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Where Will Prospects Start?

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
There’s no question that Hurricanes prospects Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk and Jamie McBain all have a very good chance to be productive NHL players someday. But just when will that day arrive?

Paul Branecky
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Those three, along with the likes of Chris Terry and Brandon Sutter, the latter of which has already proven he can hang with the big boys, will be given every opportunity to make the team out of training camp rather than being reassigned to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate. However, even with such a large group of players rapidly approaching, the team isn’t counting on that happening just yet.

“Sometimes guys come out of great college or junior careers and I don’t think they understand how big the jump is,” said Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford. “With that being said, a guy like Bowman with the way he can shoot and score, if he has a good camp he’s going to have a chance. Same with Boychuk, same with Sutter, same with McBain.”

Director of Amateur Scouting Tony MacDonald, who helped draft each member of that group, agreed.

“I think most of the players that we have now, those young kids that we’re excited about, I think they’re knocking on the door but would probably have to come in and have the kind of training camp that would force you to consider keeping them here rather than allowing them to develop in the American league and get a little bit more seasoning,” he said.

With the exception of Sutter, who already has 50 NHL games under his belt from last year, next season will be the first full campaign at the professional level for each player from the above-mentioned group. Bowman and Terry are finished with their junior careers, McBain left the University of Wisconsin after his junior season and Boychuk will be able to turn pro earlier than most in his draft year due to his early October birth date.

That’s not to mention goaltender Mike Murphy, an exciting prospect in his own right who will likely have to wait another year or two to crack the Canes’ roster now that Cam Ward has established himself as an elite NHL netminder and Michael Leighton still has a year left on his contract.

Out of the entire group of prospects, it seems as though Bowman and Boychuk might have the best chance of starting the season in Carolina. As wingers, there are more roster spots that would suit them than in any other position, although one would think that they would require a place on a scoring line to develop their offensive talents rather than seeing time exclusively on the third and fourth units.

As is the case with most young defenseman, McBain may need a little bit more time to develop. Although he’s projected to play on the power play at the NHL level someday and may already be equipped to handle the offensive side of game, a year in the AHL would likely do wonders for his play in the back end.

Then there’s Sutter, who may appear as though he’s taken a step back in his development, but the Hurricanes don’t believe that to be the case. As of now he might have a tough time nailing down a spot at center with Eric Staal, Rod Brind’Amour, Matt Cullen and Jussi Jokinen all capable of playing the position, so a full year playing big minutes at the AHL level, now that his age allows him to do so, may suit him better in the long run.

As the Hurricanes found out a few years ago during the lockout, learning the tools of the trade the minors can speed up the development process more than slow it down.

“If these first-year pros coming out of junior and college had to play a half a year or a whole year in Albany, that’s not going to hurt their development,” said Rutherford. “One of the best thing for Eric [Staal]’s development was the work stoppage, where he got to play in Lowell. Things weren’t as quick in that league as they are here, and he got a chance to develop some of his skills in a development league.”

“If you look at Eric Staal and Cam Ward, they went to the American Hockey League and became dominant players, even though Eric had already been in the NHL here,” said MacDonald. “That probably contributed significantly to the success that both of these players are enjoying today. Cam established himself as a top-level goalie, and Eric learned how to dominate at the professional level.”

In order to give the prospects a better chance to shine than they may otherwise be given among the established veterans at training camp, the Hurricanes will be participating in the Detroit Red Wings’ rookie camp in Traverse City, Michigan, where seven other NHL teams will be sending their best prospects. The team has not been to such a camp since prior to the 2005-06 season in Ottawa.

“That will give these guys four games prior to coming to the big camp, which I think really gives them an advantage,” said Rutherford. “Playing these games against guys more their own age gives them some confidence to come in here and just carry it on from there.”

Given their talent, it’s too early to count any of these players out to start next season with the Canes, but at the very least, the team’s AHL affiliate will have a very talented young roster on its hands.

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