NHL.com: Charlotte combines development, winning

American Hockey League

Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes) found a perfect balance between the two this season by winning the Calder Cup after a 51-win, 110-point regular season.

Here are four takeaways of what it all means for Charlotte, which defeated Chicago (Vegas Golden Knights) in five games for the Calder Cup, and the Hurricanes:

Winning matters

Mike Vellucci, in his second season, won the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach. He considers this Calder Cup championship to be a major turning point for the Carolina organization. He also serves as assistant general manager and director of hockey operations for the Hurricanes, who this season made it to the Eastern Conference Final, where they were swept by the Boston Bruins. 

The Hurricanes and Vellucci wanted to see more than player development from Charlotte.

“We accept no losing,” Vellucci said. “We want to get better as players, obviously, but we want to win. Developing, there’s the skill part of it, but developing winners is something that as an organization we needed.

“Mediocrity is no longer tolerated in our organization, and it started with [Hurricanes coach] Rod Brind’Amour.”

Prospects aplenty

The Hurricanes have quietly built one of the best prospect pools in the NHL, one that has now experienced a four-round playoff grind.

Forward Martin Necas, selected by Carolina in the first round (No. 12) of the 2017 NHL Draft, had 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 18 playoff games in his first AHL season. Center Morgan Geekie, a third-round (No. 67) pick in 2017, led all AHL rookies in playoff scoring with 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 19 games. That total also tied him for second in the AHL with teammate Tomas Jurco. Forward Aleksi Saarela, who was traded to Carolina by the New York Rangers in the Eric Staal trade in 2016, had 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 17 playoff games after scoring a team-leading 30 regular-season goals.

Forward Nicolas Roy, a fourth-round pick (No. 96) in the 2015 NHL Draft, had 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 19 playoff games. Forward Julien Gauthier, the No. 21 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, had eight points (five goals, three assists) in 17 playoff games.

Among defensemen, rookie Jake Bean, the No. 13 pick in 2016, was plus-10 with 26 shots on goal in 15 postseason games while Haydn Fleury, the No. 7 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, had six points (two goals, four assists) and was a plus-seven.

Goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, selected in the second round (No. 37) in 2014, is a prime candidate for more work in Carolina next season after three busy AHL seasons. He has led AHL goalie in regular-season games in back-to-back seasons, including 51 in 2018-19.

Nedeljkovic was 10-4 with a 2.31 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 15 playoff games. He was named to the AHL First All-Star Team and won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding goalie in the regular season when he was 34-9-5 with a 2.26 GAA and .916 save percentage.

Experienced leadership

Forward Andrew Poturalski was named the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy winner as the most valuable player in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Playing with a broken foot, Poturalski had 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 18 games.

The 25-year-old, in his third season with Charlotte, formed part of a deep veteran core that helped guide Carolina’s young prospects. Captain Patrick Brown excelled in a variety of roles and also proved to be a useful NHL recall option. Jurco and Necas flourished together quickly.

“[Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell] believed in this group, believed in giving us good young players and surrounding them with awesome vets,” Charlotte senior vice president of hockey operations Derek Wilkinson said. “That’s the formula that works in the American League. It’s tried and true, but it’s hard to get to, and hard to do.”

Defensemen Trevor Carrick, Josiah Didier, Dan Renouf and Bobby Sanguinetti added experience for younger defenders like Bean and Jesper Sellgren. 

Forward Zack Stortini offered guidance and was the first player to receive the Calder Cup from Brown. Veteran goalie Dustin Tokarski formed a top tandem with Nedeljkovic.

“It was all positive, and I couldn’t ask for a better guy to be there with you and to win it with,” Nedeljkovic said of Tokarski.

Behind the bench

Vellucci is 97-43-8-4 in two seasons with Charlotte, and this season had 11 players play for the Hurricanes. 

Vellucci molded the talent into a cohesive, detail-oriented unit. The Charlotte penalty kill finished first in the regular season (86.6 percent), and the team finished second in goals-against per game (2.49). Charlotte limited opponents to 27.03 shots per game in the regular season, third-best in the AHL.

That brand of tenacious defense fueled an already potent offense that finished fifth in the regular season at 3.36 goals per game and first in the postseason (4.05).

Vellucci finished his fifth season in the Carolina organization after a strong career as coach and general manager with Plymouth, where he twice won Ontario Hockey League Coach of the Year honors.

His work with Charlotte had already attracted considerable attention, and a Calder Cup will only further solidify his credentials as a candidate for NHL coaching vacancies at some point.

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