Welcome to the 2019 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2019 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We 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, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2019 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed. Today, we look at the Carolina Hurricanes Prospects.
What we 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 2019-20 roster of the NHL team in question. We 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 we pick as our dark horse 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 (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Carolina Hurricanes Prospects
After missing the playoffs for nine straight seasons, the Hurricanes finally made it back to the dance in 2019. In what has been a theme recently, the Hurricanes once again had excellent possession numbers. The difference was that this season they finally got some breaks, as well as strong goaltending from Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney. Once in the playoffs, the Bunch of Jerks continued their franchise tradition of going to at least the final four. The Hurricanes defeated the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders before falling to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final. In prospect news, the Canes AHL Affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, won the AHL’s Calder Cup.
The off-season brought change. The biggest story was the Montreal Canadiens attempt to poach star centre Sebastian Aho with an offer sheet. That move was doomed from the start as the Hurricanes quickly announced that they would match the deal. They also acquired a first-round pick in 2020 by taking on Patrick Marleau‘s contract and then buying out the veteran. The team lost McElhinney in free agency, replacing him with James Reimer, who was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers. Other trades brought in Erik Haula, Kyle Wood, Anton Forsberg, and Gustav Forsling. The Canes also added key free agents in Ryan Dzingel, Chase Priskie, and Jake Gardiner. The busy off-season might not be over yet as rumours about Justin Faulk swirl at the time of writing this article.
2019 NHL Draft Picks (Grade A): Ryan Suzuki, Pyotr Kochetkov, Jamieson Rees, Patrik Puistola, Anttoni Honka, Domenick Fensore, Cade Webber, Tuukka Tieksola, Kirill Slepets, Kevin Wall, Blake Murray, Massimo Rizzo
Graduations: Andrei Svechnikov, Warren Foegele, Lucas Wallmark, Saku Maenalanen (age)
Top Prospect: Martin Necas
Centre — shoots Right
Born January 15th, 1999 — Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic
Height 6’2″ — Weight 190 lbs [188 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by Carolina Hurricanes in the 1st round, #12 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft
Necas got a short look with the Hurricanes, played seven games last season and putting up one goal and one assist. He also played in 64 games for the Checkers, scoring 16 goals and 52 points. In the AHL Playoffs, he added five goals and 13 points in 18 games. Necas also played for the Czech Republic at the World Juniors, scoring four points in five games.
Necas is an outstanding skater with a good stride along with excellent agility and balance. He has very good speed and good acceleration. Necas has a powerful lower body, allowing him to win battles on the boards and in front of the net. This has really improved as he has added muscle onto his frame in his two years post-draft. Necas can use his agility and edgework to get around defenders. Once he gets a step, his ability to change speeds and quickly accelerate allows him to drive to the front of the net. Necas drops his shoulder and is gone in a flash.
Necas can handle the puck and make plays while moving at top speed. His hands are quick and soft, and he protects the puck well. This makes him extremely dangerous on the rush. Necas has excellent vision and makes tough passes through tight areas. He is very creative with his passing game and can find openings that other players wouldn’t try. Necas sees the ice extremely well and has the hockey IQ to anticipate plays before they happen. He seems to know what his teammates are thinking ahead of time. He can also be dangerous as a shooter with a quick release on both his wrist and snapshots. Necas will need to add more power going forward.
Necas needs to get to the dirty areas of the ice more consistently. He sometimes has a tendency to play too much of a perimeter game. At his best, he gets involved in the corners and in front of the net. He may be willing to do this more as he continues to add strength to his frame. He is good in the cycle game, using his body to protect the puck, and his vision and passing skill to make plays for teammates.
Necas is responsible defensively. He understands how to apply backpressure, as well as how to support the defence down low in the cycle game. Containing his man can be an issue right now due to a lack of strength and muscle mass, but his positioning is good and the effort level is there, so this should improve in time. He is also already good in the face-off circle. Necas understands how to cut down passing and shooting lanes with his body.
With Aho emerging as a legit top-line centre for the Hurricanes, the pressure on Necas to fulfill that role has diminished. He still has the potential to be that good, but it is no longer something that is necessary for the Hurricanes going forward. He appears to be NHL ready and could come to Carolina with a bottom-six role this season. The Hurricanes can bring him into the NHL slowly, allowing him to develop before eventually forming a one-two punch with Aho.
Prospect #2: Jake Bean
Defence — shoots Left
Born Jun 9th, 1998 — Calgary, Alberta
Height 6’1″ — Weight 187 [185 cm/85 kg]
Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 1st round, #13 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
After finishing junior hockey, Bean went to the pros this past season. In 70 games with Charlotte he scored 13 goals and 44 points. He also added a goal and five points in 15 games during the team’s playoff run. Bean impressed enough to get a cameo with the Hurricanes but was held scoreless in his two NHL games.
Jake Bean shows outstanding skating. He is blessed with very good speed and excellent acceleration. This is true in both directions and really helps him to be a two-way defender. Add to that, outstanding edge work and agility and Bean can walk the line to open up passing and shooting lanes, as well as pivot quickly to transition from defence to offence and vice-versa. He is capable of covering a lot of ice, and of pinching in at the line and knowing he can still get back defensively. Bean has worked to add strength and improve his balance in order to improve his ability to battle in the corners and in front of the net. While there is room for more growth there, he is well on his way.
Bean has great puck control and combines with his skating skill to elude forecheckers and move the puck into good areas to start the rush. In that way, he can lead the rush himself or make a strong pass to get the transition game going. He shows poise with the puck in the offensive zone, and as mentioned he walks the line well in the offensive zone opening up those passing and shooting lanes. Bean has very good vision and passing skills, able to thread the needle to set up his teammates for good scoring opportunities. He has the poise to control the puck at the blue line and quarterback the power play.
Bean can score from the blue line. His slap shot is hard and accurate, and he is capable of finding open ice to get off a one-timer. His wrist shot features a quick release and he uses it effectively to get pucks on the net quickly and through heavy traffic. Bean uses his wrist shot effectively by sneaking down to the top of the faceoff circles before letting it go. He is a dynamic offensive blueliner, capable of doing it all offensively.
Bean can play a more physical game as he continues to get stronger. He is getting there but can still add even more strength to his frame. Bean is not a huge hitter, but he’s not afraid to get involved physically battling for pucks in the corners or in front of the net. His defensive game has taken big strides and comes close to matching his offensive game. Bean has very good positioning, he shuts down the middle of the ice and keeps attackers to the outside. He uses an active stick to cut down passing and shooting lanes.
Bean has already shown great progress at the pro level. Many believed he was ready to make the jump to the NHL this season. However, the recent signing of Gardiner may have limited his path to Raleigh. Jaccob Slavin is clearly the Canes top pairing left-handed defender, and Gardiner should also be part of the unit.
Competing for the third pair left-hand defence spot will be Bean, Forsling, and Haydn Fleury. Given the fact that Bean is the youngest of the three players and the only one who can go to Charlotte without clearing waivers first, he will need to outperform his competition by a large margin to secure a spot in camp. It’s more likely he spends another year in the AHL, with the possibility of a call-up if injuries hit.
Prospect #3: Ryan Suzuki
The Hurricanes drafted Suzuki with the 28th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Suzuki. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Prospect #4: Alex Nedeljkovic
Goalie — shoots Left — Catches Left
Born January 7th, 1996 — Parma, Ohio
Height 6’0″ — Weight 190 lbs [183 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in round 2, #37 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Nedeljkovic did it all for the Checkers last season. His 2.26 goals against average and 34 wins both lead the AHL. He won the AHL goalie of the year award and was named to the first all-star team. He was also strong in the playoffs with a 2.34 goals-against-average and .916 save percentage, helping the team to the Calder Cup. Nedeljkovic also played one game for the Hurricanes and did not look out of place.
At just 6-foot, Alex Nedeljkovic is below the average size for the types of goalies NHL teams seem to be drafting now. He makes up 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 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 also well-developed at the AHL level but this is an area that could be tested by the better shooters in the NHL.
Nedeljkovic has a 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 defenceman on dump-ins helping his teammates 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 is a smart goaltender. When his team is under pressure he will do whatever it takes to trap the puck and slow down the play or earn a faceoff. On the other hand, when the Checkers are pressing, he looks to keep the puck in play and move it up the ice. When a goal does get past him, he recovers quickly and does not let it linger. He won’t give up goals in bunches as he is ready to make the next save.
With McElhinney gone, Nedeljkovic could push Reimer and Forsberg for a spot with the Hurricanes next season. One thing working against him is that he can be sent back to the AHL without needing waivers. However, he did almost everything he could do in the AHL last season. While Charlotte will likely be where he plays the year, he could make things interesting with a strong camp.
Prospect #5: Morgan Geekie
Centre — shoots Right
Born July 20th, 1998 — Strathclair, Manitoba
Height 6’3″ — Weight 192 lbs [191 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 3rd round, #67 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
In his first pro season, Geekie scored 19 goals and 27 assists for 46 points in 73 games with Charlotte. He was even better in the AHL playoffs where Geekie put up eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points in just 19 games. It was the most goals and points scored in the AHL playoffs by any rookie in the league.
Geekie continues to improve his skating, but there is still a bit more to go. While he once was considered slow, he is now at above-average speed. His first step and acceleration are also decent. While he does not blow anyone away, the fact that he is better able to keep up with the play has been a big key in Geekie’s approvement.
He also has improved his agility and edgework. Geekie is now making tighter turns, as well as generating better power and acceleration better with his crossovers. This along with better cuts has helped him to be more effective in both ends of the ice. He has good balance. It is tough to knock Geekie off the puck, and he wins battles in the corners as well as the front of the net.
Geekie creates most of his offence in the dirty areas of the ice. With the puck on his stick, he looks to manufacture offence by getting to the front of the net. From there he can dish the puck to a linemate through a tight opening, or finish in close to the goaltender. He has very good vision and makes smart plays with the puck on his stick. He also has the hands necessary to pounce on rebounds and to redirect shots into the net. Geekie has also really improved his one-timer and loves to let it go from between the face-off circles. He usually fires either a quick wrist or snapshot, with good power and an excellent release.
Geekie is not afraid to take punishment to make plays, and he battles hard in the corners and in front of the net. He cycles the puck well, protecting the puck while fighting through checks, and getting it to teammates. However, he is not the type to make a big hit.
Geekie is very good defensively. He is strong in the face-off circle and was a good penalty killer in junior, though he was not used much in that role for Charlotte. Geekie works hard to almost always be on the right side of the puck. He uses his body to block shots, as well as an active stick to cut down passing lanes. Geekie provides support to the defence down low and keeps his man to the outside when defending the cycle. He also transitions quickly to create offence when an opportunity presents itself.
Even with his excellent playoff performance, Geekie could use another year in the AHL. In his second year with the Checkers, he could take on even more minutes and responsibility, especially if Necas is in the NHL. This will help his long-term development and he could be ready for a full-time NHL job in 2020. In the meantime, he will be ready if an injury hits in Carolina.
Prospect #6: Janne Kuokkanen
Left Wing/Centre — shoots Left
Born May 25th, 1998 — Oulunsalo, Finland
Height 6’1″ — Weight 188 lbs [185 cm/85 kg]
Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2nd round, #43 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
In Kuokkanen’s second year in the AHL, he showed improved play with 12 goals and 38 points in 48 regular-season games. He also earned some time in the Hurricanes lineup, though he went scoreless in seven games. Unfortunately, his season was cut short prematurely due to an upper-body injury suffered in March.
Kuokkanen is a good skater. While he is not known as a speedster, he keeps up with the play and it can not be said that he is a slow skater either. He does have excellent agility and edgework. Kuokkanen is extremely shifty and is able to avoid defenders and get around them in one-on-one situations. He is also able to move quickly to change angles and open up passing lanes. Kuokkanen can work on adding strength, specifically in his lower body in order to improve his balance, and not be pushed off the puck as easily.
Kuokkanen is a smart and efficient playmaker. He has very good stickhandling ability, able to protect the puck and make quick moves in tight spaces. His vision and passing skill are excellent. He slows down the play and finds openings that most other players do not see, and is able to put a pass through a tight opening or make a saucer pass that lands on a teammate’s tape. Kuokkanen has very good anticipation and hockey sense as he seems to see openings before they are there.
His shot could stand to be harder but is very accurate and he possesses a very quick release. Kuokkanen seems to defer to passing and could stand to use his shot more often. He could also be more involved in the dirty areas of the ice, as Kuokkanen prefers to play more of a perimeter game at this point in his career. He could stand to bulk up in order to be better in tight to the net, and in battles along the boards.
Kuokkanen shows good defensive instincts, with solid positioning and a good stick. He reads the play well and creates turnovers with good anticipation and by keeping attackers in front of him. Once he does create that turnover, he is quick to start the transition game. Kuokkanen is also very good in the face-off circle, though he seems to be playing a lot of wing in the AHL. Again, he could stand to be stronger and more physical, as he can get pushed around by bigger, more physical forwards.
Kuokkanen will head to training camp looking to win an NHL job. However, he likely needs a bit more time in the AHL before he is ready for a full-time NHL job, especially with the lost development time last season. If injuries hit the Hurricanes, Kuokkanen will be an option for a call-up but his full-time NHL arrival will likely have to wait another year or two.
Prospect #7: Julien Gauthier
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born October 15th, 1997 — Pointe-aux-Trembles, Quebec
Height 6’4” — Weight 227 lbs [193 cm/103 kg]
Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 1st round, #21 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Gauthier took big steps forward in his second AHL season, scoring 27 goals and 41 points in 75 games. He also added five goals and eight points in 17 playoff games for the Checkers.
Gauthier is a great skater for a big man with very good top-end speed as well as the power to fight through checks, or bowl over a defender on the way to the net. His agility and ability to weave through traffic could be improved. Currently, he is more willing to just bowl over a defender on his way to the net than to move around him. He has very good lower body strength and balance, allowing him to win board battles or establish a position in front of the net. He’s strong on the puck, which makes him able to use his body to shield off defenders in the cycle game.
At 6’4″, Julien Gauthier is a power forward prospect with the size and the strength to dominate the game down low. Gauthier throws big hits on the forecheck, protects the puck on the cycle, takes the puck to the front of the net, and wins battles with opposing defenders. He also has an outstanding wrist shot, with great power and a hair-trigger release. He also has shown good hockey IQ and a knack for eluding defences and finding openings in the defence where he can set up to unleash a wicked one-timer. His stickhandling is very good, and he has the ability to make plays while skating at top speed.
One concern is that he has developed a bit of tunnel vision, in that he seems to fire everything at the net, even when sometimes a pass to a teammate might be a better play in the zone. He worked to correct that problem a bit over the last few years but it can still be an issue from time to time.
Gauthier shows a strong defensive game. He plays his tenacious puck pursuit game in all three zones, backchecking and battling for pucks in his own end. Gauthier has shown a bit of a mean streak at times. He is also not afraid to block shots and uses his big frame to effectively cut down on passing and shooting lanes. Once he is able to gain control of the puck, he transitions quickly to offence.
Bigger forwards sometimes take a little longer before they are NHL ready. While Gauthier took a few big steps forward this past season there is still a little more development needed before he is NHL ready. Expect to see him start the season with Charlotte, though he could see his first NHL action before the end of the year. He is a real threat to push for a full-time NHL job in 2020-21.
Prospect #8: Anttoni Honka
The Hurricanes drafted Honka with the 83rd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Honka. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Prospect #9: Jamieson Rees
The Hurricanes drafted Rees with the 44th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Rees. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Prospect #10: Stelio Mattheos
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born June 14th, 1999 — Winnipeg, Manitoba
Height 6’1″ — Weight 200 lbs [185 cm/91 kg]
Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 3rd round, #73 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft
Mattheos had a huge season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. He scored 44 goals and 52 assists for 96 points in 65 games. Mattheos was named to the WHL Eastern Conference 2nd All-Star Team. With the Wheat Kings missing the playoffs, he joined the Checkers at the end of the year. Mattheos scored two goals and three points in 11 regular-season games. He also put up three goals and an assist in 14 playoff games.
Mattheos is a very good skater. He has a powerful stride which generates very good speed. His first step and acceleration are good and he gets up to speed quickly. His agility and edgework are also decent. Where he excels though, is in his lower body strength. Mattheos has power to fight through checks and get to the net. It is very tough to knock Mattheos off the puck, and he protects it well down low in the cycle game. When he gets a step on a defender, he can lower his shoulder and cut to the crease. He also uses his excellent balance to battle for position in front of the net, and to win board battles.
Stelio Mattheos scores goals in tight to the net. He has the quick hands to pounce on rebounds, and the quickness to beat goalies when he is driving to the net. Mattheos also has the hand-eye coordination to get deflections, as well as to quickly one-time passes in close. From further out his wrist shot is heavy and features a quick release. His quick hands allow him to change the angle on that release, further confusing goaltenders. Mattheos is dangerous on the rush due to his speed. When defenders back off to avoid getting beat wide, he can pull up and fire a shot on net, using the defender as a screen.
Mattheos’ assists also mainly come out of his power game. He is not an overly creative player but prefers to play a north-south type of game. He can win battles in the corners, dig out pucks, and get them to teammates. Mattheos looks to keep the puck moving in the cycle game, putting it in good areas for his teammates. His vision is decent and his passing skills are good. He protects the puck well but is not the type of player to pull out a lot of shifty moves, or impressive dekes. Instead, he plays a straightforward and simple offensive game, but it is effective.
Mattheos shows good hustle and work ethic in all three zones. He is good at applying back pressure against the rush and supports his defence down low in the cycle game. Mattheos shows good positioning and the anticipation to close down passing lanes and create turnovers. Once a turnover is created, he is able to quickly transition the puck and move it up the ice.
Now leaving his junior career behind, Mattheos should join the Checkers this season. The Hurricanes hope that he can continue to play his power-based game in the AHL, as he now faces bigger and stronger opponents. Mattheos may need to add some muscle to his frame to succeed in the pro game.
Sleeper Prospect: Chase Priskie
Defence — shoots Right
Born March 19th, 1996 — Pembroke Pines, Florida
Height 6.00 — Weight 192 [183 cm/87 kg]
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 6th round, #177 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Signed by the Carolina Hurricanes in August 2019
The captain of Quinnipiac University, Priskie put up 17 goals and 39 points in 36 games during his senior season in the NCAA. He was named an ECAC First-Team All-Star and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. Drafted by the Washington Capitals, Priskie did not sign with the team, opting instead to become a free agent and signing with the Hurricanes.
Priskie is a very good skater. His top-end speed is good, not great but he excels in the rest of his skating game. He has a very good first step and excellent acceleration in both directions, allowing Priskie to get around the ice effectively and play a two-way game. His agility and edgework are also very good. This helps Priskie to walk the line in the offensive zone as well as to keep up his gap control and to force opponents to the outside in the defensive end of the ice. He has gotten physically stronger throughout his college career but may need even more bulk before he is ready for a full-time NHL job.
Priskie can be an offensive catalyst on the blue line. He has a very good slap shot and an excellent one-timer. His ability to walk the line helps him to open up passing lanes and Priskie does a nice job of keeping his shot low and on the net, giving his teammates plenty of opportunities to screen the goalie, to pick up rebounds or to deflect the puck into the net. He also picks his spots well, sliding down from the point or joining the rush where he can let off an effective wrist shot with a good release.
Priskie has the stickhandling ability to move the puck up the ice, making plays to get the puck out of his own zone or to carry it through the neutral zone. He can make plays while moving at top-speed and is not afraid to lead or join the rush. Priskie sees the ice well and is able to pass the puck through tight lanes. This helps him to create offence off the rush as well as to quarterback the play at the blue line. He has the patience and poise to extend plays and wait for teammates to get open for a scoring chance. His lateral agility can help him to open up passing lanes as well.
Priskie works hard in the defensive end but must add more muscle to compete against pro-level opponents. Against bigger and stronger players than he has faced in the college game, he could have some trouble winning battles on the boards, containing opponents on the cycle and clearing the front of the net. Priskie is helped by his ability to retrieve loose pucks and avoid the forecheck before moving them up the ice. He also does a good job of poke-checking the puck away from his opponent.
While Priskie is a bit more mature than most AHL rookies, due to his full four-years college career, he still needs a bit of development. The Hurricanes hope that his offensive game continues to produce against professional opponents and that he is able to succeed defensively as well. Expect Priskie to spend the year in Charlotte, though he could get a call-up if injuries hit. Expect him to push for a spot in 2020 training camp. Priskie seems to think he could be NHL ready this year but this seems a bit of a long shot.
All of those years out of the playoffs have led to the Hurricanes having a number of high draft picks as well as acquiring additional picks and prospects at the NHL Trade Deadline in recent years. This has resulted in the team having one of the deepest prospect groups in the entire NHL. The team is strong in all areas.
In goal, they have added Pyotr Kochetkov, to a group that also includes Jeremy Helvig, and Callum Booth. Newly signed defender Priskie joins a group that also includes Jesper Sellgren, Roland McKeown, Domenick Fensore, Luke Martin, Alex Lintuniemi, Cade Webber, and Ville Rasanen. Upfront the team also has Patrik Puistola, Luke Henman, Eetu Luostarinein, David Cotton, Jack Drury, Spencer Smallman, Lenni Killenen, Blake Murray, Clark Bishop, Tuukka Tieksola, and Matt Filipe as prospects worth keeping an eye on.