RALEIGH — As quickly as the four-day NHL Prospect Showcase ended the start of training camp is upon us.
The Hurricanes hosted the Panthers, Predators and Lightning for a three-game round-robin tournament at both Invisalign Arena and PNC Arena, showcasing many of the top prospects each team has to offer.
And while there weren’t any breakout stars like Seth Jarvis at last year’s tournament, some players did turn heads and put themselves in a good position as players hit the ice on Thursday.
1. The Hurricanes forwards that were expected to be the prospect team’s best were just that. That started with team captain Jamieson Rees.
Rees had a two-goal, one-assist game in the finale against the Lightning, and he was in the middle of seemingly every scrum in Carolina’s three games. The Hurricanes went 2-1.
His assist on Monday, a centering pass from below the goal line to Justin Robidas, came after he caught an elbow up to the face. Rather than retaliate, he set up the goal.
“They’re gonna do whatever they can,” Rees said of the play. “It’s not gonna stop me or it’s just going to help me, piss me off a little bit.”
While Rees is listed at just 5-foot-10, 182 pounds, he had no problem dishing it out as well. He was the Hurricanes’ most physical player during the tournament and even had a fight. And like they say about picking the biggest guy in the prison yard to make sure everyone knows you mean business, Rees did that by scrapping with 6-foot-7, 232-pound Nashville center Jachym Kondelik.
“Games 2 and 3 for him were really, really good,” Brock Sheahan, the new Chicago Wolves coach who ran the bench for Carolina during the tournament, said of Rees. “And not just the stat line, but his play off the puck was much better than day one. … That’s kind of what we expected. I thought he was pretty dominant.”
2. Two other players who raised eyebrows were Vasily Ponomarev and Alexander Pashin.
Ponomarev did it with his overall play throughout the tournament.
“I think Vasily is a big-time player,” Sheahan said. “I thought he was very, very consistent. And he’s got a lot of ‘really good’ to his game.”
Pashin, meanwhile, did it with one spectacular play, mimicking countryman Andrei Svechnikov with a lacrosse goal in the win against Tampa Bay.
Pashin set up behind the Lightning net and first tried to pass to Rees in front. The puck came back to Pashin, and he had plenty of time to think things over. He scooped the puck and threw it in over the right shoulder of Lightning goalie Hugo Alnefelt.
“I didn’t know he had it in the (tool) bag,” said Rees of Passion’s lacrosse goal. “He made the first pass to me and then I obviously knew after that he wanted it the first time. But he gave it to me and he got it back, and it honestly looked like there was no room and I saw it come out the other side. I was like, ‘Wow.’”
“He had a lot of time,” Sheahan said. “It was amazing. I’m not surprised, just the two days of practice seeing his skill set.”
It wasn’t Sheahan’s first time watching a lacrosse goal from the bench. On Jan. 2 while coaching the USHL’s Chicago Steel, Sheahan got an up-close look at another when Adam Fantilli, one of the top prospects in next year’s draft, pulled it off.
“With kids today, like the amount of skill these guys have, it’s not that surprising. … You’ve got to have the confidence to do it. ” Sheahan said.
I saw Hurricanes goalie coach Paul Schonfelder after the goal and asked him if there’s anything he teaches his goalies to try and defend lacrosse moves. He said, “All you can do is get your head there,” adding that it’s unnatural to have to do that.
So we can expect, much to John Tortorella’s dismay, more of them in the future.
My All-Showcase team (perhaps not the six best players, but representing all four teams):
Goalie: Yaroslav Askarov, Nashville
Defense: Santtu Kinnunen, Florida; Declan Carlile, Tampa Bay
Forward: Egor Afanasyev, Nashville; Vasily Ponomarev, Carolina; Jamieson Rees, Carolina
3. Sheahan was happy with how things came together during the tournament after a rough opening game against the Panthers.
“We’ve talked about getting better from start to finish, and I thought our start was really good in this game,” Sheahan said after the win. “Just more and more of our game and how we wanted to play, we saw it as we went on.”
A couple of people in the Hurricanes organization told me it’s not only difficult to have unfamiliar players thrown together for a tournament like this, but the team is also trying to give them their first taste of how Carolina wants to play.
That means up-tempo and aggressive, and that’s not easy for players coming from Europe or juniors who aren’t used to that mindset.
Rees, one of the few players familiar with the team’s preferred style, said Sheahan has made it easier.
“He’s been really detailed,” Rees said, “and I think that’s why we’re able to kind of pick up on it so fast. Every time you got to the bench, he’s got something that he’ll say and don’t take it the wrong way because all it’s going to do is help you get better.”
Sheahan has big shoes to fill. Carolina’s AHL team has won the last two awarded Calder Cups, with the Charlotte Checkers winning in 2019 and the Chicago Wolves bringing home the title last year. He replaces Ryan Warsofsky, who landed an assistant coach spot on new Sharks coach David Quinn’s staff.
4. Defenseman Jake Gardiner wasn’t listed on the training camp roster, and it looks like the veteran is again headed to long-term injured reserve. Gardiner missed all of last season after ongoing back and hip surgeries, but Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said in June that the now-32-year-old defenseman was cleared to play and would be in camp.
That’s not happening.
Gardiner has one year left on the four-year contract he signed with Carolina in September 2019 and will earn $4.45 million and cost $4.05 million against the salary cap.
The NHL’s salary cap for the 2022-23 season is $82.5 million, and if the Hurricanes moved Gardiner to LTIR before the season they would try to get as close to $86.55 million as possible at the start of the season.
So much like last year when Jack Drury and Eetu Makiniemi were on the opening roster for a moment so the team could maximize its LTIR cap space before sending them to AHL Chicago, Carolina will do everything in its power to get as close to $86.55 million when rosters are due.
5. With Gardiner out of the picture, the situation clears up on defense.
The top four, barring injury, are locked in. Jaccob Slavin, Brent Burns, Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei will log the most minutes, and there will be a battle for ice time after that.
Ethan Bear, Dylan Coghlan and Jalen Chatfield are all right-handed options, while William Lagesson and Max Lajoie could fill a spot on the left.
There’s also Calvin de Haan, who played the 2018-19 season with Carolina before being traded to Chicago. He’s on a PTO and will need to earn an NHL contract.
Max Pacioretty is injured — it’s unlikely he’d be placed on LTIR since he’s estimated to be back in February — and there are spots to be won at forward. Drury will have an inside track, and veteran Stefan Noesen — who led the AHL in goals last year with 48 — can be reliable up and down the lineup.
And Rod Brind’Amour has always rewarded players who impress him in the preseason. The coach will have less than three weeks to figure it out before the Oct. 12 opener against the Blue Jackets in Raleigh.