It looks like help is on the way for the Carolina Hurricanes, who became the first team in NHL history to miss out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs for two straight seasons after winning the Cup in 2006.
The reason for optimism is the progression of Carolina's 2007 Draft class. In fact, there's reason to believe a few players are prepared to make the jump to the NHL this fall.
"You really want to try to evaluate these kids as quickly as possible to figure out the kind of player they are and the style they bring," Carolina's Director of Player Development Ron Francis said. "What are their strengths, their weaknesses and if there's an area that you feel they could improve, you can try and explain that to them and work with them to sure things up."
The Hurricanes also strengthened their depth chart at the 2008 Entry Draft, selecting center Zach Boychuk, wingers Zac Dalpe and Samuel Morneau, defenseman Michael Jordan and goalie Mike Murphy.
"The biggest thing with a lot of these kids is that they're just too young and they need time to mature, grow into their bodies and get stronger," Francis said. "While that process is taking place, you want to work their game a little bit as well."
Here's a look at Carolina's top prospects heading into the 2008-09 season.
Brandon Sutter -- The 6-foot-3, 170-pounder was taken in the first round (No. 11) last year, making him was the ninth member of the Sutter family to be drafted into the NHL. The 19-year-old son of current New Jersey Devils coach Brent completed his third full season with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League, leading the team with 26 goals and 49 points. He also helped Team Canada win this year’s World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic, chipping in an assist and plus-1 rating in Canada’s seven games in the tournament. Sutter, a versatile forward with great puck pursuit, also participated in the Canada/Russia Challenge in Chilliwack, British Columbia and the CHL Top Prospects Game in 2007.
"Brandon has played a ton of hockey the last few years and we felt it was important for us to shut him down a bit and give him some rest," Francis said. "We've helped him out with his cardio and diet to help him get stronger and put a little more weight on that frame of his. But he's a kid from great bloodlines, and he things the game extremely well. He's a player we're very confident will be playing in the NHL someday."
Bobby Hughes -- In 2006-07, Hughes, who is extremely tough to knock off the puck, scored 40 goals and 56 assists in just 59 games with Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League to finish 10th in the regular-season scoring race. Since January 2008, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound center, drafted in the fourth round (No. 123) in 2006 has been hampered by head and neck injuries. He did see time in 26 games with Albany of the American Hockey League this past season, scoring six goals and 10 assists.
"He started off well, but was the hit with injuries that hurt his progression," Francis said. "We're not sure exactly where he's at right now, but he's certainly a talented kid who we're hoping will rebound."
"I think that confidence he had in training camp just carried over to Spokane and he had a great year. When you are part of a championship team, that's huge. To gain that experience, that kind of success and understand what a championship is all about is invaluable at that age. I’m sure he's working hard and ready to push again in September."
-- Ron Francis on Drayson Bowman
He was the Memorial Cup Tournament’s leading goal-scorer with six in four games, leading Spokane to the championship with a victory over Kitchener in the final. He was also the only player to register points in every game his team played.
"I think that confidence he had in training camp just carried over to Spokane and he had a great year," Francis said. "When you are part of a championship team, that's huge. To gain that experience, that kind of success and understand what a championship is all about is invaluable at that age. I’m sure he's working hard and ready to push again in September."
Harrison Reed -- Drafted by the Hurricanes in the third round (No. 93) in 2006, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound right wing was a teammate of Steven Stamkos on the OHL's
Sarnia Sting for two seasons (2006-08).
He totaled 61 goals, 88 assists and 100 penalty minutes in 163 games with Sarnia. Reed put up 81 points for Sarnia in 2006-07, but a slow start (18 points in 28 games) this past season led to his being dealt to the Guelph Storm. Reed had eight goals, 21 assists and a plus-6 rating in 41 regular-season games and three goals, two assists and a plus-1 rating in 10 playoff games with Guelph in 2007-08. He exhibits a positive work ethic in the offensive zone, is strong on his skates and will never retreat in a battle for a loose puck.
Jamie McBain -- A 6-foot-1, 200-pound offensive defenseman with good puck-handling skills, McBain recently completed his second season at the University of Wisconsin where he had five goals, 19 assists and was plus-11 in 35 games. McBain spent 2005-06 with the U.S. Under-18 National Team and in 55 games had nine goals and 21 assists along with 41 penalty minutes. Six of his nine goals came on the power play. He was drafted by the Hurricanes in the second round (No. 63) in 2006.
"He's progressing well," Francis said. "He's in a good program with good coaches and he's shown a real good skill set, in addition to becoming more of a vocal leader. That's something we like to see, and we expect him to continue his progression."
"He stepped in and played really well when we he was called up last season. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury that ended his season, but he has since had surgery and has done rehab and is back on the ice and progressing well. We expect big things from Casey again this coming season."
-- Ron Francis on Casey Borer
"He stepped in and played really well when we he was called up last season," Francis said. "Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury that ended his season, but he has since had surgery and has done rehab and is back on the ice and progressing well. We expect big things from Casey again this coming season."
Brett Carson -- Carson is an interesting story because despite finishing among the worst on the Albany River Rats with a minus-12 rating, his ability to play either up front or along the blue line makes him an extremely valuable commodity. He finished the 2007-08 season with 24 points and 32 penalty minutes in 77 games for Albany and, at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, already possesses an NHL-sized frame. Carson was plucked in the fourth round (No. 109) in the 2004 Draft. He has an ability to handle the puck well under duress and rarely makes a bad outlet pass.
Kyle Lawson -- Lawson, a seventh-round pick (No. 198) in 2005, has progressed into an offensive-minded defenseman capable of standing up well at the blue line while playing tough in the corners. He completed his second year at Notre Dame, scoring five goals and adding 21 assists and 36 penalty minutes in 45 games. He finished tied for second on Fighting Irish with a plus-13 rating and was named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team. He also assisted on Notre Dame's only goal in a 4-1 loss to Boston College in the NCAA Championship game in April. Notre Dame's coaching staff regards Lawson as steady, reliable and smart.
Justin Peters -- Carolina goaltending coach Tom Barrasso worked closely with Peters last season and it showed as he put up an 18-10-2 record with a 2.57 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 31 games with Florida in the ECHL. Drafted in the second round (No. 38 overall) in 2004, Peters was sent to Florida after Carolina signed 27-year-old goalie Michael Leighton to a two-year contract in June. While Leighton and incumbent starter Carolina starter Cam Ward team up on the big club in 2008-09, Peters will continue to progress -- likely in Albany, according to Francis.
"Justin has made huge strides, and it's a credit to him and a credit to Tommy (Barrasso) for getting that kind of play out of him," Francis said. "We do expect him to take that next step and be with Albany (in the AHL) and continue to make progress toward the NHL."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.