The Carolina Hurricanes are locking down all their brightest prospects this spring.
They started with defenseman Brett Pesce, who has opted for forgo his final season of NCAA eligibility by signing with the Hurricanes for next season. Soon after, the team announced that netminder Alex Nedeljkovic had signed an entry-level contract with the franchise — and although he’s heading back to the CHL next season as a member of the Flint Firebirds, he’s getting a few strong looks from the team already in Charlotte.
Now, they’ve added another blue liner — second round draft pick Roland McKeown, who came with a lottery protected first round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft in exchange for veteran defeseman Andrej Sekera at the trade deadline, has been signed to a three year entry-level contract.
McKeown was one of the upper-round steals last summer in Philadelphia; although he could have easily been taken in the first round, he fell to fiftieth overall. The Kings liked his offensive play, and assumed that it was worth the risk to select him early on and encourage defensive development with the Kingston Frontenacs this year. He struggled with attempting to maintain his offensive production from seasons past while still solidifying his defensive zone coverage, but the season finally leveled out for McKeown this spring.
As one of the biggest components of the trade this March, McKeown is a worthwhile asset to lock down now, even if he hasn’t fully reached the peak of his development. His willingness to focus on areas of his game that maybe weren’t as strong as those he was originally advertised for are what may separate him from the pack long-term. Offensive, dynamic blue liners who don’t mind playing the puck are becoming more commonplace, but these skaters are starting to fall behind when it comes to strong play in their own zone; with such high stock placed on scoring in the CHL (primarily in the OHL, but with strong sentiments against low scoring players in all three major junior leagues), players like McKeown do both themselves and their future NHL clubs a service when they put the time and effort into developing the weaker areas of their play.
McKeown and the Kingston Frontenacs are struggling in the post-season, so he could be available to join the team as early as Friday with a fourth and final victory by the North Bay Battalion. With the playoffs not a possibility, though, the Hurricanes may wait until this summer to evaluate whether they’d like to see McKeown play a fourth and final OHL season — or if they’d like to offer him the opportunity to play at the NHL level earlier than anticipated.