Carolina Hurricanes Top 10 Prospects 2023-24

Scott Morrow wearing number 23 for UMass. Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

One of the most difficult parts of being a good NHL team is trying to balance the present with the future. A contending team’s salary cap room slowly dissolves as they add free agents or extend their core pieces. Their draft capital can dwindle if the General Manager isn’t wary about sacrificing too many of those future assets to fill immediate holes in the roster.

The Carolina Hurricanes have done their utmost to keep that balanced approach to team building. Despite being a perennial member of the NHL’s elite the last few seasons, they’ve kept their prospect pipeline stocked. As contract questions mount for the team this season and beyond, that pipeline will be critical to their success in the next few years.

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A new wave of Canes is approaching, and this is a breakdown of the 10 prospects from that next generation I think can make an impact in the NHL.

#1: Scott Morrow

(D, 2nd round pick, 2021 draft)

Scott Morrow headlines a group of talented young defensemen that will take up several slots on this list. The 20-year-old has game-breaking skills suited for every area on the ice and has a chance to be one of the best players in the NHL in just a few years. His high hockey IQ matched with speedy skating and quick hands, has made him a force to be reckoned with while playing at UMass.

Morrow intends to head back to college for a third season to continue developing his game. The current iteration of the Hurricanes’ blueline would make it difficult for him to find a consistent role in the lineup, but he’ll have plenty of time on the ice as he helps the Minutemen rebound from a difficult 2022-23 season.

The 6’2″, 195-pound defenseman has notched 21 goals and 42 assists in 72 games he’s played for UMass. He has a chance to be a point-per-game player this year as he continues to finetune his passing and other skills. Before long, he’ll get his shot in the big leagues. It’s going to be a treat when that day arrives.

#2: Alexander Nikishin

(D, 3rd round pick, 2020 draft)

Alexander Nikishin is a large human being and plays hockey like a large human being. His 6’4″, 216-pound frame has helped him knock around KHL players for a couple of seasons now, but it’s the Russian’s offensive explosion in 2022-23 that has caught experts’ and fans’ attention. Once considered a defensive defenseman, Nikishin is now a multi-faceted weapon, much like Morrow, with his meteoric rise putting him ahead of the American in the eyes of some.

I’m a sucker for great skating and thus have left Morrow at the top of my list, but the fact Nikishin has made it a conversation at all is a testament to his hard work and ability. The Russian defender has a bomb of a shot and hits with a purpose. He’ll quickly find a role (next to Morrow?) in North America once he makes that move.

#3: Bradly Nadeau

(LW, 1st round pick, 2023 draft)

The Hurricanes selected Bradly Nadeau 30th overall in the most recent entry draft, and he brings a lethal offensive ability to their system. The winger had scored 45 goals and added 68 assists for a whopping 113 points in 54 regular season games in 2022-23, then averaged over two points per game in 17 playoff games.

Bradly Nadeau surveying the ice. Photo: Jack Murray

The Canadian has a blistering shot and immense amounts of creativity, both attributes that will bring success at any level of hockey. Having thoroughly eviscerated the BCHL, Nadeau will play for the University of Maine in the Fall, where he’ll have the chance to round out his game, as well as physically develop. Even if he stays 5’10” and 161 pounds, he has the skill to be a meaningful player within a few seasons.

#4: Aleksi Heimosalmi

(D, 2nd round pick, 2021 draft)

Aleksi Heimosalmi has used his excellent on-ice vision and strong skating to become one of the most interesting pieces of the Hurricanes’ farm system. His numbers are far from eye-popping, but the 5’11”, 170-pound defender is a prolific player in transition, a valuable skill that increases the effectiveness of the players around him.

The Finnish defender has a solid chance to make the NHL and be a quality contributor. Heimosalmi’s future should be more clear following another season playing in Finland. His stock could continue to rise, much like Nikishin’s did in 2022-23.

#5: Jack Drury

(C, 2nd round pick, 2018 draft)

Despite cracking the NHL lineup for the first time in 2022-23, Jack Drury had an underwhelming year. Playing limited minutes at the bottom of a lineup is a difficult place to shine, but even in the AHL, Drury wasn’t as effective as he was the previous year. Getting back on rhythm should be a critical part of the center’s offseason because he still has solid NHL potential.

Drury is an excellent fit with the Hurricanes, at least on paper. He checks hard, plays smart hockey both with and without the puck, and has solid mechanics across the board. His positive underlying statistics from his stint in the NHL support the fact that he has a role in the NHL. 2023-24 will be a critical juncture in revealing whether that potential can be realized or not.

#6: Justin Robidas

(C, 5th round pick, 2021 draft)

Justin Robidas is a smart player, one who handles being in traffic and under pressure well. The son of former NHL defenseman Stéphane Robidas, the center torched the QMJHL in 2022-23 while leading the Quebec Remparts to the Memorial Cup Final.

Listed at 5’11” and 191 pounds, Robidas will have to prove he can be an effective scorer when the opposition gets taller and stronger. He earned an entry-level contract with the Hurricanes, so whether in the AHL or NHL, his opportunity is coming soon.

#7: Felix Unger-Sörum

(RW, 2nd round pick, 2023 draft)

Felix Unger-Sörum was a recent addition to the Hurricanes’ prospects, selected 62nd overall in the most recent draft. He makes excellent use of his hands, both in dangling around defenders and in sending passes through tight windows to set up teammates. He thrived playing junior hockey in Sweden and in international competition but was shut out during his seven-game stint in the SHL in 2022-23.

Fortunately, the Swedish forward is young, not even turning 18 until mid-September. He has plenty of time to develop his shot as well as be physically mature to help him reach his potential at the next levels of hockey. While he might be a few years off from competing for an NHL job, he has the smarts and skill to make sure he gets that chance.

#8: Jayden Perron

(RW, 3rd round pick, 2023 draft)

Right after the Hurricanes selected Unger-Sörum, they used their 3rd round pick to take Jayden Perron. In doing so, they essentially doubled down on a lot of the skills Unger-Sörum brought to the organization.

Perron is also a cunning player, with quick decision-making being one of his calling cards. The Canadian also has a slight frame, listed at 5’9″ and 165 pounds. He too, will have the chance to develop for several seasons before heading to the big leagues, as he’s set up to be a big piece for the University of North Dakota for the foreseeable future.

Related Page: Hurricanes Add Grit this Offseason

#9: Vasili Ponomaryov

(C, 2nd round pick, 2020 draft)

Vasili Ponomaryov is a relentless player, skating hard with and without the puck. He turns that determination into offense with the forecheck, an attitude that can get one far in the Carolina Hurricanes organization.

Ponomaryov works below the goal line to set up a teammate.

As he’s a prospect on the older side, the Russian center’s NHL opportunity could be coming soon. He was second in scoring for the Chicago Wolves in 2022-23, which could indicate that he’s a few untimely injuries on the Canes away from getting the call. While he may not bring the same amount of high-end offensive upside like some of the prospects above, his consistency and work ethic will give him the chance to compete for a role in the league in the upcoming seasons.

#10: Noel Gunler

(RW, 2nd round pick, 2020 draft)

Noel Gunler is a goal-scorer through and through, but unfortunately, he has yet to do a lot of that goal-scoring in minor hockey. The winger thrives playing off the puck, creating space in the offensive zone to release his blistering shot. That’s not easy to do consistently in the AHL, and it is even more difficult to do in the NHL.

What Gunler does well, he does very well. But he’ll need to show progress around the ice to be the difference-maker he has the skills to be.

Jack Drury pivoting to keep watch of the puck.

All of the prospects I talked about here have a chance to be NHL players, which is a testament to the Hurricanes’ drafting acumen. With three of the best defenders in junior hockey leading the way, and plenty of intriguing forward talent filling out the list, that next wave of Hurricanes is stocked with difference-makers. Fans will just have to wait a little longer while the storm keeps brewing.

Who did I rank too high? Too low? Who didn’t make the cut that should’ve? I’d love to hear your input below.

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