Position: Right Wing
Weight: 188 lbs.
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2007 Draft
Last Year's Ranking: NR
|2005-06||16||Des Moines Buccaneers||USHL||58||10||23||33||0.569|
|2006-07||17||Des Moines Buccaneers||USHL||56||22||45||67||1.196|
|2007-08||18||U. of Michigan||CCHA||43||10||34||44||1.023|
|2008-09||19||U. of Michigan||CCHA||39||13||37||50||1.282|
Most fans probably glossed over the signing of Aaron Palushaj as a minor move that probably won't have much of an impact on the Hurricanes. While that might end up being up being true, it was also a small low-risk move by the Canes to help add some depth to their bottom-six or their farm system. Palushaj is only 23 years old, has a decent amount of talent and spent a good chunk of last season in the NHL. One could definitely make the case for him earning a roster spot come opening night or some time during the year. If he doesn't, then they add another guy who can play top-line minutes in Charlotte which will be a big help if they can't re-sign Zach Boychuk. My philosophy has always been that you can't have enough young players in your system and the Hurricanes did a decent job of gaining some organizational depth by adding Palushaj & Nathan Gerbe.
Palushaj is coming off a down offensive season, both in the NHL & AHL, but his numbers in past seasons suggest that he has learned enough in the minors and I would expect him to contend for a third or fourth line spot with the Hurricanes. Although, one thing that might get in the way of that is Palushaj's NHL track record has been underwhelming going by goals and points. The same exact thing can be said for many of the Hurricanes prospects over the last few years, so it doesn't look like Palushaj stands out too much. However, if you look at Palushaj's scoring rates relative to his ice time, he looks a little more impressive.
Palushaj received fourth line minutes in Montreal two years ago and about 10-11 even strength minutes per game with the Avs last season. So while Palushaj's raw numbers don't look good, he actually made the most of his ice time and scored at a pretty strong rate. Although, I should mention that the Avs coaching staff used him with some pretty talented linemates like Paul Statsny & Ryan O'Reilly. Given that a lot of Palushaj's points came from secondary assists, I have little doubt that strong linemates helped him out more than a little bit.
That being said, Palushaj has other redeeming qualities, as he has been a very good player at driving possession during his limited time in the NHL. He crushed fourth line minutes with the Canadiens and was decent in a third line role with the Avs, especially compared to the rest of the forwards. If a player can't score, he needs to contribute in other areas and Palushaj has been capable of creating chances, winning board battles and keeping the puck in the offensive zone, which could be good enough to earn him a full-time spot in this league. It also makes him a decent fit for Carolina next season because they are looking for a few players to round out their bottom-two lines. His speed and solid defensive play would make him pretty useful on a checking line, so Carolina should consider that option.
Palushaj's play away from the puck is one of the reasons why he has been able to get a decent amount of NHL experience in his young career, but I still think he has some offensive potential. He won't be a future star, but Palushaj is certainly capable of being someone who can get you 10-15 goals and provide valuable secondary scoring. His career numbers suggest that he is a solid offensive player and worth a shot for any team that needs forward depth, which is why I was a fan of the Hurricanes bringing him on board for a year. There are some players who need time to settle in and can break out in the right situation (see Jiri Tlusty) and while I don't think Palushaj's career will go in that direction, he could be a useful player and have some potential outside of the bottom-six.
I've gone over some talented players throughout this feature and the reason why I have Palushaj ranked so high is because I see him as someone who has the potential to stay in the NHL on a full-time basis, rather than just a fringe player. He managed to fit in as a checking line player in Montreal & Colorado the last two years and could easily do the same thing with Carolina this year. He still has a lot of room to improve offensively, but the other aspects of his game have come around nicely and that could make him a nice fit in with the Hurricanes, assuming he makes the team.
Right now, he is a serviceable NHL depth player with plenty of upside and it will be interesting to see how much he improves over the next 12 months.