RALEIGH — One of the promises made when the Hurricanes christened the recently branded Invisalign Arena at Wake Competition Center in Morrisville was more hockey events coming to the Triangle. That meant youth tournaments, college games and, as we’ll see starting this week, the NHL Prospects Showcase.
The Hurricanes long participated in the Traverse City, Michigan, prospect tournament — now called the NHL Prospects Tournament — but in 2019 moved to the NHL Prospects Showcase and its rotating site schedule.
And it’s the Hurricanes’ year to host.
While the names on the ice may be unfamiliar to most hockey fans, it will provide fans a chance to see some of the best prospects from the Hurricanes, Predators, Lightning and Panthers during a four-day tournament running Friday through Monday. Games will be played at Invisalign Arena and PNC Arena. Here’s a look at the four teams and what players to watch when the games begin.
Given the number of college-bound and Russian players the Hurricanes have selected in recent years, Carolina’s roster won’t have some of the names from the top of its prospect pool.
Defensemen Scott Morrow and Alexander Nikishin are not on the roster, and neither are wingers Gleb Trizokov and Alexander Perevalov. Center Jack Drury and goalie Pyotr Kochetkov are eligible — while flexible, the general rule is for players to be 24 years old or younger with 20 or fewer games of NHL experience — but neither will participate.
So who is playing? As we learned last year when Seth Jarvis dominated the tournament, the showcase can serve as a launching pad for a prospect heading into training camp.
The biggest name is Ryan Suzuki, Carolina’s first round pick in the 2019 draft. The younger brother of Nick Suzuki, the recently named captain of the Canadiens, has had a hard-luck career since being 28th overall, suffering an eye injury in juniors and being in and out of the lineup last season during the Chicago Wolves’ Calder Cup title run. The tournament should offer him the opportunity to be one of the top players.
Jamieson Rees, Noel Gunler and Vasily Ponomarev join Suzuki as the other Wolves who will play for Carolina. Rees, while just 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, is a wrecking ball who may remind Hurricanes fans of Brock McGinn.
Gunler and Ponomarev, meanwhile, joined the Wolves for the stretch run after playing much of the year overseas. Gunler, from Sweden, played in 10 playoff games, scoring once and adding an assist, while Ponomarev had 10 points in 11 regular season games with Chicago and played all 18 playoff games, registering a goal and six points, after coming over following the KHL season.
The team will also get a closer look at Alexander Pashin and Justin Robidas, two elite skating forwards who were late-round selections in recent years.
On defense, Ronan Seeley and Anttoni Honka should lead the way. Honka is an ultra-skilled player who will start his North American professional career this year, while Seeley has proven to be a seventh-round find. He won gold with Canada at the World Junior Championships, posting four assists in seven games during that tournament.
Goalies Patrik Hamrla and Jakub Vondras, draft picks in 2021 and 2022, respectively, should see most of the time in net.
According to The Athletic’s Corey Pronman, the Panthers have the NHL’s 25th best prospect pool, compared to No. 6 for Carolina. And like the Hurricanes, Florida’s top-tier prospects won’t be playing in the tournament.
Defenseman Evan Nause, the 56th overall pick in the 2021 draft, should lead Florida’s defense, while winger Justin Sourdif is a high-energy player who could make an impact as he looks to start his professional career on the right foot.
In another timeline, Yaroslav Askarov could be in the Carolina net for this tournament. Askarov was taken 11th overall in the 2022 draft, two spots before the Hurricanes selected Jarvis. The Russian goalie is one of the prized possession of the Nashville prospect pool ranked 22nd by Pronman.
Egor Afanasyev, a 6-foot-4 winger, had 12 goals and 33 points as a rookie with AHL Milwaukee last year, and high picks Zachary L’Heureux and Luke Evangelista give the Preds plenty of talent up front. Defenseman Luke Prokop, the first openly gay player under contract with an NHL team, is also on Nashville’s rookie camp roster.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have stripped their farm system in an effort to win championships, and it resulted in two titles and last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. Because of that, the cupboard is pretty bare — Pronman ranks Tampa Bay 31st out of 32 teams, ahead of only Boston.
The Lightning will have three Jacks in their hand at the tournament.
Six-foot-6 center Jack Finley, the 57th pick in 2020, had 27 goals and 50 points in the WHL last year. Jack Thompson is an offensive defenseman who totaled 57 points, including 21 goals, in the OHL last year.
And then there’s goalie Jack Lafontaine, a former Hurricanes draft pick who was not qualified this offseason after he struggled with Carolina and the AHL Wolves after leaving the University of Minnesota in the middle of the season to turn pro. He’ll share the Tampa net with prospect Hugo Alnefelt, a third round pick in 2019 out of Sweden.