I was out for the past week due to my honeymoon and missed the June 1 deadline to sign prospects. The Carolina Hurricanes did not sign Lenni Killinen by the deadline, so he has now become a UFA and is free to sign anywhere he chooses. Killinen had already signed a new deal with a club in Finland, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Hurricanes decided to let him go.
That got me thinking about which prospects the Hurricanes need to sign by June 1 or August 15 next season in order to keep them in the pipeline. After doing extensive research (looking at CapFriendly), there are prospects from the 2019 and 2021 draft classes whose signing rights will expire in 2023 if left unsigned. Let’s break down each player and the likelihood of seeing them sign a contract, shall we?
Puistola is the first of three players from the 2019 draft whose signing rights expire in 2023. His rights expire June 1, 2023 and as of right now, I’m unsure of whether or not he earns a contract. Puistola has bounced around a lot in Finland since the 2019 draft, playing on four different Liiga teams and one team in the Finnish second league. He had 16 goals and 24 points in 54 games with Jukurit this season, which was a career high in goals, points and games played. Still, those numbers aren’t fantastic and I didn’t see Puistola making as much of an impact at even strength. His power play numbers were solid, but in order to make it in the NHL, you have to be able to make an impact at even strength. Puistola has potential as a natural finisher at the NHL level, but I’ve yet to see him realize that potential in Finland. Not on a consistent basis, at least.
As of right now, I believe Puistola is on the outside looking in. He’ll need to show a lot of improvement on both sides of the puck this next season if he wants to have a shot of signing a contract. He does have the advantage of being one of the few prospects in the system that can play on the left wing, but I’m not sure if his game is suited for the pace and intensity of the NHL. I’m hoping to get a look at Puistola in development camp to get a better read on where he’s at. I think some time working with the development staff in person will be good for him. Again, it’s possible that he earns a contract by the end of next season, but it’s going to take a lot of improvement.
Honka remaining unsigned at this point is a bit of a surprise. His contract with JYP ended this year and as I’m writing this, he has yet to sign with any team in Finland. Honka is coming off of a career year in which he set career highs in goals, assists and points. There’s also the fact that he led his team in scoring as a 21 year old defenseman, which is an impressive feat. Honka is a great passer with tremendous hockey sense, but defense has always been the biggest question mark in his game. His defensive zone play is shaky and he can be guilty of trying to do too much, leading to turnovers. He’s a very similar player to his brother, Julius, but I still believe there’s a role for Honka in the NHL. As to why Honka hasn’t signed yet, I’m not sure. It’s entirely possible that he wants to wait until he turns 22 so that he can sign a two year deal as opposed to a three year deal. It’s also possible that the Hurricanes are waiting until after free agency to sign Honka. Currently, the Hurricanes have six defensemen set to become RFAs (Bear, DeAngelo, Keane, Lajoie, Reunanen, Sellgren) as well as Josh Jacobs, Ian Cole and Brendan Smith on the UFA side. There’s a lot to work out on the pro side of things, so it’s entirely possible that the Honka is waiting to see if there will be a role for him in the AHL next season.
Will Honka sign an entry level contract? My gut tells me that he will. Even though it’s a little strange that he hasn’t signed as of right now, I still feel that he’ll end up signing with the Hurricanes. If developed properly, Honka could become a top four defenseman capable of running a power play unit. It’s going to take some time, but the Hurricanes could use a player like Honka in the system. Something else to keep in mind is that the Hurricanes have Domenick Fensore, who we’ll get to next, and Scott Morrow in the pipeline now.
Fensore was one of the better defensemen in transition in the entire NCAA this past year. I love his offensive game and his defending along the rush has made him one of the top players in Hockey East. This is a player that I believe in. With smaller players, you often hear about how they may not be able to handle physical play, but Fensore works his tail off and is able to keep up against much bigger competition. He’s a fit for the system based on work ethic alone, but his pace of play and high end hockey sense make Fensore a near perfect fit. He’s returning to Boston University this fall and will be the team’s captain. People I’ve talked to have raved about Fensore both on and off the ice, which is great to hear. I would imagine that the Hurricanes sign Fensore at the end of his collegiate career. His game is more projectable than Honka’s, at least in my eyes, due to his ability to defend on the rush. He projects as an NHL defenseman and will be a fun prospect to keep an eye on this season.
Wall had a career year on a disappointing Penn State team. He led the team in goals and points with 16 and 29, respectively, and should be the top producer on the team as a senior. Wall’s speed and goal scoring ability make him stand out at the NCAA level. He’s a strong forward with a bit of a power game, but I’d still label him more as a sniper than a power forward. I could see the Hurricanes signing Wall at the end of his collegiate career, as well. He’s a solid goal scorer and has stood out these past two seasons. I’m unsure of what his upside is, however, and he’ll be 23 when he comes time to sign him. I think he could work, however, and he’s one of the few prospects in the system that is a natural right wing.
Robert “Bobby” Orr
Orr has a bit of an underwhelming season this year, but his skating, strength and grit make him a player with potential. He fits the bill of what Rod Brind’Amour looks for in a bottom six forward, and given time, could fill an NHL role. Still, I’d like to see more from him in the offensive zone because I was left wanting more on multiple occasions this year. He was creating chances and getting involved in the play, but either he couldn’t finish or his teammates were unable to connect on his passes. As of right now, I’m unsure if Orr gets a contract.
Robidas had an excellent season. He was the captain of his team and finished second in team scoring with 82 points. Robidas may be small, but his skill, skating and surprising physical play make him a player that I’m willing to bet on. He plays an NHL game and doesn’t let his size hinder him. He’s not afraid to step up to bigger competition and has a well rounded game suited for the next level. I’d be shocked if he isn’t offered a contract at the end of next season. There’s no reason to sign him now since he can’t join the Wolves until next season, so it’s likely that he’ll be offered a contract at the end of next season.
Montgomery is a smart player and a really good defender with size and great skating ability. The rest of his game is still very raw, and the London Knights didn’t utilize him as much this past season as I would have liked. They’re a tough team to break into, and I feel that while Bryce is already one of the better defensive players on that team, the Knights wanted more in transition and in the offensive zone. At this point, I don’t believe that Montgomery will be signed. I love the player and he was a fantastic interview both before prospects camp and on my podcast during the season. It’s tough to see him breaking into this system given our defensive depth. I’m not writing him off yet, however. It’s going to take a lot, but Bryce has the tools to improve.
There you have it. The seven players whose signing rights will expire next year are Puistola, Honka, Fensore, Wall, Orr, Robidas and Montgomery. The deadline to sign our European and CHL prospects is June 1, while the deadline to sign our NCAA prospects is August 15. We should expect a few of these prospects to sign and turn pro at the end of next season. Not all of them will sign, but it’s a nice preview of which prospects could potentially be joining the Chicago Wolves at the end of the year.