Analyzing Each Carolina Hurricanes Prospect Forward Fighting for 2015-16 NHL Job

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IAugust 5, 2015

Analyzing Each Carolina Hurricanes Prospect Forward Fighting for 2015-16 NHL Job

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    Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    Carolina Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis has given a massive vote of confidence to the team's cast of prospects by leaving at least one NHL forward spot open entering training camp.

    Instead of drawing from a still-substantial pool of free-agent wingers, it appears likely that the 'Canes will enter September with only nine forwards on one-way contracts and two more, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask, on two-way deals but virtually guaranteed NHL jobs.

    It's difficult nevertheless to identify the top contenders to earn the final open spot (and/or knock a current forward out of another spot).

    Six forwards who played on a disappointing 2014-15 Charlotte Checkers team at the AHL will be in the mix, but a pair of Swedish league imports as well as hyped OHL product Sergey Tolchinsky will play wild-card roles in the competition.

    Important to note in the fight for a spot will be handedness. As I explored in a July column, nine of the 11 established Canes forwards shoot left-handed, leaving a greater need for right-handed shots; only two of the eight forwards described in this slideshow, moreover, are actually right-handed.

    Which prospect forwards will be competing for an NHL roster spot come October? Eight viable candidates are analyzed on the coming slides.

    Assuming a 40 percent chance that one of the 11 existing NHLers will be unseated, the percent chances for all eight prospects add up to 140 percent. Prospects are listed alphabetically.

Phil Di Giuseppe

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Shoots: Left

    Size: 6'0", 197 pounds

    2014-15 Season: AHL Charlotte Checkers (76 GP, 11G, 19A)

    Phil Di Giuseppe, a second-round pick in 2012, enters camp without a clear strength on which to boost his candidacy.

    His rookie AHL season wasn't too noteworthy by the numbers (he did still finish tied for fourth on the team in scoring), but he improved over the course of the season, finishing with 12 points in his last 20 appearances. He also led the team in shots on goal.

    Of greater concern was Di Giuseppe's work ethic. Per team reporter Paul Branecky, 2014-15 Checkers coach Jeff "Daniels felt that a nightly compete level and an ability to contribute in other ways than on the score sheet were areas in which Di Giuseppe should concentrate."

    Di Giuseppe was a highly touted prospect when drafted into the organization and could suddenly break out this fall. More likely, however, he needs another season of development in the minor leagues.

    Odds of Making Team: 5 percent

Brock McGinn

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Shoots: Left

    Size: 5'11", 186 pounds

    2014-15 Season: AHL Charlotte Checkers (73 GP, 15G, 12A)

    I had high hopes for Brock McGinn to be the breakout 'Cane of 2014-15. He wasn't, with Victor Rask taking that title instead, and for the first half of the AHL season, he looked like a contender for biggest bust.

    The spring yielded more success, however, and McGinn emerged as one of the most likely players from the 2014-15 Checkers roster to make the NHL jump in 2015-16. 

    The 2012 second-round pick has established himself as the conclusive better prospect than fellow 2012 second-rounder Phil Di Giuseppe and plays a furious, rough-and-tumble style uncharacteristic for forwards his size. He'd be a natural fit in the Hurricanes' bottom six.

    Odds of Making Team: 25 percent

Derek Ryan

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    Mark Jones/Freelance

    Shoots: Right

    Size: 5'11", 170 pounds

    2014-15 Season: SHL Orebro HK (55 GP, 15G, 45A)

    No member of the Hurricanes' 2015 training camp will be more interesting to watch than Derek Ryan, a 28-year-old, four-year veteran of pro hockey, making his North American professional debut.

    Ryan electrified Sweden this past year by leading the league in assists (by a mile) and points in his first and only season there.

    Now the undersized University of Alberta product will attempt to prove himself worthy of an NHL spot, the pot of gold at the end of a meandering, unusual career path. He plays with a mind for offense, being a natural playmaker and setup man—all desirable traits for a goal-starved 'Canes squad.

    Just how will he compare to his competitors, all of which are at least a half-decade younger, as well as potential equal-age NHL teammates is impossible to forecast.

    Odds of Making Team: 25 percent

Justin Shugg

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    James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

    Shoots: Right

    Size: 5'11", 185 pounds

    2014-15 Season: AHL Charlotte Checkers (65 GP, 21G, 22A)

    Virtual unknown Justin Shugg increased his AHL point total by just five, from 38 points in 2013-14 to 43 in 2014-15, but he went from sixth to first on the Checkers in scoring.

    Shugg's noteworthy success on a team that, overall, took a large step backward earned him a three-game NHL December call-up. While that brief stint proved uneventful, it nonetheless demonstrated the 2010 fourth-round selection's legitimate viability to bloom into a lower-line NHL plug and special teams contributor.

    2015-16 will almost certainly be a make-or-break season for the Ontario native, who turns 24 just before Christmas. Suddenly, however, there's reason to believe that Shugg could actually beat out his much more high-profile competitors for a 'Canes job.

    Odds of Making Team: 15 percent

Brody Sutter

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    Mark Jones/Freelance

    Shoots: Right

    Size: 6'5", 203 pounds

    2014-15 Season: AHL Charlotte Checkers (45 GP, 12G, 13A)

    There's arguably no more natural fourth-liner in this group than Brody Sutter, who boasts fantastic size, a relatively decent amount of hockey experience and a torrid streak (15 points in his last 17 games) to conclude the 2014-15 AHL campaign.

    Sutter may not have much upside beyond the fourth or perhaps the third line at the NHL level, but he fits all the prototypes of a successful NHL depth forward. Though he's had a few injury problems in his career, Sutter's toughness and body frame could lend itself well to the big leagues.

    Odds of Making Team: 30 percent

Sergey Tolchinsky

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    Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

    Shoots: Left

    Size: 5'8", 169 pounds

    2014-15 Season: OHL Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (61 GP, 30G, 65A)

    At the far opposite end of the size spectrum from the aforementioned Sutter is Sergey Tolchinsky, the defenseman-ridiculing, highlight reel-crashing petite Russian who has blown up the OHL and the 'Canes development camp for the last three years.

    No player will enter training camp with nearly as much fanfare as Tolchinsky, who is transitioning to the professional ranks two years after going undrafted and signing with Carolina.

    But can he make it in the NHL? It's a tough road for a player of Tolchinsky's stature to succeed, even despite his unreal puckhandling skills—much less without any AHL transition period and much less in a role alongside Brad Malone and Jay McClement rather than, say, Eric and Jordan Staal.

    Odds of Making Team: 5 percent

Lucas Wallmark

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Shoots: Left

    Size: 6'0", 176 pounds

    2014-15 Season: SHL Lulea HF (50 GP, 5G, 13A)

    Lucas Wallmark scored less than a quarter as many points as fellow SHL player Derek Ryan did in 2014-15. How could he possibly vie for a 'Canes job that Ryan is also in the mix for?

    Wallmark is also nine years younger—the youngest player in the eight-man bunch—and riding skyrocketing stock since being chosen 97th overall in 2014. He starred as a centerpiece for Sweden's World Junior Championships team and was arguably the best of very few teenagers in the SHL.

    Whether or not the dark horse immediately makes the NHL in 2014-15, the 'Canes have to be excited about what they've found in Wallmark.

    Odds of Making Team: 10 percent

Brendan Woods

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    MIKE MUNDEN/Associated Press

    Shoots: Left

    Size: 6'3", 215 pounds

    2014-15 Season: AHL Charlotte Checkers (68 GP, 13G, 17A)

    After nearly making the 'Canes last autumn, Brendan Woods is back and confident about his chances.

    Speaking to Tim Leone of Penn Live, Woods said, "I know they have some spots open. I'm trying to have the mindset this summer that I'm making the team going into camp. Now I want to get there and stick and stay, and be an all-time player rather than just a call-up." 

    The 23-year-old has more than enough size to fit in as an NHL-caliber checking forward and emerged as a contributing scorer in 2014-15 with Charlotte. He's a physical player, lacking star upside, but he's a reliable bet to make it to the NHL's lower tiers.

    Odds of Making Team: 25 percent

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