4.11.24 Future Story

RALEIGH, NC. - The Carolina Hurricanes are days away from beginning their postseason journey, but since the calendar flipped to April, they've showcased that their future is still as bright as could be too.

After inking 2021 second-round pick Scott Morrow to start the month, the team has signed four more players to entry-level contracts, including college standouts Bradly Nadeau and Jackson Blake.

Both had several more years of NCAA eligibility, however, after impressing mightily during their short times at school, all parties involved felt that the time was now to turn pro.

Already practicing and traveling with the big club, the goal for the next few weeks is for the two to get a taste of what it's like to be a pro, and learning more about what's to come.

"You bring these young kids along, they're going to be big parts of this franchise at some point," Rod Brind'Amour said after Thursday's practice. "The sooner they can get up to speed and feel comfortable, it just helps their development."

While Blake has a bit of a leg up on understanding what it's like to be in and around an NHL locker room thanks to his dad and long-time NHLer, Jason, the adjustment is a sizeable one for Nadeau.

Just 19, this time last year he was playing British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) playoff games in front of just over 1,000 people.

Now he's catching passes from guys like Brent Burns, who was in the league for years before Nadeau was even born.

"I think just getting used to (being around the team), is going to be a big thing," the 2023 first-round draft pick said earlier this week. "Getting involved, seeing how it is as a pro athlete, and getting used to that routine is going to be really important for me."

Producing 46 points in 37 games with Maine this season, only five freshmen in all of NCAA D1 hockey had better numbers than Nadeau.

Wowing Canes brass with his ability to almost flawlessly make the jump from Canadian junior hockey, the team now feels confident that he'll be able to adjust to the life in the pros.

"The jump from the BCHL to the NCAA was maybe a bigger jump than the one that he is about to make by going from the NCAA to the NHL. That’s not to disrespect the BCHL in any way, nor the players he played against, but the league is not as good as the NCAA," Canes Assistant General Manager Darren Yorke, who runs the draft for Carolina, shared. "To do what he did in one year and the ability to transition and adapt his game in such a short time is incredible. We were cognizant of that and the ability for him to showcase multiple different assets is why we felt he is ready to take the next step in his career.”

Were the Canes surprised he was able to have so much success in such a short time?

“Yeah, maybe a little. It’s so uncommon. There’s not many people that do what he did in the BCHL," Yorke continued. "He was in a very small sample size to begin with, but after watching him in his first few NCAA games, there was no real surprise. It’s just a continuation of how consistent that he’s been, playing at such a high level."

As for Blake, his cheery demeanor and youthful smile suggest he's eager to begin experiencing life as a pro.

Whether the Hobey Baker Finalist or Nadeau make their NHL debut within the next few weeks remains to be seen, but again, it's all about the years to come for the pair, not the days.

"There's no expectations right now, we'll see what happens in the future," Blake said on Thursday. "Right now I'm just happy to be here and it's awesome."

Like Nadeau, he also wasn't anticipating being here so soon, but the success at school presented an opportunity that he considered the right jump to make.

"This just felt right for me. Obviously, I didn't expect to only play until my sophomore year there, but the coaching staff (at North Dakota) did such a good job of maturing me and developing my game that it made sense that now was the time to take that next step," he continued.

Admitting that he did consider returning to NoDak for a junior year, ultimately conversations with the Canes led Blake to thinking that signing the three-year, entry-level contract, was the correct move.

"I think the best way to describe what Jackson has done this season is dominant," Yorke reviewed of Blake's time in the NCAA ranks. "When you watch him and he gets the puck, it looks like almost every single time he's going to be able to do something. You see the highlight reel plays, the goals, the celebrations, and it's accumulated into a dominant season."

The first player since Zach Parise to reach the 100-point milestone in just two seasons at North Dakota, Blake's stock has done nothing but grow since being selected by the Canes in the fourth round of the 2021 draft.

Finishing with 21 points more than his next closest teammate this season, the 20-year-old was a legitimate game-changer in every way.

Now, the next task at hand for Blake will involve learning what he can and can't do at this level.

"There's a whole learning curve, and there's a whole nervous curve, and you know the 'Do I really want to try these moves?'" Brind'Amour furthered on his two newest roster members. "You've got to get that out of the way so they can be the best players that they can be. Coming around now is great for them."

Carolina closes out their regular season on Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7 p.m.