Hurricanes Have Prospects For Lineup Holes in 2021-22

Entering the 2021-22 season, the Carolina Hurricanes are a team with few holes in the lineup. It will continue a pattern that started in recent years of being a difficult lineup for rookies to crack, because the team has mostly been set in stone entering camp. For the most part, the roster is already set for this season as well, with the most obvious exception being a hole in the top-nine forward group. This is something we’ll take into consideration during this piece, but immediately hopping into a featured role under head coach Rod Brind’Amour is an inherently difficult task. Even Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas didn’t debut in a featured role, and both were superior prospects to any the Hurricanes currently have.

Plus, there are still two months before the games matter, and it is entirely plausible that the Hurricanes swing a big trade at some point. They have been rumored to be linked to players such as Vladimir Tarasenko, and with the available cap space, there is plenty of room to fit in even a hefty contract such as the St. Louis Blues’ sniper. Regardless, training camp this coming year will be a fantastic opportunity for the young players to make an impression and potentially position themselves to, at the very least, debut at some point during the season. Let’s take a look at how one might currently project the Hurricanes to line up on opening night:

Teuvo Teravainen – Sebastian Aho – Andrei Svechnikov
Nino Niederreiter – Vincent Trocheck – Martin Necas
Steven Lorentz – Jordan Staal – Jesper Fast
Jordan Martinook – Derek Stepan – Josh Leivo

When looking at that roster, it definitely seems to lack a little bite. The top six still looks great, assuming Niederreiter slots onto the second line and not alongside Staal. However, depth scoring was already an issue at times last season, and with the departures of Brock McGinn and Warren Foegele, it’s fair to wonder if the current group will cut it for a team that expects to contend. That’s before taking into account that Niederreiter, Staal, and even Trocheck put forth seasons that may not be fully fair to expect them to repeat.

Jack Drury of the Waterloo Black Hawks
Jack Drury of the Carolina Hurricanes (Hickling Images)

The realistic place to look for this exercise is a young player that can add a little skill, but is also a realistic option to actually be prepared for the best league in the world this coming season. The Hurricanes have plenty of examples within the last decade of players being rushed to the show before they were ready, and despite most of those being under a different regime, you’d like to assume this front office knows better. At this stage of the offseason it’s tough to project exactly who would be the odd man out if a prospect does push for the job, as those sorts of things will get ironed out in camp. Still, there definitely seem to be a few spots ripe for the taking if a player proves his worth.

On the defensive side of things, the spots are pretty much locked down, including what looks to be their seventh defenseman in Brendan Smith. Still, if an injury strikes, I have included a player below that I do think there is a possibility could beat Smith out and be in the opening night lineup.

Jack Drury

The first and most obvious candidate to push for a role in Carolina this season is Drury, whose hockey bloodlines run deep as his father, Ted, and uncle, Chris, were longtime NHL players. Jack has made his own name since joining the Carolina organization, though, with two fantastic college seasons, scoring at over a point-per-game pace for Harvard, before showing he could play his well-rounded game against men this past season in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL).

The Hurricanes are hoping the 21-year-old is NHL-ready, as Hurricanes Director of Hockey Ops Aaron Schwartz relayed on the Tracking the Storm Podcast this past week (bit of a shameless plug, I suppose, but that was a fun conversation you should definitely check out), which itself was a sentiment echoed from a July comment by General Manager Don Waddell when the Hurricanes signed Drury to his entry-level contract.

A 2018 second-round pick, Drury was a finalist for the SHL’s rookie of the year award last season after posting 30 points (10 goals and 20 assists) in 41 games. He then followed it up with an even better postseason run, scoring five goals and 11 points in 14 games, as Vaxjo won the SHL championship. His offensive development has been eye-opening and gives credibility to the idea that he could crack the roster in just about any role, and in the near future, all the while pushing his projected ceiling up a notch.

That versatility is obviously working in his favor. He could be a great fit in the bottom-six immediately, as Drury has generally been known as a defensive center since his junior days. He has showcased a much more dangerous shot in the past two seasons than he did prior, though, and combined with his hockey sense, quick hands in tight spaces, and compete level in the dirty areas, this suggests a player that can help the NHL squad in every facet of the game.

Logically speaking, it’s tough to guess where exactly Drury could fit into the 2021-22 season, but if he earns it, the staff will find a spot. As with all the players listed here, an injury obviously opens things up, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility he forces his way onto the roster over someone like Martinook or Lorentz, either. Regardless, expect Drury to debut at some point in the upcoming season – and once he cracks the lineup, don’t expect him to be a player that Brind’Amour has any designs on removing.

Jesper Sellgren

Probably the most NHL-ready defenseman in the Hurricanes’ pipeline, there’s a good chance that Sellgren would have already made his NHL debut last season had he been in North America. The smooth defenseman has been playing top-four minutes against men in Sweden for multiple seasons now, and there’s a ton to like about his game, from his hockey sense to his skating ability and smart decision making. He’s going to be a fun one to track as he moves stateside this fall.

Sellgren is the type of defender who rarely makes mistakes, and will almost always be in the right position to make the smart play, be it on the breakout, offensive zone, or in his own end. He probably won’t make too many “wow” plays in the NHL, and he may plateau as around a 25-point player, but he seems to exact type of defenseman who you can plug on your third pairing and allow him to eat 12-15 minutes per night while barely noticing him — in a good way. Defensemen are usually most noticeable when they’re making a sparkling play or big mistake, and Sellgren probably won’t have many of either.

He also seems a good bet to be able to move up and down the lineup and fill in in the top four in a pinch. Much like Drury, Sellgren’s game is versatile, which will allow him to succeed in most situations he is tasked with. As mentioned in the intro, Smith likely has a hold on the seventh defenseman job, and could be the player inserted should something befall one of the Hurricanes top-six defenders. That would allow Sellgren to get his feet wet on North American ice in Chicago of the AHL (well, again, as he did join the Hurricanes then-affiliate Charlotte Checkers for their Calder Cup run in 2019, during which he was very impressive), and set the foundation for him to get some ice time with the Hurricanes at some point during the 2021-22 season.

Still, it’s entirely feasible that Sellgren impresses once training camp opens, and shows he can be an NHL defenseman right off the bat this October.

Ryan Suzuki

Suzuki has opened a lot of eyes in the last year, and showcased a different side to his game that previously didn’t seem to be there. Like Drury as well as the next player featured here, the pandemic-affected season allowed him to play in a professional league in 2020-21, as Suzuki ended up in the AHL after the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season was canceled. Between his time there and his fourth line role with Canada at the World Juniors, he showcased a versatility and ability to adapt to different roles that will pay big dividends under Brind’Amour.

Ryan Suzuki Barrie Colts
Ryan Suzuki of the Barrie Colts (Terry Wilson OHL Images)

In a depth role on that stacked Canada roster, Suzuki displayed a grittier side to his game that had many viewers doing double takes. Though his compete level has never been questioned, Suzuki was consistently willing to get heavy in the corners and bang bodies more frequently than in his junior days, all the while still showcasing his vision and soft hands on multiple occasions; four points in seven games in a depth role is nothing to scoff at. That earned him a lot of believers. At times Suzuki had seemed too perimeter-oriented in his OHL days, but if he can continue to develop that interior game alongside his offensive package, he could very quickly make his case for the Hurricanes roster.

Still, Suzuki wasn’t a first-round pick because of his ability to play in a bottom six, and like all 20-year-olds (or, prospects and young players in general), he needs to be playing as much as possible in order to fulfill his potential. That’s the flip side; it’s rare to see a talent like Suzuki break through in the NHL if he’s not getting top-nine minutes. But, if the Hurricanes are still looking for type of piece come training camp, Suzuki will absolutely be on the short list. He may need one more (full) year in the AHL before he’s ready to play full-time in the NHL, but there will still be a great chance ahead for Suzuki to prove himself ready to bring his playmaking skill, power play efficiency, and developing complete game to the Carolina lineup.

Seth Jarvis

And, finally, we come to the prospect that many Hurricanes fans are clamoring to see on opening night in October. And I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but I’m going to be straight up – I’m not going into the year expecting him to make the team.

Don’t get me wrong – Jarvis is an electric play driver that I expect to play in the Carolina top-six for a long time. His hockey sense, vision, shot, and quickness are all extremely high-end for a 19-year-old. I just think the pandemic-affected season put a bit of a hold on his development, even if only temporary. He played in just 33 games altogether in 2020-21, and even though he was fantastic — especially in his nine-game AHL stint where he scored seven goals and 11 points — that’s fewer than half the games he should have played in, under normal circumstances. As I said above, as with all young players, the most important thing for their development is reps, and Jarvis was robbed of many of them last season.

Apologies for the long highlight, the Wolves scored 10 times this game, but Jarvis’ goals were both impressive displays of his skill level.

Jarvis could very easily show up in Raleigh after a full NHL summer training regimen, with a few more pounds of muscle, and force his way onto the team. There is no player in the system with as much potential to show up and immediately provide the significant punch he can, and potentially even slot into a 15+ minute-per-night role. He sees the game well enough to pull it off, and watching him dissect an opponent, take advantage of the slightest cracks in their defense, and dance in-and-out of traffic at full speed — all before picking a corner with his deadly release — Hurricanes fans will fall in love pretty quickly once he’s in town.

I’m just not sure the Hurricanes will be particularly desperate to force a 19-year-old with fewer than 40 games of experience since his draft night into the grind of an 82-game schedule. Be patient on this one, Hurricanes fans, as the payoff will be big when the time is right. I’m just not convinced that’s here yet.

Final Thoughts

If nothing else, the Hurricanes can feel confident heading into next season that they have a multitude of options to compete for roster spots. And it’s not like we covered every player that’s a possibility, either – if you know me at all, you know I had to grit my teeth not to include Jamieson Rees here, but after I already documented him in another piece at length a couple months ago, I figured I’d share the prospect attention for a change. Rees is one of many that could show up and have taken “the leap”, proving they are ready for the big stage. It’s tough to predict exactly who that’ll be, but that’s what training camp is for!

Even if these young guns don’t break camp with the team, all four of them should make their NHL debuts in the near future. They present another wave of the Hurricanes’ comically deep pipeline that will continue to feed the big club for at least the next half-decade – and surely longer, with Eric Tulsky and Darren Yorke continuing their phenomenal work with the front office and scouting department. Little is more exciting as hockey fans than watching young players break through and begin their careers, fulfilling their lifelong dreams, and a multitude of exciting debuts are on the horizon.

It has been an offseason rife with more turmoil and uncertainty than originally hoped for the Hurricanes, between divisive signings and a star player beloved by the fanbase leaving town. But, still, the future remains extremely bright for the franchise, and fans have plenty of reason to look forward to the puck being dropped on the 2021-22 season.

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