Chase Priskie surely had options. Probably plenty of them.
When it became clear the Quinnipiac University captain wasn’t going to be signing with the Washington Capitals, who had drafted him in the sixth round, 177th overall, in 2016, there was reason for the league’s other 30 clubs to take notice. Here he was, a 23-year-old right shot defenseman fresh off of an outstanding campaign that saw him land in the Hobey Baker Award Top 10 with an opportunity to sign with whichever suitor he believed would be the best fit. And after officially becoming a free agent on Aug. 15, it took Priskie only two days to decide his future: the prized college UFA inked a two-year, entry-level deal with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Now, Priskie’s signing didn’t make waves across the hockey world. It wasn’t even really front page news. But for Carolina, the signing was something of a coup. “Chase was one of the best defensemen in college hockey last season," said Hurricanes GM Don Waddell in a release. "We believe he has a bright future in the NHL, and we're thrilled that he has chosen to come to Carolina.”
And thrilled the Hurricanes should be, and for more reasons than one. Yes, there’s the obvious. In landing Priskie, Carolina has brought aboard a blueliner with top-four potential. His 39-point performance in 36 games last season was more prolific than all but four NCAA defensemen last season. His 17 goals were more than any other blueliner in the circuit, one more than even projected Calder Trophy contender Cale Makar. And to give those numbers some context, consider that Will Butcher, a former top college free agent himself, wrapped up his NCAA career with a seven-goal, 37-point performance on a national champion University of Denver team. That's an exciting comparable.
But there are few other reasons why the Hurricanes should be excited. One is that by winning the Priskie sweepstakes, Carolina has been able to find another young, right-handed defenseman who can fill the up-and-comer void created by the trade of Adam Fox to the New York Rangers earlier this summer. Is this to say Priskie and Fox are one and the same? Not at all. Fox, who was picked 111 spots ahead of Priskie in 2016, was a top-30 prospect in The Hockey News’ Future Watch 2019 and is a surefire NHLer. The same can’t be said for Priskie, who was never ranked as one of the Capitals’ best and brightest prospects.
There's also the matter of Priskie’s signing signalling that Carolina is committed to continuing to build from within, developing talent and creating the next wave, too. In Future Watch, which sees a panel of scouts rank the prospect pools of all 31 franchises, the Hurricanes, who were very nearly the league’s youngest team last season, ranked fifth in the entire NHL. Martin Necas remains a top prospect, a blue-chipper for whom Carolina has high hopes. Jake Bean has future second-pairing and power play quarterback written all over him. Meanwhile, winger Janne Kuokkanen was the third of three Hurricanes ranked among the 100 top prospects amid another successful AHL campaign. As noted, Fox, who was the fourth top-100 prospect, departed. But again, that’s where Priskie fits in.
Will he make the team this season? That’s unlikely, at least from the outset. On the right side, the Hurricanes have Brett Pesce, Justin Faulk and Dougie Hamilton. Priskie would need to have an otherworldly preseason in order to give coach Rob Brind’Amour reason to keep him on the roster, and even that might not be enough. But there’s no reason to rush Priskie along, and some time spent with the defending Calder Cup champion Charlotte Checkers could provide some excellent seasoning as he makes his transition to the professional ranks.
But that brings us to possibly the greatest cause for celebration, which is that Priskie signed with the Hurricanes despite that veritable logjam. It indicates that there’s belief from the outside in what the franchise is building. Last season was a significant step forward for the Hurricanes, their first playoff berth in a decade and one that culminated in a trip to the Eastern Conference final. Already, Carolina was able to parlay that success into some cachet with free agents, beating out other clubs for the services of scoring winger Ryan Dzingel. It appears that's what the Hurricanes have done again with Priskie.
And that's worth stopping to think about for a second. A mere two or three years ago, Carolina was hardly a first-choice destination for many free agents, college-aged or otherwise. It was a team with promise, but one that hadn’t been able to produce results. But Priskie, a Floridian who reportedly had interest from the likes of the Lightning and Panthers, chose the Hurricanes over all others. That sends a positive message, and that’s just as exciting for Carolina.
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