Hockey Prospectus released their organizational rankings a few weeks ago and there's some good news here; Carolina ranked is ranked at #6! That is especially good news because there were some who said that Carolina had a somewhat weak prospect pool but that has changed a lot in the last few drafts and it got even better in the most recent one where the Canes selected Ryan Murphy and Victor Rask. Murphy is who the site lists as the organization's best top prospect and right after him are 2008's first and second round picks winger Zach Boychuk and center Zac Dalpe.
Both players are going to be 22 in the upcoming season, so some fans are hoping that this is the year that at least one of them makes the jump to the NHL full-time. Yes, they are both still young but with the team's need for scorers and possibly a second line center, this year could be their biggest chance to make an impact on the Canes roster. Boychuk is the one I am hoping to have a break-out year because he is a former first round pick and has had 56 games experience over three years already and only has 7 goals and 16 points over that time. What's interesting is looking at his last two seasons in the NHL and how he was used in completely different ways over that time.
Note: TOI/60 = time on ice per 60 minutes, CorsiRelQC = Corsi relative to quality of competition, OZ% = Offensive zone start percentage, Fin OZ% = percentage of draws finished in the offensive zone.
Boychuk was given relatively easy assignments during his 31 games with the Canes in the 09-10 season and struggled a bit with them although he managed to finish positive in terms of possession. During his 23 games with Carolina this past season, he got tougher assignments, finished on the negative end of the possession game but was able to create some offense as evidenced by the fact that he was able to finished more draws in the offensive zone than he started and by quite a significant percentage. I do think it is a little odd that he was used in tougher, more defensive situations because Boychuk isn't that big and is clearly more effective in the offensive zone with his play-making skills and quick shot. You would also think that he would get more ice-time with the big club given he is a goal-scorer and getting third and fourth line minutes in at the NHL level wouldn't do much for him. I think this is because the Canes were trying to get Boychuk to fit what needs the team had rather than having him develop, which is what a lot of teams do with AHL call-ups. Some saw him being sent back to Charlotte over Jerome Samson was a knock on Boychuk's development but him and Samson are different players. Samson can work well as a 3rd-4th line "energy" type player and is a couple years older than Boychuk and Dalpe so him getting those type of minutes would help the Canes more than those two would.
Dalpe was given a chance to make the team at the start of the year, was sent back to Charlotte after a month and recalled again in January and then sent back down after not making much of an impact. He was getting even less minutes than Boychuk was (typically around 8-10) minutes per game so sending him back down to Charlotte was the right move there. He may get a chance this year as the second line center position is currently being held by Tuomo Ruutu, who proved to be a solid play-maker but his below-average face-off ability kind of hurts his value as a center. Dalpe was also used as a winger during his time with the Canes last year so he could possibly fill the void on one of the top two lines if he really impresses during training camp and pre-season.
One thing to remember is that these two are still only 21 years old (soon to be 22 during the season) and while a lot of NHL players seem to be debuting at even younger ages (Jeff Skinner, Taylor Hall), these two aren't quite on that level. Both Boychuk and Dalpe had great AHL seasons with the Checkers, did well in the playoffs so you can bet that they will at least get a look to fill one of the holes on the second line this season and I am expecting Boychuk to make the roster full-time. Dalpe doesn't have nearly as much NHL experience under his belt so I don't think there is any need to panic if he starts the year in the AHL. However, I do feel that this coming season is the best chance for these two to really make an impact in Raleigh.