With the Hurricanes hosting an unusually high number of European-based players at this year’s conditioning camp, there’s some uncertainty about who will play where next season.
Gregory Hofmann, an 18-year-old forward who joined the Hurricanes in the fourth round (103rd overall) of last June’s draft, is an exception as he’s planning to play one more season with Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss National League. Until a few weeks ago, he had been considering a move to the Canadian junior hockey league, but decided against it at the last minute.
“I made the decision the day before the CHL import draft to stay one more year,” he said. “In Switzerland I play with men and I thought the level of game was better for my development. It may have also been pretty good in Canada, but for me the best thing was to stay.”
Last season, Hofmann took home league rookie of the year honors in his first full campaign in Switzerland’s toughest division, scoring 12 points (3g, 9a) in 41 games. That, along with strong performances during a tournament in Penticton, British Columbia, and the World Junior Championship in Buffalo (he tied for second on the team with 4 points in seven games), was enough for the NHL’s Central Scouting service to rank him as the 11th-best European skater. Interestingly enough, those rankings had him one spot ahead of the Hurricanes’ second-round choice, Victor Rask, who the team drafted 61 spots earlier.
If that suggests he might be a steal, his on-ice performances at conditioning camp back that up. After expectedly eye-catching showings by the likes of Rask and first-round choice Ryan Murphy, Hofmann, a natural center who also played his fair share of wing last season, was a standout among later picks due to his shot and skating ability.
That being said, observers understandably did not get a chance to see any physical play in the demanding yet friendly environment of camp. One might not guess it from his origins and modest 6-foot, 170-pound frame, but that’s reportedly one of his strongest suits.
“He plays a pretty involved game physically for a European player,” said Hurricanes Director of Amateur Scouting Tony MacDonald following this summer’s draft. “That’s one of the things we noticed first when we saw him play.”
“I love that kind of game,” said Hofmann, his soft-spoken nature adding further surprise to his statement. “I really like playing on the small ice in North America.”
Though Hofmann will wait another season before doing that full time, he could make the jump to the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers next season. A few of his fellow campers, Swedish forwards Rask and Mattias Lindstrom, could cross continents in time for the upcoming campaign, although neither player claimed to know his fate as of yet.
Unlike Hofmann, Rask did enter the CHL Import Draft on June 29, where he was selected third overall by the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen – yet another option he has for next season along with the AHL and a return to his Swedish club team.
Lindstrom, the Hurricanes’ third-round pick in 2009, has another year on his contract in Sweden, but could play in Charlotte if his club team in Skelleftea, which used him sparingly last season, allows it.
“Last season wasn’t so great,” admitted Lindstrom, who missed most of the previous season with a knee injury. “I was hoping to play more.”
The Canes’ other European-based prospect to attend this year’s camp, goaltender Frederik Andersen, will move from his native Denmark to Sweden’s Frolunda next season.