With the end of the 2019-20 season nearing, teams should have a pretty good idea of how their recruits from the 2019 Draft are turning out. In the case of the Carolina Hurricanes, their 2019 Draft was especially historic for having the most picks of any draft in their history (12), adding to an already dynamite collection of prospects.
The Athletic recently ranked the Hurricanes’ prospect pool as third-best among all NHL teams. However, Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell made some major moves at the 2020 trade deadline, some of which involved trading away key prospects like Janne Kuokkanen, Julien Gauthier, and Eetu Luostarinen.
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With eight picks in the upcoming 2020 Draft including five in the first three rounds, the Hurricanes are poised to re-stock the shelves with even more young talent. But, until then, these are the 10 best prospects in the Hurricanes’ farm system. To make this list, they must not have played more than 30 NHL games, and must be under the age of 23.
10. Domenick Fensore, D
Acquired: Third-round pick (90th overall), 2019 Draft
There’s plenty to like about Domenick Fensore’s game – he’s incredibly agile, has excellent vision with the puck, and is one of the best overall skaters in the 2019 class. The only obstacle for him is his size. Listed at 5-foot-7, 151 pounds, Fensore’s challenges come on the defensive side of the game, where towering power forwards, common in today’s game, pose a challenge.
In his first season at Boston College, Fensore has a very respectable 16 points in 34 games as an 18-year-old. Had he been born one week later, he wouldn’t have even been draft-eligible until 2020. Even as one of the youngest and smallest guys in his division, he’s kept pace remarkably well.
Fensore likes to play a hyper-aggressive game offensively, and uses his speed as his main tool to defend as well. He’s in his element when he rushes pucks up ice, but his offensive tendencies can often get him in trouble. He occasionally gets caught floating too deep in the offensive zone, or being too eager to take off and join a potential rush.
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There are kinks to work out, but the real challenge will be overcoming his size, especially at the NHL level. In the past, there have been a slew of small forwards who have adapted well at the NHL level, but it’s much more difficult for small defensemen to match that success. So far, at the college level, Fensore is holding his own.
9. Jack Drury, C
Acquired: Second-round pick (42nd overall), 2018 Draft
Jack Drury went a little under the radar at the 2020 World Juniors for team U.S.A., chipping in one goal and one assist in five games. As one of the older guys in the tournament, it was a disappointing tournament for him and the Americans, but back at Harvard where he’s in his sophomore season, Drury is putting together a stellar campaign.
In 28 games, Drury amassed 20 goals and 19 assists to finish second in team scoring. Harvard also recently won its first-round playoff series against St. Lawrence, where Drury exploded for five points in two games.
Drury has two more years on the table at Harvard. By the time he’s 22, he may be ready to join the Hurricanes – or at least the Charlotte Checkers – as an offensively talented center, and you can never have too many of those in the system.
8. Joey Keane, D
Acquired: Trade via New York Rangers (Feb. 18, 2020)
Acquiring Joey Keane was the icebreaker for GM Waddell leading up to the busy 2020 trade deadline, as he looked to beef up the Hurricanes’ blue line. A former third-round choice of the Rangers in 2018, Keane has blossomed into a solid two-way defenseman – but at 20 years old, he still requires some polishing.
In his first season in the AHL, he scored 30 points in 49 games for the Hartford Wolf Pack, the New York Rangers’ affiliate. Since joining the Hurricanes and being dispatched to the Checkers, Keane has already tallied five points in seven games.
He’s knocking on the Hurricanes’ door and could be a strong candidate to make the team next season. His great offensive numbers aside, Keane can play a heavier style of defense and shoots right-handed. Those two qualities alone separate him from a lot of the other young blueliners in Carolina’s system.
7. Pyotr Kochetkov, G
Acquired: Second-round pick (36th overall), 2019 Draft
Pyotr Kochetkov is the only goalie on this list, and a mysterious selection to peg – not that goalies are ever easy to predict. Kochetkov saw a limited amount of ice time in 2019-20, as he was playing for two KHL teams with already established goaltenders.
Though the season is in the books for his current team, Podolsk Vityaz, Kochetkov posted solid numbers in the hunt for more playing time. In 14 games throughout the season, he recorded a .905 save percentage and a 2.85 goals-against average. He also seemed to play significantly better as the season went on, even though he was backstopping a mediocre team.
The KHL is said to be the second-toughest hockey league worldwide behind the NHL, and Kochetkov has looked quite steady for such a young and inexperienced goaltender. While he’s still a long-term project, like most young goalies are, the Russian netminder’s composure and compete level prove he has the tools to become a potential starting goalie for the Hurricanes, and a strong one at that.
6. Dominik Bokk, LW/RW
Acquired: Trade via St. Louis Blues (Sept. 24, 2019)
Hurricanes fans may not be too familiar with Dominik Bokk, having only had him in the prospect pen for several months now, but the 20-year-old German winger has become an important part of Carolina’s future, as a right-handed goal-scoring winger with top-nine potential.
At the 2020 World Juniors, Bokk led Germany with eight points in seven games, including six goals, which was good for second overall in the tournament. His hot streak from the World Juniors poured over when he returned to the SHL after the tournament, scoring 10 goals in his next 13 games.
In total this season, Bokk has scored 11 goals and 17 points in 42 games. Streakiness isn’t uncommon for a young sniper, and although he probably won’t match his point total of 23 points from 2018-19, he’s made some promising strides as a more complete player, especially as a 20-year-old playing with older, more refined professionals. He’s a guy to watch, especially when he eventually transitions to the North American style of hockey.
5. Patrik Puistola, LW/RW
Acquired: Third-round pick (73rd overall), 2019 Draft
Patrik Puistola is another player who, like Bokk, turned heads at the 2020 World Juniors. A month after taking a brutal hit that sidelined him for several weeks, Puistola showed up at the tournament with a vengeance, scoring five goals and three assists in seven games, helping Finland reach the bronze medal game.
Although Finland didn’t medal, Puistola’s efforts earned him plenty of praise, and when he returned back home to play in the Finnish Elite League, he was determined to end his season on a high note.
In 19 games split between Jukurit Mikkeli and KooKoo Kouvola, Puistola has scored 6 goals and 10 points. As his ice time goes up and he gets more opportunities to be a contributor at Finland’s top level, the 19-year-old Puistola has shown he can hang with seasoned professionals.
4. Anttoni Honka, D
Acquired: Third-round pick (83rd overall), 2019 Draft
Anttoni Honka is another one of the Hurricanes’ stellar collection of future defensemen, and another 2019 draft pick as well. He also adds to the trend of the Hurricanes targeting smaller-type blueliners with good offensive instincts.
Honka has scored 17 points in 41 games for JyP Jyvaskyla in the Finnish Elite League this season. He’s also teammates with his older brother Julius Honka, a former Dallas Stars first-round draft pick.
The 19-year-old Hurricanes draftee has had a very strong 2019-20 season for a kid with his toolkit in a tough men’s league, and that’s a promising sign for Hurricanes fans. Like many other small defensemen, Honka relies on his speed to close gaps defensively. With the puck, Honka is capable of stickhandling and making smart plays at full speed. He’s a right-shot defenseman, so check that box as well.
If any prospect is capable of making a surprise jump to the NHL earlier than expected, my pick is Honka. The Hurricanes have a deep stable of talented defensemen, but Honka’s skill, intelligence, and value on the power play could be enticing enough to earn him an invite to the Hurricanes’ squad in the next couple years.
3. Jamieson Rees, C
Acquired: Second-round pick (44th overall), 2019 Draft
With the 44th-overall pick in the 2019 Draft, the Hurricanes selected Jamieson Rees, a scrappy 5-foot-10 center who had dropped down the draft rankings due to having missed a significant amount of his season with a kidney laceration. Drafting a player with limited knowledge can sometimes be a gamble, but it looks like Rees was a well-calculated pickup for the Hurricanes.
Rees got off to a lightning pace to start the Sarnia Sting’s 2019-20 season, but has slowed to about a point-per-game pace as he hasn’t been able to stay in the lineup long enough to put together a good string of games. On top of an ankle injury that forced him to miss 11 games, Rees was suspended in January for the third time in under a year for yet another high, dangerous hit. (from ‘Sting’s Rees suspended for six games by OHL for head-checking,’ The Observer, 01/23/2020)
Rees plays a rambunctious style, but he has a deadly combination of skill and speed to go along with that. He’s scored 61 points in only 39 games this season, on a lowly Sting team that sits dead last in its conference.
He has plenty of attractive qualities that if pieced together, can be a huge asset for the Hurricanes. But if he can’t control his aggression, it will continue to get him in trouble. More importantly, that stuff doesn’t fly at the NHL level. Rees has a lot of maturing to do before he’s ready to step foot in the NHL, but he’s definitely the kind of player every GM would love to have on their team.
2. Jake Bean, D
Acquired: First-round pick (13th overall), 2016 Draft
If not for something so trivial as the way he holds his stick, Jake Bean would likely be on the Hurricanes roster right now. The 21-year-old defenseman is in his second season with the Checkers in the AHL, but with the Hurricanes’ ravaged defense in need of help, he hasn’t been called upon. Instead, Waddell made trades to repair the Carolina blue line, leaving Bean to continue his torrid season with the Checkers.
Bean finds himself in an uphill climb to earn a spot on the Hurricanes’ roster with other left-handed defensemen like Jaccob Slavin, Jake Gardiner, Brady Skjei, Haydn Fleury and Joel Edmundson above him on the depth chart.
Bean is a dynamic offensive defenseman who can quarterback a power play and move the puck excellently, which are essential qualities in today’s defensemen. In 57 games with the Checkers this season, he’s amassed 46 points, which currently leads his team, and leads all AHL defensemen. His efforts also earned him an invitation to the AHL All-Star Classic last January.
The only thing holding Bean back from the NHL is his defensive play. He tends to get caught out of position or miss assignments in the defensive zone at times. He’s by no means a powerful defender, but if paired with the right partner, he can be tremendously effective. If Bean can work out the kinks in his game and grow into a more complete player, he can easily become a top-four NHL defenseman in just a couple of years.
1. Ryan Suzuki, C
Acquired: First-round pick (28th overall), 2019 Draft
Hindered by a scary injury he suffered early last November, Ryan Suzuki has been limited to just 41 games this season. He was clipped in the eye with a high stick that sidelined him for nearly two months, but the good news is he has returned to action and doesn’t seem to have suffered any serious setbacks. In fact, since his trade to the Saginaw Spirit at the OHL trade deadline in January, he’s playing the best hockey of his career.
Suzuki has tallied 13 goals and 22 assists in just 23 games with the Spirit, pacing one of the OHL’s best offenses. Playing with 2020-draft-eligible top prospect Cole Perfetti, who currently sits second in OHL scoring, has also been a boost to Suzuki’s game, as it’s given him a partner to match his high tempo and creativity.
Suzuki is a smart, shifty center who the Hurricanes hope can one day slot in behind Sebastian Aho. He was acquired with the 28th-overall pick in 2019, which was a bit lower than most were predicting him to go. It’s often difficult to gauge how an average-sized center – in Suzuki’s case, 6-foot, 176 pounds – will transition to the NHL, but he’s been steadily improving all aspects of his game, even when the eye injury knocked him off course earlier this season.
He has the highest ceiling of any prospect in the Hurricanes’ system, but he’s likely still several years from touching the NHL. Until then, the Hurricanes would be wise to be patient in his development until he’s ready to slot into the right role.
In the meantime, it’s also interesting to note Suzuki and Andrei Svechnikov were teammates on the Barrie Colts during the 2017-18 season. That could be a tandem to watch one day in Carolina as Suzuki makes his ascension.
Just Missed The Cut: Morgan Geekie, C
Acquired: Third-round pick (67th overall), 2017 Draft
Morgan Geekie is the prospect closest to becoming a full-time NHLer, which bodes well for the Hurricanes’ system that he didn’t even crack the top 10. His recent callup to the NHL also indicates Hurricanes management has taken notice of his play, and his fantastic debut on Sunday warrants an honorable mention on this list.
Geekie scored his first NHL goal in the opening period of his debut. He finished the game with two goals and an assist, propelling the Hurricanes to a 6-2 win in a crucial game against the divisional rival Pittsburgh Penguins. You can’t really ask for a better introduction than that.
While Ryan Dzingel will be returning from injury shortly and threatening Geekie’s roster spot, if he continues to contribute like this it’ll be hard to send him back to the AHL.
A former third-round pick in 2017, Geekie has put up solid numbers with the Charlotte Checkers the past two seasons, scoring 88 points in 128 total games. He’s only 21-year-old, so there’s still plenty of room to grow – even on top of the 20-plus pounds he’s added to his 6-foot-2 frame since his draft year.