Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf NHL Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). 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 this year. 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 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. 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.
TSP: Carolina Hurricanes Prospects
After a slow start, The Hurricanes scratched and clawed their way back into the playoff picture in the second half of the season. Unfortunately, their poor first couple of months became too much to overcome and the Hurricanes fell short of their goal. Along the way, the franchise saw a major change. They said goodbye to long-time captain Eric Staal dealing him to the New York Rangers. They also moved on from John-Michael Liles, and Kris Versteeg. This signaled a passing of the torch as Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm, Justin Faulk, and Noah Hanifin took hold of key roles on the team. It was not enough. The Hurricanes had good possession stats, but they simply didn’t generate enough offence nor get enough key saves last season.
It can’t all be blamed on the goalies though. The Hurricanes did give up a lot of prime scoring opportunities, inflating opponents shooting percentages. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a team that went with three rookie defencemen playing over 60 games had some issues at the defensive end of the ice. However, these growing pains (and amazing stable of young defence) will help the Hurricanes going forward. Once this blue line gains experience, Carolina will be very dangerous.
Over the off-season, the Hurricanes had a tremendous draft. LWOS gave them an A+ grade and named it the best draft in the NHL. They also acquired Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell from the Chicago Blackhawks. They also signed free agent Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg in an attempt to add a little more offense to the squad.
2016 Draft Picks: Jake Bean, Julien Gauthier, Janne Kuokkanen, Matt Filipe, Hudson Elyniuk, Jack Lafontaine, Max Zimmer, Jeremy Helvig, Noah Carroll,
Graduates: Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce, Jacob Slavin, Joakim Nordstrom,
Carolina Hurricanes Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Sebastian Aho
Centre/Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Jul 26 1997 — Rauma, Finland
Height 5’11” — Weight 176 lbs [178 cm / 80 kg]
Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in round 2 #35 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
A sensational season catapults the Hurricanes 2015 second rounder to the top of their prospect charts. Aho put up 45 points in 45 games playing for Karpat in the Liiga, Finland‘s top men’s league, at just 18 years old. He added 15 points in 14 playoff games. There was much hype about Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi at the World Juniors, and rightly so. However, they could not have created the magic they did without Aho as the first line centre for the Gold Medal Finnish team. Aho put up seven points in 10 games at the World Championships. Overall his season was good enough to earn him a spot on Finland’s team at the World Cup of Hockey.
Aho is an excellent skater. His speed is very good, and is coupled with an excellent first step and great acceleration. He flies by defenders and cut to the front of the net on the rush. Aho also has fools defenders by changing speeds quickly. This allows him to open up passing and shooting lanes. Aho possesses great agility and edge work. He can be elusive both with and without the puck. Aho is very strong on the puck despite his size. He has good core strength, and good balance.
Aho is more of a play maker than a goal scorer. He has excellent stick handling ability and protects the puck extremely well in the cycle game. He can also beat defenders one-on-one on the rush. When Aho sees a passing lane, he is able to take advantages. He makes crisp tape-to-tape passes to teammates and sets them up for good scoring chances. Aho has very high hockey IQ. He reads the play extremely well, anticipating the actions of his teammates. Aho can score goals. He has a strong and accurate wrist shot that he just does not use quite enough. He could be a little bit more selfish and shoot the puck more. Aho is also not afraid to get his nose dirty in front of the net or in the corners.
Aho has developed his two-way game over the past year. He is pretty good on face-offs. He also understands defensive responsibility and positioning. Aho provides back pressure and support when his defencemen teammates are facing a quick counter attack. He also understands his positioning, and is willing to block shots or intercept passes.
Aho will be given every opportunity to make the Canes roster, after he returns from the World Cup. It will be interesting to see if Bill Peters attempts to find chemistry between Aho, and the newly acquired Teravainen. Aho has an excellent opportunity to play full-time in the NHL this season. Even if he under-performs at camp and is deemed not ready for the squad; he will be on it in the near future.
#2 Prospect: Jake Bean
The Hurricanes drafted Bean with the 13th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Bean. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#3 Prospect: Haydn Fleury
Defense — shoots Left
Born Jul 8 1996 — Carlyle, SASK
Height 6’3 — Weight 207 lbs [191 cm / 94 kg]
Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in round 1, #7 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Fleury’s numbers dropped in 2014-15 as he focused on improving his defensive game. His numbers went right back up this season, as he was more comfortable with the adjustments made a year ago and able to open up his game again. Fleury scored 41 points in 56 regular season games, nine points in 17 playoff games, and five points in four Memorial Cup games. He also played for Team Canada at the World Juniors.
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 has worked to improve his first step and acceleration over the past couple of years. Fleury also has good agility and balance. He is also talented in his backwards as well as his forward skating.
Fleury has decent puck handling skill and good vision and passing ability. He makes a strong first pass 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. Fleury’s shot gets through the shooting lanes. He avoids defenders trying to block his shot. His wrist shot is remarkably effective, showing big power and a great release. The quick release often makes it a better option for him when facing pressure at the point. Fleury is able to keep his shot low and on net to create tip-in and rebound opportunities for teammates.
Fleury is a solid 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 each year. His ability to read the play, his positioning, and overall defensive fundamentals have taken a huge step forward. Fleury played a shut-down role for the Rebels for several years. He is equally good at defending against the rush and defending in the zone. Fleury maintains great gap control and is tough to beat to the outside.
Fleury heads to Hurricanes camp looking to make the jump to the NHL level. However, with three rookies making the jump last year, there just may not be enough room for him. Fleury could also benefit from a bit more development. He may start the season in the AHL. However, Fleury is a good bet to make the team either part way through the season, or in 2017 training camp.
#4 Prospect: Phil Di Giuseppe
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Oct 9 1993 — Toronto, ONT
Height 6’0 — Weight 200 lbs [183 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in round 2, #38 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Phil Di Giuseppe got his first taste of NHL hockey last year. He was very good for a rookie with seven goals and 17 points in 41 games. It was an extension of the increased offense he was showing at the AHL level with 18 points in 25 games for the Charlotte Checkers.
Di Giuseppe is very strong on his skates, has good balance, and a powerful stride. It is difficult to knock him off the puck. Di Giuseppe has the balance and power to fight through checks. His speed was once a knock, but has worked to improve it over the last few years. He also improved his acceleration and agility. His ability to maintain his top speed with the puck on his stick is a key asset.
Di Giuseppe developed a well rounded game where he can play the role of both play maker and goal scorer at this point in his career. He has extremely good hockey sense, excellent vision, and the ability to make difficult passes, threading the needle through opponents sticks and skates to give a teammate a great scoring chance. He is very good in board battles and in working the cycle in the offensive zone. Di Giuseppe is also not afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice and makes key plays in traffic.
In the offensive end, Di Giuseppe is a tireless worker who is always fore checking hard, battling for loose pucks, and trying to create scoring chances out of nothing. Di Giuseppe is an above average stick handler. He has soft hands and good puck protection skills. Di Giuseppe does possess a good wrist shot and release. He also scores goals in tight, taking the puck to the net himself, or tipping in shots and banging in rebounds.
Di Giuseppe has also spent the last few years working on his defensive game. While there is work to do, he has improved his positioning and has less of a tendency to chase the puck in his own end. He brings grit and is willing to work to win battles along the boards.
Given his performance last season, Di Giuseppe should be a full-time member of the Hurricanes this year, and will look to solidify himself in a top-nine role.
#5 Prospect: Alex Nedeljkovic
Goalie — shoots Left — Catches Left
Born Jan 7 1996 — Parma, OH
Height 6’0″ — Weight 190 lbs [183 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in round 2, #37 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Nedeljkovic started last season playing for the tire fire that was the Flint Firebirds. Following all the controversy, nearly every NHL drafted player was traded away from Flint. Nedeljkovic found himself in Niagara where he led the Ice Dogs to the OHL final. The powerhouse London Knights shelled the Ice Dogs in the finals and Nedeljkovic’s overall playoff numbers suffered as a result. However, his play in the first three rounds was a huge reason Niagara was a surprise finalist. Nedeljkovic also played with the United States squad at the World Juniors. He was stellar with a 1.66 goals against average and .943 save percentage. Nedeljkovic came home with a bronze medal.
At just 6’0, Alex Nedeljkovic is average size for the types of goalies NHL teams seem to be drafting now. He makesup for it with quick reflexes. He is especially strong in the lower half of the net. His butterfly style is complemented by extremely quick legs that take away most low shots. Nedeljkovic has excellent leg strength. His strong push helps him him to go side-to-side very quickly, and he tracks the puck extremely well. This allows him to close down quickly and effectively on cross ice passes. His rebound control is surprisingly well-developed for an junior goalie, but could still use even more improvement. This is true for almost all young goalies.
Nedeljkovic has very good technique. He is extremely athletic and able to recover quickly if caught out of position. 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.
Nedeljkovic will likely play for the Charlotte Checkers next year. Cam Ward and Eddie Lack are the goaltenders of the present for Carolina, but he is the goalie of the future. Nedeljkovic is very young. His game still needs refinement. He should see plenty of action in the AHL.
#6 Prospect: Julien Gauthier
The Hurricanes drafted Gauthier with the 21st overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Gauthier. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper: Nicolas Roy
Center — shoots Right
Born Feb 5 1997 — Amos, PQ
Height 6’4 — Weight 195 lbs [193 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in round 4, #96 overall 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Drafted first overall in the 2013 QMJHL Draft, Nicolas Roy had a very pedestrian campaign in his draft year. Despite having many traits that NHL teams look for, the lack of production caused him to fall to the fourth round of the draft. Roy bounced back this year. He proved why he was so highly talked of as a 16-year old and dominated at the offensive end. Roy scored 48 goals and 90 points in 63 games for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
Roy’s skating is a work in progress. His speed and acceleration are just average. He worked hard to improve this area and it’s no longer a liability, but it isn’t really a strength either. The bigger issue is his first step, which really needs to be improved. Roy has decent agility for a big man. He does have good lower body strength, and power. Roy is able to fight through checks and get to the front of the net.
At 6’4″, Roy plays a power forward’s game. He controls play below the circles, using his long reach and big body to protect the puck and extend plays. He works to get the puck to the front of the net, and causes havoc there, looking to bang away at rebounds, screen goalies, and tip in shots. Roy also has an excellent wrist shot and release.
While he is more of a goal scorer, Roy can also facilitate. He has good vision and the ability to make passes through tight openings. His puck protection game, leads to extended possession and more scoring chances. The skills were always there; the criticism around Roy that dropped him to the fourth round had mainly focused on the fact he did not seem to be putting all those skills together to get points. His hockey IQ was questioned. Roy seemed to put many of those doubts to bed with his breakout campaign.
Roy’s defensive game is very good. He plays a shutdown role against opponent’s top lines, and a big role on the Chicoutimi penalty kill. Roy is excellent in the face-off circle. He also plays an extremely smart positional game, and helps support the defence down low. He cuts down passing and shooting lanes, and is willing to put his body on the line to help his team win.
Roy is likely to spend another year in the QMJHL. He was invited to Team Canada’s summer development camp, and could be part of the World Junior squad. It sometimes takes big players a little longer to be NHL ready, and Roy could be a prospect. He’s one with a high upside though.
The Hurricanes system remains strong. Forwards Brock McGinn and Sergey Tolchinsky are also pushing for spots in the lineup. Meanwhile, Warren Foegele, Lucas Wallmark, Aleksi Saarela, and Valentin Zykov might be more long-term projects; but they still have excellent potential. In net, Daniel Altshuller challenges Nedeljkovic for the Canes goaltender of the future mantle.
The biggest strength of the system is the defence though. In Hanifin, Pesce, and Slavin, the Hurricanes have three youngsters already peforming at the NHL level. Bean and Fleury are high end prospects. Players like Trevor Carrick, and Roland McKeown give the Hurricanes an embarrassment of riches on the blue line.