RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The 2020 NHL Entry Draft on Oct. 6 is less than a week away. The depth of offensive talent coupled with the ongoing pandemic has made it, for better or worse, one of the most intriguing drafts in hockey history.
The Carolina Hurricanes and their strategy heading into Tuesday are one of the more compelling angles. It certainly looks like the ‘Canes are building a team that should be able to compete for years to come. Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov — 23 and 20 years old, respectively — are the cornerstones of one of the deepest organizations when it comes to talent at the forward positions.
Beyond Aho and Svechnikov, Martin Necas is coming off a rookie campaign in which he scored 16 goals and notched 20 assists in 64 games — more than a half-point per game. Necas also became a fixture on the team’s second power-play unit.
Ryan Suzuki seems to be the most promising forward in the ‘Canes organization. The 2019 first-round pick finished with 58 points in 44 games split between the Barrie Colts and Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League. It was a modest improvement of 0.15 points per game.
Carolina has tons of promising, skillful forward behind Suzuki, though. Wingers Patrik Puistola and Dominik Bokk project to be valuable NHLers down the line. At center, the ‘Canes saw Morgan Geekie burst onto the scene with a pair of goals in his debut with the club. Jamieson Rees, a second-round pick a year ago, took a big step forward with 61 points in 39 games with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting.
What position might the ‘Canes target?
That excess of talent on offense could be a major factor in who the ‘Canes pick Tuesday. Other than the left-handed Jake Bean, who is ready to be an NHL mainstay this coming season, the team doesn’t have any other defensive prospects that project to be a mainstay on one of their top pairings.
Carolina will have to either trade up or get very lucky if they want to land one of the top-two defenseman in this class: Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson. Most projections have them going in the top-10. Other blueliners like Braden Schneider and Justin Barron projected to go anywhere from around 15th to the mid-20s.
That leaves goaltending. The consensus once was that Alex Nedeljkovic would become Carolina’s starting netminder. He backstopped the Charlotte Checkers to the 2019 Calder Cup. He’s 24 years old and has yet to get a run of games at the NHL level, but hasn’t exactly stood out in his few opportunities in Raleigh. He had a .887 save percentage and 3.05 goals-against average in four games this past season.
So who do the ‘Canes pick?
Yaroslav Askarov, G
Given organizational needs and what is likely to be available when they pick, the ‘Canes could be the landing spot for the draft’s top-ranked goaltender: Yaroslav Askarov. Some have compared Askarov to Carey Price when he was draft-eligible.
“The toolkit, the brain and the performance over a long period of time point to a unique goalie prospect,” wrote The Athletic’s Corey Pronman, who called Askarov “one of the best goalie prospects” he’s ever seen.
Elite goaltending — even consistently above average work in net — has largely eluded the ‘Canes since Cam Ward left in 2018. Askarov could break into Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League this coming season and could be ready for a big role in the NHL much earlier than the average goalie.
Seth Jarvis, C/W
There’s no promise that Askarov will be available at 13, so the ‘Canes will need to have some other targets lined up. Seth Jarvis should be one of their top backup options.
Jarvis, in 58 games with the Portland Winterhawks last season, had 42 goals and 98 points — a massive step forward from 39 points the year before. He was the second-highest scorer in the Western Hockey League. Scouts say he can skate at NHL level and describe his style as “direct.”
Jarvis may look on paper like a handful of other prospects in the organization, but sometimes it’s best just to pick the best player remaining on the board. If Askarov is gone, there’s a good chance Jarvis is that guy.
Anton Lundell, C
On paper, Anton Lundell doesn’t come across as having as much raw offensive talent as some of the others who may be available at 13. He had 10 goals and 18 assists in 44 games this season in the Finnish Elite League.
Lundell’s scoring output should be taken with a grain of salt considering he’s playing professional hockey against men. Sebastian Aho had four goals and nine assists in his draft year in the same league.
Lundell projects as a two-way, rounded player who is responsible in the defensive zone and can show some creativity from time to time. He can be an effective penalty killer and could fit onto a second power-play unit. Some scouts say he likely slots in as a third-line center, but others have reason to believe he can continue to develop his skating and offense to one day be a top-six player.
Braden Schneider, D
Carolina could like the idea to draft a right-handed defenseman to eventually be the other half of a pairing with Jake Bean. Rankings and mock drafts have Braden Schneider going anywhere from a few picks outside the top-10 to the mid-20s. So, it could be argued that taking Schneider 13th overall would be a reach.
Still, if the ‘Canes want a defenseman, Schneider is a guy with a high floor. Scouts say almost unanimously that he doesn’t have a ton of offensive upside in that he likely won’t ever develop into a power-play quarterback. He does show “great vision and patience” in moving the puck out of the defensive zone, according to Pronman.
Scouts say Schneider can skate well, especially for a 6-foot-2, 202-pound defender. His skillset now has little missing from it and he could one day be a reliable complement to a more offensive-minded blueliner in a top-four pairing.
Jack Quinn, C/W
Jack Quinn was the third-leading scorer for an Ottawa 67’s team that finished top of its conference in the OHL. He and draft classmate Marco Rossi, who is expected to be a top-10 pick, was a formidable tandem. The two combined for 91 goals and 118 assists last year.
Quinn scored 52 of those goals, but some scouts say he isn’t exactly a “sniper.” Many of his goals came around the net. He’s also described as skillful and lauded for his ability to beat defenders 1-on-1.
Finally, Quinn is praised by scouts for his play off the puck and his competitive drive — traits that ‘Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour can surely appreciate.