Welcome back to the second installment of the now-weekly “Future Canes” prospect series! In this column, we take a look at Carolina Hurricanes prospects that are standing out and enjoying success, whether they’re playing in Canadian juniors, the American Hockey League (AHL), Europe, or anywhere around the world.
In this week’s series, we’ll have a look at a skilled Russian prospect who’s had success after moving up to a men’s league, as well as an undersized Finnish defender who continues to dazzle offensively in Liiga. Finally, we finish off with a look at a seldom mentioned winger who’s becoming a force in NCAA hockey, an unfortunate injury, and check in on potentially the most mysterious prospect in the Canes’ system! Let’s get started.
Despite being a seventh-round selection, Alexander Pashin was always going to be an exciting prospect to track. In the 2020 NHL Draft, a majority of scouts and analysts had him ranked as a top-100 talent, and some even had him in their top-50. Unfortunately for him, he was playing for Tolpar Ufa in the Russian junior league system in the midst of a global pandemic, which made live viewings of him nearly impossible. When you combine that with the fact that he’s listed at 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds, it’s very likely that he’d have gone undrafted if not for the Hurricanes swooping in to select him 199th overall.
After dominating the junior leagues with 84 points in just 78 games across the past two seasons, Pashin had clearly graduated beyond that level and has moved up to the VHL (which is basically the Russian equivalent to the AHL), and is playing for Toros Neftekamsk. He’s off to a torrid start there, as he leads the team with 10 goals in 18 games and has also added four assists. Among all U20 players in that league, he’s the leader in goals — in a group that includes highly-drafted NHL prospects like Nikita Chibrikov and Vasily Ponomaryov.
It’s important not to set expectations too high, but it’s very exciting that Pashin’s skills have translated seamlessly into a men’s league thus far. With him being severely undersized, the question of whether he can compete physically against much bigger and stronger competition will always be present, but the early returns look promising. I’ve compared his game — stylistically — to Johnny Gaudreau, as his speed, agility and hands draw the comparable. Both guys are also both tiny, and rely on offense to be effective. There’s a long road ahead for this kid, but this season is looking to be a very positive step in his development. In time, he could evolve into a legitimate steal, considering how late he was drafted.
Anttoni Honka is a player that I’ve been high on for a long while, despite his game really dividing the opinions of scouts. He’s a true offensive weapon from the back-end, with his phenomenal vision and outlet passing making him a force in transition. He’s not super rapid but he’s deceptively quick, very shifty as a puck carrier and isn’t afraid to try to deke around oncoming forecheckers. He’s posted 13 points in 21 games for JYP in Liiga over in Finland so far this season, after an impressive 31 points in 58 games there last year.
Where things get cloudy in regards to his NHL ceiling is the fact that he’s only 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, which automatically puts him at a disadvantage as a defenseman. Regardless of how well he learns to use gap control and leverage to defend, he’ll always be undersized and therefore will struggle physically against larger players — especially at the NHL level. The key for Honka will be avoiding contact, especially on dump-in situations where he’ll have his back to forecheckers. His elusiveness will be a major aide to him in that regard, but I worry that his two-step acceleration just isn’t good enough (currently) to get him out of trouble.
Despite the physical limitations, I have real faith in Honka becoming an NHL defenseman one day. His offensive instincts make him truly dynamic as a creator, and he can surely run an NHL power-play unit. He’ll have to adjust his overall game a bit to adapt the the physicality of NHL hockey, but he’s in a similar boat to a guy like current Hurricanes defenseman Tony DeAngelo, who can produce offense and be sheltered playing alongside a stable partner. I’m hoping that we’ll see him make a permanent move overseas to North America next summer, and therefore start adapting to being effective on smaller ice.
I’ve always taken the wait-and-see approach with Kevin Wall, because I didn’t know anything about him when the Hurricanes drafted him in 2019. He was a sixth-round pick that went undrafted the year before, and notably played alongside Rod Brind’Amour’s son Skyler with the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs during the 2018-19 season. He was considered to be a sniper — he has a phenomenal release on his wrist shot, and is a shoot-first player. His 31 goals across 49 games for Chilliwack in his draft year really emphasized that, and he makes scoring look easy.
He’s currently playing at Penn State University in the NCAA, and after an expectedly slow freshman season, took a big step forward as a sophomore with 19 points across 22 games in 2020-21. He’s taken another positive step forward so far this season as a junior — he has 7 goals and 12 points in 12 games — and leads the team in both categories. He’s still not a player that I’m overly familiar with, but he’s shown an ability to produce in a rather strong NCAA conference and is becoming a guy that’s worth tracking as he trends towards graduating into pro hockey over the next year and a half.
An Injury & A Mystery…….
Ryan Suzuki: The 20-year old was poised for a potential breakout season in Chicago, but THW’s own Greg Boysen (who’s credentialed for the Wolves) has reported that Suzuki is expected to be out long-term with an injury. It’s another unfortunate bump in the road for the player, who’s played in just 54 games over the past two and a half years since being the Hurricanes’ first-round selection in 2019. His potential remains very high, but luck has not been on his side.
Yegor Naumov: The Hurricanes saw enough in the nine games that Naumov played during the 2020-21 season to select him with a seventh-round pick, but it’s hard to know how they feel about his performance so far this season because he hasn’t actually featured in any of his team’s 30 games yet. Whether that’s because of injury, position on the depth chart or whatever else…..I have no clue. Finding information on this guy is like tracking the Loch Ness Monster. At this point in time, I’m not completely convinced that he exists.
The always important thing to remember with prospects is that development is non-linear. Some guys take longer to figure it out than others, and for some guys, it just never happens. Wisely, the Hurricanes’ philosophy over the past few drafts has been to trade back and add more picks, which in turn has added more players into their system, and that’s seen their prospect group grow into one of the deepest league-wide in the NHL.
Carolina Hurricanes writer. 23 years old. Ottawa, Canada. Prospect geek, hockey nerd.