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30 in 30

Top prospects for Carolina Hurricanes

Forwards Sebastian Aho, Julien Gauthier might be ready to play in NHL this season

by Kurt Dusterberg / NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com is providing in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the Carolina Hurricanes.

With so many young players already in the Carolina Hurricanes lineup, you might think the organization would be running low on prospects. But the Hurricanes believe they have created plenty of competition in the pipeline for years to come.

One point of emphasis for Carolina in recent years has been drafting bigger players. The average drafted player at development camp this summer was 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, compared to 6-foot, 177 pounds in 2012.

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Coach Bill Peters believes the talent level at development camp has improved to the point that most of the prospects have comparable skill and speed.

"Two years ago, it was obvious who the best players were," Peters said. "Today, there aren't many guys who stand out. They're all playing at that high level."

Here are the Hurricanes' top five prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Sebastian Aho, RW

How acquired: Selected with No. 35 pick of 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: Karpat (FIN): 45 GP, 20-25-45.

The Hurricanes believe Aho, a strong skater with elite playmaking ability, is ready for full-time NHL duty.

Besides his strong play in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, last season, Aho, who turned 19 on July 26, further enhanced his reputation by leading Finland to a gold medal at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, centering a line with top 2016 NHL Draft picks Patrik Laine (Winnipeg Jets, No. 2) and Jesse Puljujarvi (Edmonton Oilers, No. 4). He then helped Finland win the silver medal with seven points in 10 games at the 2016 IIHF World Championship.  

At 5-11, 172, Aho might need to gain strength to handle the rigors of the NHL. But his offensive game is dynamic enough that the Hurricanes will pencil him into the lineup right away if he can make the transition to the smaller North American ice surface.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

Video: Hurricanes draft F Julien Gauthier No. 21

2. Julien Gauthier, RW

How acquired: Selected with No. 21 pick of 2016 NHL Draft

Last season: Val-d'Or (QMJHL): 54 GP, 41-16-57

The first attribute most people notice about Gauthier, who will be 19 on Oct. 15, is his build. At 6-4, 225, he has an NHL-ready body. His game may not be far behind.

"He can shoot the puck and he's hungry to score," Peters said. "He's going to take it to the net, get into the dirty areas and pay the price net-front. That's what he does, and that's what we need."

Gauthier's 41 goals were tied for sixth in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and he also had two points in five games for Canada at the 2016 WJC as its youngest player.

With the Hurricanes looking for bigger forwards, Gauthier's time might come sooner rather than later.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

3. Jake Bean, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 13 pick of 2016 NHL Draft

Last season: Calgary (WHL): 68 GP, 24-40-64

It was a bit of a surprise when the Hurricanes selected Bean, 18, considering they are deep with young NHL defensemen and defense prospects. But after a run on forwards at the 2016 draft leading up to the No. 13 pick, they chose Bean (6-1, 173) with the hope that he will grow into a player who can quarterback the power play.

Bean's 24 goals led Western Hockey League defensemen and were the most by a Calgary defenseman since the franchise was founded in 1995.

"He won't sacrifice the defensive end of it," Calgary coach Mark French said. "He doesn't want to play reckless. He spends a lot of time with attention to detail, whether it's with stick position or body position."

Projected NHL arrival: 2018-19

4. Haydn Fleury, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 7 pick of 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Red Deer (WHL): 56 GP, 12-29-41

Fleury, 20, appears to be the next young defenseman ready to play for the Hurricanes.

"I'm very, very impressed by the progress he's made from the time we drafted him to now," Peters said. "The things that he's needed to work on in his game, he's done. His maturity as a person has improved. He's another 6-foot-3, 200-plus [defenseman] who can skate. He's going to fit in to how we play."

Fleury (6-3, 221) will begin his professional career with Charlotte of the American Hockey League this season unless he makes a strong enough impression during training camp to earn a spot on the Hurricanes roster.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

5. Alex Nedeljkovic, G

How acquired: Selected with No. 37 pick of 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Flint (OHL): 19 GP, 9-7-2, 3.21 GAA, .907 SV%; Niagara (OHL): 30 GP, 15-13-2, 2.72 GAA, .907 SV%

Nedeljkovic, 20, earned a reputation for shouldering a heavy workload during his junior career, but he raised his profile during the 2016 WJC, when he helped the United States to a bronze medal. He was second in the tournament with a 1.66 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage in six games.

At 6-foot, 198, he's smaller than many of the starting goaltenders in the NHL. Instead, he relies on his athleticism and ability to make the spectacular save. He likely will get plenty of playing time in Charlotte this season.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

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