While the draft plays a key role in filling up an organization’s prospect stockpile, it doesn’t necessarily have an immediate impact on the AHL club. Many of the players selected will come out of the CHL and be younger than 20 years old, rendering them ineligible to play in the American League, while the younger Europeans often return to their home country to continue their development if they don’t make the NHL squad.
So while tonight’s draft won’t likely have many immediate repercussions for the Checkers, players selected in previous years are now preparing to begin their pro careers. Here’s a look at a group of recent draft picks who could be passing through Charlotte this season.
After transitioning from college hockey to the junior ranks in 2015-16, Foegele took off this past season, notching 27 goals and 63 points in 61 games split between Kingston and Erie. It was in the postseason that Foegele really elevated his game, however, piling up 26 points in 22 games and earning the OHL Playoff MVP award while leading the Otters to a title.
17-18 OUTLOOK- The 21-year-old Foegele inked his entry-level deal with Carolina in March and would be eligible to kick off his pro career with the Checkers next season.
One of two first-round selections by Carolina in 2016, Gauthier is a physically imposing forward who has shown a nice scoring touch during his QMJHL career. The 19-year-old saw his goal total drop this past season after notching 41 and 38 in the two years prior, but his assist total shot up. Gauthier joined the powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs midway through the season and tied for second on the club in postseason goals with 11 in 18 games.
17-18 OUTLOOK- Gauthier, who signed his entry-level deal with the Canes last summer, appears slated to make the pro jump this fall, tweeting that his junior career was over. Should he start with the Checkers, Gauthier, who Carolina general manager Ron Francis said “already has the body of a professional hockey player,” could be a strong presence on the wing.
Kuokkanen made the jump to North America last season, starring for the OHL’s London Knights. The 19-year-old made the transition fairly smoothly, racking up 62 points in 60 games to rank fourth on one of the league’s top clubs. He also shone in the playoffs, leading the Knights in goals and tying for the league lead at the time of London’s second-round exit at the hands of the eventual OHL champion Erie Otters.
17-18 OUTLOOK- One of a handful of players to join the Checkers on an ATO last season, Kuokkanen got his first taste of the North American pro game during Charlotte’s playoff series against Chicago. The teenager spent the majority of his time observing and soaking in the level of play while “[learning] a lot of things from the guys.” Kuokkanen was able to make his debut in Charlotte’s Game 3 overtime win, noting that “the speed was a lot faster than the OHL but I think I did well.” It appears that Kuokkanen will have the chance to use what he learned in that short stint this fall, as the forward stated that he thinks he’s turning pro next year.
Carolina’s final pick in the 2015 draft, Lorentz has continued his climb to prominence thanks to a breakout campaign in his fourth season with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes. The 21-year-old entered this past season aiming to catch the eyes of the Carolina brass, noting that they wanted to see strides that “not only included getting bigger and stronger but playing better defensively and making better decisions with the puck.” He did just that, ranking second on the Petes in both goals and points before taking off in the postseason to lead the club with nine goals and 15 points in nine games.
17-18 OUTLOOK- Another season of improvement and an eye-opening playoff performance was enough to earn the 6-foot-3 Lorentz an entry-level deal, with Francis stating that he “took a big step forward.” The forward is well aware that his work isn’t over, however, noting that “Not everyone who signs a contract plays in the NHL and not everybody who plays in the NHL stays in the NHL.” Should he begin his career with the Checkers, Lorentz will have the chance to keep that upward trajectory toward his ultimate goal.
One of the most decorated prospects in the Carolina pipeline, Roy once again led the way offensively for the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Sagueneens with 36 goals and 80 points. On top of that, this past year saw the 20-year-old earn himself the Guy Carbonneau Trophy as the league’s Best Defensive Forward and pick up his second World Junior medal with Canada.
17-18 OUTLOOK- Another piece in Carolina’s growing collection of physically imposing forwards, the six-foot-four Roy seems poised to make an impact at the next level right away. The 20-year-old joined the Checkers for a stint at the end of the 2015-16 campaign, going scoreless in a pair of contests. While he’s “ready for any challenge, whether it’s in the National or American League,” those two games with Charlotte gave Roy a barometer of the pro level of play, saying that he “felt a difference in caliber in the AHL” where “the guys are bigger and faster.”
As captain of the powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs, Smallman played a key role in his team’s run to a QMJHL championship. The 20-year-old set career highs across the board in goals, assists and points during the regular season, then churned out 11 goals in the Sea Dogs’ Memorial Cup run, good enough to tie for second on the team.
17-18 OUTLOOK- Smallman will be looking to take the momentum from his long season into his pro career, as he signed his entry-level contract in March. With the winger’s leadership pedigree – he wore a letter in each of the last three seasons with Saint John’s, including captaining them in the last two – Smallman’s next hurdle will be adjusting his game to the pro level.
Booth enjoyed a successful fourth year of junior hockey, first with his longtime team the Quebec Ramparts then with the juggernaut Saint John Sea Dogs. The 20-year-old netminder not only turned in the best save percentage in the league overall, but he also backstopped the Sea Dogs to a QMJHL title and a Memorial Cup appearance.
17-18 OUTLOOK- Booth’s impressive run late last season puts him in a position to possibly capture what has been a fairly open job in the Charlotte crease. The jump from the junior ranks to the pros can be a tough one, but at six-foot-four Booth has the physical tools to do just that.