“Let the kids play”

We’re almost at the end of 2011 and the Hurricanes have only won 10 games, so I think it’s safe to say that the post-season is highly unlikely at this point. What does this mean for the team now? I’ve heard “Fail for Nail” thrown around a bunch of times but is tanking for a high draft pick going to solve all of our problems? Yes, it has worked for Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington and a few others but the risks that come with it might not be worth the reward. Just ask Islanders and Thrashers fans.

Now, I understand the rationale for getting a high draft pick this year because the team is going absolutely nowhere this season and getting another Jeff Skinner-type prospect in the system would help this team a lot in the long-run. It’s not as if the Canes are completely bare in terms of prospects either as GM Jim Rutherford has done a great job at acquiring picks and talent the last few years but is it enough to have this organization set for the future? We don’t know that because draft picks are not always a sure thing but with the team having issues scoring and producing offense, it might be time to evaluate some of the talent we have in the organization.

Is it going to turn things around this season? Not likely, but one step to rebuilding is getting the younger players more experience with the big club and we’re beginning to see some progress with that in Drayson Bowman most recent call-up.

More after the jump.

One thing coaches look for in younger players is consistency, especially during the pre-season. If a former first round pick has a great game on day and then looks off for the next two then he will likely start the year in the AHL. That was the case with Hurricanes prospect Zach Boychuk and he eventually got his shot in November but ultimately ended up back in Charlotte because he wasn’t making much of an impact. The argument against that point is that then head coach Paul Maurice was not putting him into a position to succeed. He was given 4-9 minutes of ice time and glued to the fourth line for most of his recent stint against the Hurricanes. In fact, Boychuk played more than 10 minutes in only two games this year (at NJD & NYR) and he was on ice for nine scoring chances during that time. Would he have more of an impact if he was playing on the top-six? I don’t know, but it appears that new head coach Kirk Muller is looking to give younger players like Boychuk more of a chance.

Carolina’s most recent recall, Drayson Bowman, has been playing in at least the top-nine in all of those games. He has also been on ice for 17 chances in three games, which is likely unsustainable in the long run but with injuries to Jeff Skinner and the second line failing to show any consistency, he’s giving the team exactly what they need for the time being. Is Bowman an everyday NHL-er? His defensive game still needs some work but he has been one of Charlotte’s best players this year, so it might be time to see what he can do in the NHL to determine if he’s ready or not. There’s a chance that he may score 20 more goals or not score for the remainder of the year. The point is, we don’t do know what he will do but he’s 22 years old so it might be the right time to find out what he’s fully capable of as an NHL-er. That’s not to say that this is a “make or break” year for him, but most players who enter the NHL after they turn 22 rarely turn out to be anything special.

What we can do to project performance is use AHL translations devised by the folks at Hockey Prospectus. The NHL is obviously much more difficult to the NHL and studies show that a player who is called from the AHL will keep about 45% of his scoring. So, to find out what to expect from Bowman and some of the other forward call-ups in Charlotte, we can use their AHL point totals to determine how many points are expected from them in the NHL. Unfortunately, the totals aren’t that high.

Player AHL GP AHL Pts Age Seasons Exp. Points
Dalpe 85 71 22 1 31
Bowman 130 76 22 2 22
Boychuk 133 115 22 2 32
Terry 189 133 22 2 26
Sutter 295 88 24 4 11
Nash 109 41 22 1 14
Samson 292 249 24 4 31
Matsumoto 346 247 25 5 26

Now, before anyone freaks out about this, I have to mention that there are always exceptions with this. The most recent example is Michael Grabner who was a rookie at the age of 23 and had a terrific 34 goal season but if you look at the link I posted earlier, it will show that a lot of guys who enter the league at 22 aren’t going to be stars. That doesn’t mean that they won’t be useful players and there are exceptions with AHL translations.

For instance, Zac Dalpe made the team out of training camp this year despite being injured and Maurice elected to restrict his minutes. Call me crazy, but if a player is hurt then I think he should be resting instead of taking up a roster spot and playing 5-10 minutes a game. Dalpe also has limited AHL experience because he stayed in college longer so that might also affect his numbers for better or worse. I am expecting to see him up with the big club sometime this year. Boychuk is expected to score the most out of this group because he’s been lighting it up in the AHL despite playing there for less than three years. However, the fact that it has taken him so long to stay on an NHL roster indicates that his ceiling might be lower than some hoped. That’s what happened with Jerome Samson as  he’s been in the AHL for the past four years and has still yet to even score a goal in the NHL.

AHL translations are helpful and give a good idea of what to expect from prospects but they aren’t always accurate because there’s always other factors that creep in when projecting how a player will do after his AHL career.

More to the point, if the Canes are rebuilding then it might be time to see what some of these young kids can do. I don’t want so many players called up that it ruins the Checkers roster, but the Canes might need some of these guys now. The only issue is finding roster space which will probably clear up as the season goes on.

When asked about playing Bowman with Staal, Muller said that you have to put a player like him “in a position where he can excel” which means putting scorers like him, Boychuk and Dalpe into scorers roles instead of plugging them on the fourth line. I think that’s exactly the kind of thing we’ve been wanting to hear all season. Let’s hope it continues.