Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2013 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2013 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2013-14 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games).
It was a disappointing season for the Carolina Hurricanes who hoped that last year’s big off-season moves, trading for Jordan Staal, and signing Alex Semin as a free agent, would take the team back to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Things started well enough, however an injury to starting goalie Cam Ward derailed things, and Carolina could not recover. They finished 19-25-4 and in 4th place in the Southeast division and well out of the playoffs in 13th in the Eastern Conference.
The Canes went into the 2013 NHL draft with just four picks, however one of those was a real gem at 5th overall. With the pick, they would take Elias Lindholm, a talented Swedish centre who the Canes believe has a chance to make the team out of training camp. Their third round pick, Brett Pesce, also looks like a quality prospect.
Top Prospect, Ryan Murphy, Defence
Born Mar 31 1993 — Aurora, ONT
Height 5.11 — Weight 176 — Shoots Right
Selected by Carolina Hurricanes round 1 #12 overall 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Murphy once again takes the top spot in the Carolina Prospect pool, however his star isn’t shining quite as bright as it did one year ago. A bit of a regression in his offensive numbers this season with the Kitchener Rangers is a bit of a concern. However that is a minor issue, as he was still an offensive force in the OHL. No, rather it was the defensive issues that reared their head this year, in the OHL, and at the World Junior Championships, that again have some questioning if Murphy can be a top 4 NHL defenceman capable of competing at even strength, or if he will become a powerplay specialist. Personally, I still like Murphy a lot and believe he will be the former, I’m just not 100% convinced, the way I was after his 2011-12 season.
There is little doubt that Muphy brings elite offensive skill to the blue line, and there is a very good chance he will one day quarterback the Carolina powerplay. He has elite skating and outstanding stickhandling. Murphy is a threat to go coast to coast and score, or set up a teammate, any time he touches the puck in the OHL. Again, I’m not overly concerned with the offensive numbers regressing, as he is a man amongst boys when he has the puck. He’s one of those few teenage players who is quite simply too skilled for the CHL, but not ready for the NHL, and not eligible to play in the AHL. For teenagers in this spot, it can create a bit of boredom and lulls in intensity for a 19 year old playing in the CHL, and in many ways the Kitchener experience this year wasn’t as beneficial to Murphy as it should be.
Murphy is able to escape forecheckers with ease and get the puck moving quickly, leading the Rangers’ transition game. He is comfortable both leading the rush, and joining as a trailer for a late shot. In all areas of the ice, he is calm and poised with the puck on his stick. This aids both on the rush and when set up in the offensive zone. Murphy has outstanding vision and crisp passing skills, making him deadly on the point on the power play. He also has an excellent weapon in an accurate and powerful slapshot that must be respected, and pulls defenders up to the point; opening space for his Ranger teammates down low, making Murphy’s playmaking talents even more deadly.
Defensively Murphy’s size may be an issue in the pro game. While he probably isn’t gonna be able to go out and grow 4 inches in height, he does need to spend time in the weight room and bulk up the frame he does have. Right now he still has difficulty containing bigger forwards on the cycle game, in the corners, and clearing the front of the net. If he can bulk up, he can go a long way to solving this issue. He also has a tendency to sometimes lose his man in coverage. This season we saw Murphy take too many chances and get caught out of position on too many occassions. It was in this area that he almost regressed from his previous year. The difficulties really showed themselves when he played against higher competition whether that was in the World Juniors, or in his very short stint with the Charlotte Checkers. While he got in some NHL games as well this year, we’ll give him a pass on those, as the league is very difficult for a 19 year old defenceman.
Murphy does have outstaning mobility though, and a good, quick stick so Carolina’s coaches have a lot to work with here. He can be an effective defender but needs proper coaching and development. For that reason, I think Murphy will start next season in the AHL, and is likely to spend most of the year there. If he can develop and improve the weaknesses in his game, he could be a huge part of the Canes going forward.
#2 Prospect Victor Rask, Centre
Born Mar 1 1993 — Leksand, Sweden
Height 6.01 — Weight 192 — Shoots Right
Selected by Carolina Hurricanes round 2 #42 overall 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Due to the fact that Rask was drafted out of Sweden and joined the Calgary Hitmen of the CHL after being selected by an NHL team, he did not face the same stringent restrictions that kept Murphy out of the AHL this season (except after Murphy’s Rangers were eliminated in the OHL playoffs). Instead Rask attended training camp with the Charlotte Checkers and made the squad. However after 5 points in 10 AHL games, the Hurricanes felt that he wasn’t ready to get prime ice time in the AHL and returned him to the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. In Calgary Rask became a force, a point per game number 1 centre who played in all situations for the club. His progression this year gives the Canes another solid centre prospect going forward.
Rask has an extremely well developed two-way game for a junior-aged forward. He is a big and strong centre who can score goals due to his great puckhandling skill, and ability to drive the net. He can also score goals from further out due to a very good shot and quick release. With his fast skating and strong powerful stride, the defence must respect his ability to drive by them wide, and back off. This creates shooting lanes for Rask off the rush, and he can effectively use the defender as a screen when he lets off his shot. Rask also has decent vision and playmaking ability especially when working down low in the offensive zone. He protects the puck extremely well with his good balance, and really works the cycle game down low. He is unafraid to work in the corners and in front of the net. With the puck on his stick, Rask is a threat to thread the needle and create a scoring chance for his linemates due to his good passing skill.
Defensively Rask is a willing backchecker. He is excellent at helping the defence on the rush, by providing backpressure and forcing the onrushing opponents to make plays before they are comfortable. Rask cuts down passing lanes well, and has good hockey sense and anticipation which allow him to intercept passes and get into the transition game. He contains well along the boards and wins puck battles with good frequency. Overall, I would think Rask needs some time in the AHL, but he can develop into a good 2nd or 3rd line forward for the Hurricanes if given the proper time.
Super Sleeper Prospect; Jeremy Welsh, LW/C
Born Apr 30 1988 — Bayfield, ONT
Height 6.03 — Weight 200 — Shoots L
Signed as an NCAA Free Agent out of Union College in 2012
Note again: Welsh is not the third best prospect in the Canes system, but rather the best prospect who fits the sleeper criteria (4th round or later pick, or undrafted free agent).
After strong back to back sophomore and junior seasons at Union College, the Hurricanes signed Welsh as an undrafted free agent. He spent the year graduating to the pro game with Charlotte in the AHL and didn’t light the league on fire, but didn’t do too badly either. He certainly showed a well refined game, and the willingness to use his 6’03” frame to play a physical game.
Welsh’s offence at the NCAA level doesn’t seem like it will translate into the pro game, but he has a good skating, and plays a physical style. He also understands how to play defence and how to be an effective penalty killer at the AHL level. At 25 years old this camp will be pretty close to a now or never moment for Welsh, and I think he has a real chance to earn a role in the NHL as a solid 4th line role player and penalty killer. While he may not be a flashy prospect, considering the Canes gave up nothing to get him, signing him directly out of the NCAA, anything he does at the NHL level will be a huge bonus for the team.
Overall the Canes system is a little shallow for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs much lately. The trade to acquire Jordan Staal is one factor. The quickness with which players like Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk progressed into NHL players and graduated is another factor. A third is seeing a highly rated prospect like Zach Boychuk bust out. The Canes hit the trifecta of what makes a prospect group shallow (trading picks/prospects, the good news of quick graduations, and the bad news of busts). While Elias Lindholm, and Ryan Murphy are real top propects, and there are a few other good prospects like Zac Dalpe, Phil DiGiuseppe, Keegan Lowe, and Danny Biega, there are definitely some areas the group is lacking. Overall the Canes need to improve their depth on the wings, and there is not much in the goalie prospect pipeline, where almost all hopes rest on Daniel Altshuller.
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