If the Carolina Hurricanes hope to evolve into a perennial playoff contender, they must look first and foremost to their well-stocked but unproven cast of young prospects.
The performance of those youngsters, regardless of the results of this summer's NHL free agency and trade period, could well decide the fate of the 'Canes in 2013-14.
In recent low-round picks such as Ryan Murphy, Brock McGinn, Victor Rask, Keegan Lowe and Phil Di Giuseppe, the franchise must prove that their days of ineffective draft selections are long gone.
Additionally, though, the club must finally take advantage of their generally successful AHL affiliate in Charlotte, which has previously failed in the past to produce NHL regulars out of farm-system stars like Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman, Jerome Samson and Justin Peters.
But, for an elite class of Hurricanes prospects reaching big-league readiness, optimism remains strong. The group will be counted on significantly in this autumn's new season as the 'Canes seek greater depth scoring and more dependable defensive core, opening several opportunities for these prospects to earn full-time NHL roles.
Which youngsters in the Carolina system could have the biggest impacts in the fall? Which prospects should fans observe particularly closely as they fight for a training camp job? A breakdown of the 'Canes top prospects to watch in the 2013-14 NHL season falls on the coming slides.