Adam Gold

Canes see the future in prospect tournament

Posted September 10
Updated September 11

Bill Peters and Ron Francis Pic-End of Season

The Carolina Hurricanes are less than a week away from opening training camp in advance of what will be their 20th season in North Carolina. Starting Friday, some 50 players will converge on the PNC Arena ice with no more than a few roster spots up for grabs. Some of those players are getting a jump on the competition as Carolina’s baby Hurricanes are trying to defend last year’s Traverse City prospect tournament title.

It’s off to a great start.

Carolina rolled to a pair of 4-goal victories, beating Detroit’s fledgling Red Wings 6-2 on Friday before completely dominating the Rangers’ prospects in a 4-0 shutout win Saturday night. While winning these games – and the tournament, if it comes to that – is important, it’s not nearly as important as seeing how these future Hurricanes have developed over the last few months. If these two games are any indication at all – and it remains to be seen if they are – Carolina is in very good shape.

Every single one of the youngsters the Hurricanes would consider to be future impact players have scored. Janne Kuokkanen (2 goals, 1 assist), Nic Roy (2 goals, 1 assist), Martin Necas (1 goal, 1 assist), Jake Bean (3 assists, +4) and Julien Gauthier (1 goal) each was impressive. In fact, Kuokkanen, Roy and winger Warren Foegele were so impressive don’t be surprised to see that trio get extended looks and power play time when the exhibition season begins in a little more than a week.

Kuokkanen, the Canes’ second round pick in the 2016 draft, has been their best forward. He can play the middle or either wing and has advanced hockey sense and vision. He scored the games’ opening goal Friday night against the Wings and dished a few slick passes that created other scoring chances with Gauthier cashing one in from the slot that made it 5-2 in the 3rd period. Roy flashed physical dominance at times, has been great in the face off circle and provided a net-front presence on the power play. Necas isn’t going to play in the NHL this year, and he may end up heading back to play for his team in the Czech Republic. But, he’s an old-school playmaking center with great vision who seems to see the game at an advanced level.

Foegele is an interesting prospect to keep on eye on. A third round choice in 2014, he hasn’t been a big scorer in juniors, but plays with a purpose and a tenacity that the organization has been seeking for almost a decade. Keep in mind, on an Erie Otters team that won the OHL title, it was Foegele – and not top prospects Dylan Strome (Arizona) or Alex DeBrincat (Chicago) – who was named the playoff MVP.

On the back end, 2016 top draft pick, Jake Bean has impressed. Paired with 2015 trade acquisition Roland McKeown, Bean has registered three assists and is a plus-4. McKeown has been positionally sound and is also a plus-4. The pair, along with 2015 first rounder Haydn Fleury, who’s been excellent and physical in front of his own net and Jake Chelios, will all have a chance to battle for what appears to be the final defensive spot on the NHL roster. Expect to see Fleury paired with Trevor van Riemsdyk with Bean and Chelios playing alongside one another when camp begins this week.

A few more things to think about as we approach the start of training camp ...

Bill Peters won’t have a lot of time to figure out where best to deploy the skills and leadership of Justin Williams. The three-time Stanley Cup champ will likely see time on the right side of both Victor Rask and Jordan Staal during the pre-season. A line of Aho, Staal and Williams has me excited for the start of the season already.

The way Jeff Skinner, Derek Ryan and Lee Stempniak clicked last year will try to be replicated, at least in the early going.

When you consider that so many of the Hurricanes core players have never played in the post season, the impact of the World Championships can not be dismissed. Rask, Elias Lindholm, who appears a little leaner than he was a year ago and Noah Hanifin were all outstanding for their national teams. The former pair were instrumental in helping Sweden to the gold medal, while the latter emerged as the best American defenseman during the tournament.

Expect the team to name an official captain this year, but don’t expect the election to be held until very late in the exhibition season. The top candidates remain Jordan Staal, Justin Faulk, Jeff Skinner and Justin Williams.

Monday, the Canes will take on Chicago’s prospects at 6:30 for the right to play for the title Tuesday night. You can watch the game on line at Hurricanes.com or on the FoxSportsGo app.

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