The only way to look at a scrimmage like the one that closed out the Carolina Hurricanes’ prospect development camp Saturday is with eyes focused at least two, maybe three years ahead.
There was only one kid on the ice likely to make the Hurricanes’ NHL roster out of training camp – 2011 first-round pick Ryan Murphy, with 2013 fifth-overall pick Elias Lindholm sitting out with a shoulder injury – while a few others might play in the NHL someday and most will not.
The two most compelling long-term projects were a pair of forwards who each play the kind of game the Hurricanes could use right now if they were ready. Brody Sutter – yes, of those Sutters – is a rangy center who is still growing into his 6-foot-5 frame, while Brock McGinn, from a less-famous hockey family, is only 5 feet 11 and 180 pounds but hits like a garbage truck on skates.
Sutter and McGinn stood out Saturday, McGinn for the hits he delivered, Sutter for his size and leadership throughout the week. Both had auditions in Charlotte (AHL) at the end of last season, although McGinn is only 19 and will have to go back to his Scott Walker-coached junior team this year.
McGinn doesn’t look particularly imposing on or off the ice, but that’s an old story. When McGinn showed up in Charlotte after his junior season ended, Checkers coach Jeff Daniels called Hurricanes assistant general manager Ron Francis, concerned.
“I asked Ronnie, ‘Are you sure this kid’s OK?’ He’s walking around the dressing room with his shirt off, and he looks 12.’ ” Daniels said. “But Ronnie said, ‘No, no, he’s fine.’ His first shift, he ran out and hit the biggest guy on the other team. I was sold after that.”
A second-round pick in 2012, McGinn had 28 goals in the OHL last year and will be expected to score more, but it’s the wrecking-ball play on the ice that will be his ticket to join his two older brothers in the NHL, if he can get bigger, stronger and smarter.
Sutter, 21, had more time in Charlotte, but only after starting the season with Florida (ECHL), a demotion he took with gritted teeth. It was just another perceived slight for the fourth of five drafted members of the second Sutter generation, who slipped all the way to the seventh round before the Hurricanes took him in 2011.
Unlike his Alberta-bred cousins – including former Hurricanes forward Brandon and current Checkers captain Brett – Brody grew up in Florida, where his father Duane coached the Panthers.
“Obviously, playing in Florida until I was 14 didn’t help me, but I feel like I have my best hockey ahead of me,” Sutter said. “Some teams made a mistake by not drafting me earlier and I’m out to prove them wrong.”
When Sutter rejoined Charlotte later in the season, he was a more versatile player, finishing with five points in five playoff games before taking on a leadership role in the development camp this week. He has to pack out his frame with muscle and improve his skating to advance, but he has so far exceeded the expectations attached to the 193rd overall pick.
“I just think he falls into the late bloomer category,” Francis said. “There are kids that develop early and kids that take a little more time, especially the larger guys. We’re happy we got him where we did and he’s certainly making great strides in the right direction.”
There are no guarantees either will make it, but on Saturday, they offered a glimpse of what the future might be – one a hulking body, the other a devastating hitter, neither a first-round pick, both capable of filling a need at the NHL level if they can get there.