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The Carolina Hurricanes are in win-now mode and have the core group in place. General manager Don Waddell had a busy summer and replenished the roster with NHL-ready talent. However, there are players in the pipeline ready to make the jump and fight for a roster spot. Here are three prospects that could fight for a place and see time with the Hurricanes in the 2023-24 season. 

Vasili Ponomaryov

In the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft, Carolina stockpiled their forward group. They drafted center Vasili Ponomaryov, strengthening the position up the middle of the ice. This player excels at both ends of the ice, which bodes well with the way head coach Rod Brind’Amour likes to play. Given the system, every player aims to play a responsible game both offensively and defensively. But Ponomaryov is a player that has shown flashes of brilliance offensively. 

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Ponomaryov suited up for the AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves last season. In 64 games, he scored 24 goals (led the team), 22 assists, and 46 points (second on the team). During the 2021-22 season, he had ten points in 11 games. The sample size was small, but the upside and potential were there. 

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Given the current roster, Ponomaryov could slot in on the fourth line and bring a stable presence down the middle. The spot is currently occupied by young center Jack Drury, but it’s there for the taking. Drury has not been a bright spot in the lineup and does not generate a lot of offense. In 38 games, he scored two goals while generating just six expected goals.

Ponomaryov would not have to be counted on heavily for production but would be a boost defensively. Given the injuries sustained last season, he could fill a similar role Mackenzie MacEachern played. Furthermore, he is not the only forward eyeing a spot on the big club roster. 

Jamieson Rees

Another second-round pick in Jamieson Rees is right around the corner. After getting drafted in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft, he has spent time with the Chicago Wolves. His impacts are beginning to be felt, and he has improved each season. 

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Rees is coming off his best season with Chicago and is further developing. He set a career-high in goals (14) and points (42). Furthermore, his goal totals for the 2022-23 season are just as many as the last two seasons combined. Like Ponomaryov, he is a center but brings different elements to the table than his teammate. 

Waddell brought in players that play physically. It was an element missing from the lineup and was noticeable in the series against the Florida Panthers. Rees is not the biggest guy on the team (5-foot-11, 171 pounds), but he plays bigger than his size. He is not afraid to play physically and back down from a fight, finishing the 2022-23 season with 92 penalty minutes. 

Rees fits the bill in terms of his physical play and getting aggressiveness in the lineup. Like Ponomaryov, he could slot in on the fourth line and bring a sense of energy into the lineup. Pairing him alongside newly signed winger Brendan Lemieux would form a dynamic physical presence on the ice to wear down opponents. Lemieux was brought in for his physical presence (131 hits), and Rees could get a good look to help fill that void as well.

Ryan Suzuki

This one is the most intriguing but also the least likely. Ryan Suzuki was the team’s first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and is the brother of Montreal Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki. He has plenty of upside and offensive talent, but injuries have not been kind to him and have hindered his game. 

Ryan Suzuki Hurricanes Draft
Ryan Suzuki, Carolina Hurricanes, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers

Like Rees, Suzuki has spent three seasons with Chicago. In those three seasons, he scored 25 goals, 31 assists, and 56 points. The 2022-23 was the first time he skated in over 40 games. However, there is room for optimism regarding the young player. 

There is a reason that the Hurricanes valued him and chose him with the first-round pick. He was over a point-per-game player during the 2018-19 season with the Barrie Colts (OHL). He scored 25 goals, and his play-making ability was on full display, as he had 50 assists.

It may take more time for him to develop, but he has the skills that would be valuable to the Hurricanes’ existing roster. There is a logjam with the big club, and any of these players getting time will be difficult. 

Clawing Their Way In

The Hurricanes have their core in place, and the lineup is solidified. That is the natural case with a contending team, so spots are already taken before the season starts. However, there are always position battles when training camp opens up. 

The position battles are likely within the big club, so seeing these three guys take those spots may not happen. Unless a significant injury occurs like last season, clawing their way into the lineup may have to wait one more season.

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