One of the benefits of having a team owner who also operates a OHL team is getting the inside scoop on some of the prospects there. It has been something the Carolina Hurricanes have been taking advantage of the last few seasons with the Plymouth Whalers, who are owned by Peter Karmanos. A good number of Carolina prospects over the years have played some of their junior hockey in Plymouth and a few players in their system right now played with the Whalers last season. We discussed one in Beau Schmitz but today we will be focusing on another defenseman in Austin Levi.
Levi was selected in the third round of the 2010 draft and was considered a bit of a risky pick at the time because he was considered a "raw prospect." Out of the draft, he was known as a very athletic player with great size but not much hockey sense. He was one of the players who many thought could be a great all-around defenseman or a total bust depending on how he developed. It has now been two years since Levi was drafted and he has come a long way while spending the last four seasons in Plymouth. Levi has been billed as one of the top shutdown defensemen in the OHL and has provided some decent offensive production, as well with 30 points in 64 games. He also had a terrific post-season offensively with 10 points in 13 games.
The most promising thing about Levi is that he has gotten better every season and that's evident if you look at the stat-sheet and the praise from some of the people who have watched him. He has always had the tools and the size to be a solid defenseman and he has been making use of his athleticism over the years to become the player the scouts hoped he could turn into. Levi still isn't quite there yet because he's only played against junior competition but he only just turned 20 in February and has certainly gotten the defensive side of the game down according to those who have watched him.
Levi's big frame and towering stature make him an effective defensive player but it is his physical play that makes him a force to be reckoned with. He has been known to deliver punishing hits to opposing forwards and make life as difficult for them as possible once they enter the zone. It might be easier for him to do this while he's playing agianst smaller forwards in junior hockey, but Levi is still decently sized at 6'4" and 205 lbs. Another nice asset about Levi is that his game isn't completely one-dimensional as he is also very skilled at carrying the puck and is capable at leading a breakout. This was actually one of his strongest assets when he was drafted but his game in the defensive zone has improved tremendously since then. Something else that might catch the mind of stat-minded folks is that his penalty minutes have decreased over the years while his physical and defensive game has gotten much stronger, which could be a good sign for his future. A lot of big physical defensemen tend to take bad penalties but it appears that Levi has been able to correct this during his time in the OHL.
While Levi's development has been nothing but impressive, he has still yet to face any competition outside of junior hockey, which is something that will change next season, hopefully. His offense hasn't come around as much as some would have hoped, but the Canes have a bigger need for a shutdown defenseman like Levi has developed into these last couple of years. I think a year in the AHL playing against some older, larger forwards will be a good test for him and should give the Canes a better idea of where he is in his development. I have talked about how some of Carolina's surplus of defensive prospects need to do something to make themselves stand out amongst the pack. Levi is one of the blue-liners who I think made himself stand out this season. Still need to see how he does in the pros before he gets ranked any higher, though.