ELCzn: a look at the outlook that could sign with hurricanes
The Hurricanes are one of the few teams in the entire National Hockey League where both the present and the future look bright. Can you imagine saying in 2014 that the Hurricanes would have the best points percentage in hockey, a team that competed every night, a team that drafted well and a team that was one of the most exciting teams in hockey? It’s crazy to think about it.
I’m always looking to the future of the franchise, and it’s brilliant. With the Chicago Wolves playing well, the Hurricanes having 10 World Juniors prospects and potentially one at the Olympics, the future is so bright. In this article, I want to highlight a few players who could sign their first NHL contracts in the coming months. But first, I want to talk about the players who have already signed contracts since they are almost guaranteed to turn pro next season.
Perspectives under contract
The Hurricanes currently have six prospects under contract who do not currently play professional North American hockey. First the three Finns: Tuukka Tieksola, Ville Koivunen and Aleksi Heimosalmi. Tieksola has a tremendous amount of skill and hockey sense and plays with a ton of rhythm. I love the way he can lead the game in the attacking zone, and when he’s in his game Tieksola is one of the best players out there.
We got a glimpse of what Koivunen was capable of at the World Juniors last week. He can score from just about anywhere, he’s a formidable playmaker and one of the smartest players on the ice. Koivunen has star potential, and if he can go faster I really believe he can rack up over 60 points per season.
Before talking about Heimosalmi, I want to say that the term “defenseman who moves the puck” should be abolished. If you can’t move the puck and play rhythmically, you’re not going to be very successful in the NHL. This is how the modern game is played and defenders will have to adapt. Heimosalmi is a modern defenseman whose hockey acumen and calm playstyle should enable him to attend NHL games.
Out of those three, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tieksola and Koivunen go pro next year. Both players could take more advantage of an opportunity, and they would work with a terrific coach in Chicago. Heimosalmi could benefit from another year of development in Finland. He plays on a bad team and while he sees good minutes there are some things I would like to see before he comes to North America. Koivunen and Heimosalmi’s contracts may slip for another year if they are loaned to Finland next season.
Then we have the two Russians, Vasiliy Ponomaryov and Piotr Kochetkov. Ponomaryov is the type of player the Hurricanes want. He works hard, is strong in forward check, plays with his body and has enough sense and skill in hockey to be a contributor in the offensive zone. I imagine we see Ponomaryov in Chicago to start the year, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he climbs up the depth table quickly due to his style of play. Kochetkov has the potential to be the goalkeeper. future and regularly makes dangerous stops. He still needs to work on his rebound control, but I’ve seen some major improvements in his game this season. Kochetkov is one of the only reasons his team are still in the playoff race and should be fun to watch next season.
Finally, we have Ronan Seeley. Seeley is an elite skater with great offensive instincts and good gap control. Another modern defenseman, Seeley is able to move the puck and play responsible defensive play. He will thrive in the system the Hurricanes created.
Which prospects will sign contracts?
Jack LaFontaine is one of two prospects whose rights will expire this year if they are not signed. The other is Lenni Killinen. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I didn’t expect Killinen to be offered a contract due to his lack of development and average play at best in Finland. LaFontaine is an interesting case, however. For now, the Hurricanes have Eetu Makiniemi and Alex Lyon between the pipes in Chicago, with Beck Warm in the ECHL.
Kochetkov will likely come to North America next season, which leaves the Hurricanes with a bit of a stalemate. Of course, Lyon and Warm are free agents, but that still leaves the Hurricanes with two quality goalkeepers behind Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta. LaFontaine has potential in the NHL and should see some games in the NHL, but in the end I wonder if he will choose to sign elsewhere due to the presence of several goaltenders ahead of him on the depths board.
If I’m the Hurricanes I’d try to see if Noel Gunler is ready to go pro. Gunler’s contract with Brynas IF expires at the end of this season, and with his team likely out of the playoff photo, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s brought to Chicago for the playoffs. His stats aren’t immediately obvious to you, but when you watch him play you see how good Gunler can be with the right development. Gunler is good enough to play in the AHL’s top-nine next season and Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky is the perfect coach for him. He will play Gunler to his strengths, which will help Gunler realize his potential.
Speaking of players whose European contracts expire, why not explore the possibility of signing Anttoni Honka? Honka has been incredibly productive at a poor team in Finland for two years now and his contract expires at the end of the season. Like Gunler’s situation, Honka’s squad is decidedly not a playoff team. He could also join Chicago for their Calder Cup run at the end of the season.
Joel Nystrom is a dark horse hopeful that I got to see signing. He still has a year left on his SHL contract, but he has played incredibly well in Sweden this season. He could end his contract with Farjestad BK next year, giving him the development time he needs before coming to North America. Nystrom isn’t as flashy as your typical Hurricane pick, but he does play a responsible defensive game. He may never be a top defenseman, but he could see PK’s time and NHL-level third-minute pairing.
Possible, but unlikely
Scott Morrow is the headliner of this group. This is the hopeful squad where I could definitely see the Hurricanes sign, but it might be better if they stay in their respective leagues for another year. Morrow has ignited the NCAA and is one of the best defensemen in college hockey this season. His defensive game still needs work and can be improved upon while he is in college, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Morrow is signed after his season is over.
Other prospects in this category include Kevin Wall, Dom Fensore, Alexander Pashin, and Patrik Puistola. Wall is scoring a ton of goals this season, but with Chicago’s depth, I’m having a hard time finding him a spot next season. It might be better if he stayed in college for another year. Fensore has another year of college eligibility, so I imagine the Hurricanes are keeping him in college. Puistola could also spend another year in Finland, especially since he only recently saw an increase in points and efficiency.
Pashin, however, is an interesting case. His KHL contract expires on April 30 and he hasn’t had many opportunities to showcase his skills in the KHL. Pashin currently has 18 points in 24 VHL games and has represented Russia at the World Juniors for one game. He’s incredibly skillful and plays at an NHL pace, which gives me confidence in saying he’s playing an NHL game. It may take some time for Pashin to adjust to the North American game and the way the Hurricanes play, but if he hits his cap he could be one of the top prospects in the 2020 Draft.
Whatever happens, the Hurricanes have a bright future. They have drafted incredibly well over the past few seasons and have become one of the best teams in hockey from top to bottom. As always, I look forward to the future and can’t wait to see what this franchise has in store for us.