We are starting off this feature with one of the most accomplished prospects in Carolina’s system, Justin Shugg. Shugg has been a part of two Memorial Cup winning teams with the Windsor Spitfires and won the Kelly Cup with the Florida Everblades this past season. Making his pro debut this year, Shugg recorded 5 goals and 13 points in 33 games with the Charlotte Checkers, missing two months with an injury. That isn’t the most impressive stat-line but what puts Shugg on this list over others who didn’t make the cut is that he has been near-dominant at other levels.
Shugg was a point-per-game player with Windsor and Mississauga during his last two years playing at the junior level and was a 40 goal-scorer in 2010-12. He was also a point per game player with the Everblades during 12 regular season games and 11 playoff games. His performance at the lower levels has been nothing but impressivee as he has been able to be an impact player at the OHL and the ECHL but that has yet to translate to this success to the pros, which is a little worrisome but he is only 20 years old. He was named one of the Top 100 prospects of the 2010 NHL Draft by Cory Pronman of Hockey Prospectus and his play-making and scoring skills were a big reason for that. Since then, he’s lived up to that reputation everywhere but the AHL, but I don’t think there’s anything to worry about with his development.
The issue with Shugg is that he needs top-six minutes to succeed and he wasn’t getting that in Charlotte because he didn’t produce consistently, which is why he was sent to the ECHL. The good news is that he made full use of his minutes there and played a big role in the team winning the Kelly Cup. He was playing on a line with Zac Dalpe for part of the season in Charlotte, so he was likely being matched up against tougher opponents and had trouble adjusting. This is something that is correctable with some time and experience, so I would expect bigger things from Shugg next season.
Another thing that might work in his favor is that one of Drayson Bowman, Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk or Jerome Samson could have a chance of playing with the Hurricanes on more of a full-time basis next season, so that could leave the door open for Shugg to play a bigger role. I’m pretty excited to see how he does then because he’s clearly been able to get it done at every other level and I think it should carry over into the pros after he gains some strength, size and experience. He probably won’t put up such gaudy numbers, but I see him being a useful player for the Checkers and possibly one of their top scorers in the next couple of years.
As far as his future in the NHL goes, that’s still an open book. I never know what to expect from players who put up big numbers in junior because some of them end up being something special while others don’t amount to much. Shugg hasn’t turned 21 yet and was in the pros last season, so that’s a promising sign but he also wasn’t able to make that much of an impact either. Next season should tell us more about him and give us a better idea of what kind of future he has. If he has a great season and becomes one of the Checkers top-scorers, then he will definitely jump a few spots on this list.