joined the Compuware youth hockey program when he was 14. Six years later, he has signed a professional contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Canes inked Levi to a three-year, entry-level deal on March 16, bolstering their organizational defensive depth.
Born in Ohio but raised in Colorado, Levi is a 6-foot-3, 192-pound defenseman in his fourth season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers. The Canes drafted Levi in the third round (85th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
“As far as playing hockey, he’s still really young in that process,” said Ron Francis, director of hockey operations. “He does a lot of things well. He’s a big guy who skates and defends well, so that part of the game is probably more developed. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t think he can add some offense to his game.”
Before moving to Michigan with his family to play in the Compuware youth hockey program, Levi grew up with the Colorado Avalanche and began his hockey-playing career in the Centennial State. His OHL stint began in the 2008-09 season when he played 12 regular season games and five playoff games for the Whalers.
“You can tell by looking at him that he’s very much an athlete,” Francis said. “I’m not surprised he was able to sort of pick this up and progress the way he has.”
This season, Levi recorded career highs in assists (25), points (30) and plus/minus (plus-20). In his four-year OHL career, Levi recorded a plus-50 rating, which speaks to what he said about himself in 2010 when he was drafted.
“I’d say I’m a stay-at-home defenseman,” he told the media in Los Angeles. “I like to take care of my defensive responsibilities before trying to contribute offensively.”
He then noted that he had room to grow in his offensive game, something Francis still today said would be a focus of his development moving forward.
“Are there parts of his game that need to get better? Absolutely. But, that’s the case in most young guys,” Francis said. “There are a lot of things he does well and a lot of things that we already like in his game that we hope to build upon.”
Levi’s Whalers ran away with the West Division in the OHL’s Western Conference, finishing the season with a 47-18-3 record (97 points). They will face the seventh-seeded Guelph Storm in the first round of the playoffs, which begin on Friday. The opening round will at least run until March 29 with game seven spilling over into April, if needed.
High expectations abound for his Plymouth team in the playoffs, Levi might not get the opportunity to make the jump to the AHL this season.
“The expectation may or may not work as far as getting him to Charlotte, depending on how far Charlotte goes and how far Plymouth goes,” Francis said.
Despite where Levi skates this spring, the Canes will be invested in his work over the summer. Francis expects Levi to play in Traverse City in September, which would mark his third appearance in the annual prospects tournament.
“We would talk to him about his conditioning over the course of the summer, and give him some targets to hit for training camp,” Francis said.
In the summer of 2011, Levi put time in at the U.S. World Junior camp in Lake Placid. He was named to the preliminary U.S. World Junior roster in December and attended the final camp, just barely missing the cut for the World Junior team roster.
“I liked the fact that he was willing to listen to his coaches and continue to work on the areas he needed to work on to get better,” Francis said. “For me, it was the continued progress that he was making over time that kept me interested.”
Next season, Levi will have a shot at making the big club, albeit a long one. A crowded situation on the blue line certainly lessens his odds, but that doesn’t mean Francis wants to set the bar low.
“We always hope for all our guys to compete here. I’d like him to put in the time and effort over the summer to push as hard as he possibly can,” he said. “If he doesn’t make it here, then we certainly expect him to be a big part in Charlotte.
“He’s a real good kid with good character, he wants to be a player and he’s willing to work hard at it,” Francis said. “When you factor those things in with the fact that he’s very athletic, you end up with a guy that’s accomplished what he has at this point, and hopefully there’s even more upside to him.”