The Carolina Hurricanes are down a depth option with the playoffs approaching, but the bigger hit will be to the Charlotte Checkers, the top team in the AHL. Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci has revealed that forward Janne Kuokkanen is done for the year. The top prospect has missed more than a month now with an upper-body injury, but both the ’Canes and Checkers hoped he would be able to return. Instead, Kuokkanen is scheduled for surgery in two weeks that will end his season. The 2016 second-round pick is in his second pro season and had been on pace to put up major numbers in the minors. Prior to his injury, Kuokkanen had 38 points in 48 games, close to his 60-game total from last year, and remains second on the team in per-game production. Kuokkanen has also played eleven games with Carolina, including seven this season, and likely would have been a top injury replacement consideration. The talented forward will instead have to focus on his recovery and will likely be given a chance to break camp with the Hurricanes next season.
- On one goal last night, history was made for two players in the U.S. National Team Development Program writes NHL.com’s Mike Morreale. Facing the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers, presumptive 2019 first-round picks Jack Hughes and Cole Caufield connected for a goal late in the third period of a lopsided blowout; it was yet another of countless the duo have combined for in their time with the program. The assist to Hughes, the favorite to go No. 1 overall in June, was his 190th point in his two-year stint with the program, passing Clayton Keller for the most all-time. It was his fifth assist of the game and his 130th as a member of the USNTDP. Hughes now tops a list that includes Keller, Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane, Jeremy Bracco, and Auston Matthews next in line. The goal for Caufield was his sixth of the game and somehow more impressively his 105th for the USNTDP, the new all-time high. Caufield takes the overall title away from Kessel and is just four goals away from passing Matthews for most goals in a single season. Although just 5’7″, Caufield is an elite sniper whose game has been complemented nicely by Hughes’ next-level play-making abilities. Questions about his size and ability to produce when not surrounded by top talent persist, but the University of Wisconsin-bound forward is still expected to be picked in the first half of the first round this spring. Hughes and Caufield are now names for the USNTDP record books, but soon they’ll be topping charts as NHL prospects and even NHL scorers sooner rather than later.
- A recent University of Wisconsin standout had a nice night of his own. Seamus Malone, who wrapped up an impressive four-year career with the Badgers last week, signed a tryout deal with the AHL’s Utica Comets. In his pro debut, Malone also picked up his first career goal. An undersized, but capable center, Malone was a model of consistency at Wisconsin, recording 23+ points in 35+ games in each of his four seasons. However, his senior campaign also showed that he has developed into a more well-rounded two-way contributor. Malone was a player that some were surprised to see go undrafted during his years of eligibility, but now the 22-year-old may end up in the NHL after all. He is bound for far more than just a tryout deal and will likely land an AHL contract, if not an entry-level contract for next season, especially if he keeps scoring in his current stint with the Comets.