another of GM Ron Francis trades to bolster the prospect depth.
Zykov is an offensively gifted winger who should lead the AHL team in scoring this year. Zykov plays a physical game as well and is not afraid to go to the dirty areas and mix it up to get the puck or to create scoring chances.
Look for Zykov to be given a few games at some point in the NHL this season and push for a roster spot next year.
10. Nicolas Roy – Center
2015-16: Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
Drafted: 96th overall in the fourth round of the 2015 draft by Carolina
Roy had a breakout season posting 90 points in 63 games on an average team. Roy has developed every year in his three year QMJHL career and he now brings size, strength, offence and is strong on faceoffs.
Roy will return to the QMJHL as Captain for Chicoutimi and will dominate, possibly leading the league in scoring. Roy was an outstanding fourth round value pick by Francis and the Carolina scouting staff. He looks like he has solid NHL upside in the future.