Welcome to the 2015 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2015 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) and 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 2015 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 2015-16 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.
Armed with new general manager, Ron Francis, and new head coach Bill Peters, not much changed for the Carolina Hurricanes who finished in eighth place in the Metropolitan division. Taking over this club, Francis had to know that there wasn’t a quick fix though, and so the Hurricanes have continued to make changes, as Alex Semin, Anton Khudobin, Andrej Sekera, Tim Gleason, and Jiri Tlusty have all been jettisoned either at the trade deadline or early on in the off-season. For the most part the plan appears to be moving out current talent for picks or prospects that will help in the clubs rebuild. Come the NHL draft, the Canes had to be pleased to see Noah Hanifin fall to them at fifth overall as they take the best defenceman in the draft.
2015 Draft Picks: Noah Hanifin, Sebastian Aho, Callum Booth, Nicolas Roy, Luke Stevens, Spencer Smallman, Jake Massie, David Cotton, Steven Lorentz,
Graduates: Victor Rask, Andrej Nestrasil, Michal Jordan (age)
TSP: Carolina Hurricanes Prospects
Top Prospect: Haydn Fleury, Defence
Born Jul 8 1996 — Carlyle, SASK
Height 6.03 — Weight 198 [191 cm/90 kg] — Shoots Left
Drafted by Carolina Hurricanes – round 1, #7 overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
After scoring 46 points in 70 games in his draft year, it was a little disappointing to only see Fleury put up 28 points in 63 games this year. Still he played top minutes and a shut down role for a Red Deer team that was much improved over the 2014-15 season, and his defensive play and leadership was in an important part of that. He was already a good defender coming into the year, but that aspect of his game really blossomed in 2014-15.
Haydn Fleury is a solid two-way defender with good size at 6’3″, and impressive skating. He has good edgework, and solid mobility. His long and smooth skating stride lets him generate good top end speed and he is able to cover a lot of ice in just a few strides. He could improve his first step quickness and his acceleration and will need to work on these aspects in the coming years. He has good agility and balance though, and is fast in his backwards skating as well as his forward skating.
He is a sold defensive defender, with long reach, and the ability to cut down passing lanes. Throughout his WHL career he has seemed to get stronger and better in board battles aeach year. His ability to read the play, his positioning, and overall defensive fundamentals have taken a huge step forward, and he has become a shut-down defender at the WHL level. Fleury is equally good at defending against the rush and defending in the zone, as he has great gap control and is tough to beat to the outside.
Offensively he also has decent puck handling skill and good vision and passing ability. He makes strong first passes to start the transition game, and also has the poise to quarterback the power play from the blue line. While not having a huge point shot, it isn’t bad either, and Fleury understands how to get it through the shooting lanes without being blocked. His wrist shot is remarkably effective, showing big power and a great release. The quick release often makes it a better option for him from the point. Fleury is able to keep his shot low and on net to create tip-in and rebound opportunities for teammates. His point totals could be even higher if he wasn’t on an offensively challenged Red Deer squad.
Expect to see him back in Red Deer for one more season, and to play a big role in Team Canada’s 2016 World Junior squad. The Hurricanes can afford to be patient with Fleury, and it looks like they will be.
Prospect #2: Alex Nedeljkovic, Goaltender
Born Jan 7 1996 — Parma, OH
Height 6.00 — Weight 186 [183 cm/84 kg] – Shoots Left — Catches Left
Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in round 2, #37 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Alex Nedeljkovic wasn’t quite as dominant in 2014-15 as he was in 2013-14 when he was an OHL First-Team All-Star and OHL goaltender of the year. Still he was very good on a weaker Plymouth team, and was named to the third all-star team with a .916 save percentage.
At just 6’0″ Alex Nedeljkovic has just average size for the types of goalies NHL teams seem to be drafting now, and has to make up for it with quick reflexes. He is especially strong in the lower half of the net where his butterfly style is complemented by extremely quick legs that take away most low shots. He has excellent leg strength and a strong push help him him to go side-to-side very quickly, and he tracks the puck extremely well, allowing him to close down quickly and effectively on cross ice passes. His rebound control is surprisingly well-developed for an 18-year-old, but could still use even more improvement, as is true for almost all young goalies.
Nedeljkovic has very good technique, but he is also extremely athletic and able to recover quickly if he does get caught out of positioning. Good skating allows him to challenge shooters, and recover quickly if an opponent tries to deke. A quick glove hand and a solid blocker take away the top half of the net. Nedeljkovic is extremely good at handling the puck. He plays like a third defencemen on dump-ins helping his defencemen to clear the puck, and to start the transition game. He is also able to make long passes to catch teams if they are making a poor line change.
Young goaltenders need time to develop and with the Canes having Cam Ward and Eddie Lack on the NHL squad, there is little doubt that Nedeljkovic will spend one more year in the OHL, and start the 2016-17 season in the AHL. He’s got plenty of time to continue working on his game.
Prospect #3: Brett Pesce, Defence
Born Nov 15 1994 — Tarrytown, NY
Height 6.03 — Weight 200 — Shoots Right
Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 3rd round, 66th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Pesce has shown some big offensive improvements over the last two seasons, going from 6 points as an NCAA freshman with the University of New Hampshere to 21 points in 41 games as a sophomore, and 16 points in 31 games as a junior. Still it is his defensive game that makes him an attractive prospect. He signed with the Hurricanes following the conclusion of his junior season, and got himself started in the AHL.
Pesce is very solid in the defensive zone. He’s not one to lay huge hits, but he plays a physical game, rubbing out opponents along the boards, and battling in front of the net and in the corners. He has added muscle to his frame during his time in the NCAA and this has improved his results in those battles. Pesce maintains very good gap control which keeps him in great position to make those plays. Pesce has a quick stick and is able to steal pucks with a poke check or by anticipating passes well.
The strong defensive game is built around Pesce’s skating. He has great pivots, edge work, and agility, which gives him really good mobility on the ice. He is able to make quick cuts and changes in directions in all 360 degrees. Pesce has good top end speed both forwards and backwards, generated from a long and powerful stride. However his startup is sometimes a bit choppy, and this can rob him of his acceleration at times. He is strong on his skates and has decent balance, but it can be improved if he can add some lower body muscle.
Offensively he improved his vision and passing skills this year. He’s also showed more patience and poise, giving him the ability to make a smart play with the puck. Not only has this added a good first pass out of his own end, its also allowed Pesce to show some ability on the power play. Pesce is still likely a defense first guy, but this could be an encouraging sign if he continues to take leaps forward. His shot has improved, but he’s never going to be confused for a big time shooter from the point.
Due to a little extra seasoning in the NCAA, Pesce will come to Canes camp with a little more maturity and experience than the other top defence prospects. This could give him a leg up on grabbing a spot on the roster, though it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he starts the season in Charlotte and is an injury call-up.
Super Sleeper: Sergei Tolchinsky, Left Wing
Born Feb 3 1995 — Moscow, Russia
Height 5.09 — Weight 165 [175 cm/75 kg] — shoots Left
Signed as an undrafted free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes in Summer 2013.
Sergei Tolchinsky had two huge strikes against him leading into the 2013 NHL Draft, and as a result he was not selected. Those strikes were his diminutive size (5’9″) and his nationality (The Russian factor). Still the Canes saw potential and picked him up that summer. With 61 goals and 186 points over the last two seasons, it looks like a very good move.
Tolchinsky is a fantastic skater. He has a tremendous first step, great acceleration, and strong top end speed. He can beat defenders wide on the rush, by turning on another gear and blowing past them, or he can cut quickly to the inside to go to the net. Add silky smooth hands and moves, and a strong wrist shot and great release, and you have the recipe for a sniper. Tolchinsky has also become a great play maker, as he shows outstanding vision, and the ability to make a pass through the eye of a needle. He’s not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice, at least in the offensive zone, to make plays.
Defensively, he’s very much a work in progress. Tolchinsky can float in his own zone, and will often take off and leave early looking for the breakaway pass as soon as his team has the puck. He really will drive coaches crazy with his play in his own end of the ice, and really needs to work on this.
This season expect to see Tolchinsky start the season in the AHL. He still needs to add some weight and work on his defensive game before he is ready for the big club. He has the type of high end offensive skill that could make him an NHLer down the road, but its no sure thing as he also has major areas of weakness. Regardless, as an undrafted free agent, he’s a worthy prospect for the Canes.
When we look at the depth of the Canes system we must consider that Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk, Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask, and Ryan Murphy are all 23 or younger but have all played over 50 NHL games and as such they are to be considered graduated for this series, but are still very much a part of the Canes future. The Canes are strong on the blueline with Fleury and Pesce joined by 2015 NHL Draft stud Noah Hanifin, and some solid prospects in Roland McKeown, Trevor Carrick, Jaccob Slavin and Danny Biega. There is depth behind Nedeljkovic with Daniel Altshuller and Callum Booth in goal. The issue though remains a lack of high end forward talent. There is some depth prospects here such as Sebastian Aho, Brock McGinn, Phil DiGiuseppe, Erik Karlsson, Warren Foegel, Lucas Wallmark, and Nicolas Roy, but none of these looks like an offensive stud. They will need a real infusion of forward talent as they move forward with this rebuild.
EDMONTON, AB – MARCH 16: Mitchell Moroz #29 of the Edmonton Oil Kings chases Haydn Fleury #4 of the Red Deer Rebels during a WHL game at Rexall Place on March 16, 2014 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)