The Hurricanes did not have a good season but there were quite a few players in the system who got a taste of the playoffs in their respective leagues this year. One of those players was defenseman Keegan Lowe of the Edmonton Oil Kings. Lowe served as alternate captain on the WHL champion Oil Kings and was also one of their top defensemen. His team was unable to capture the Memorial Cup but Lowe played a big role in Edmonton's successful season as he was a very steady blue-liner and helped compliment some of their more offensive minded defensemen.
Lowe's development has always been put under a magnifying glass in Edmonton because he is the son of Oilers great Kevin Lowe and I'm sure the folks in Alberta have noticed his game improve over the years. He just finished up his third year of junior hockey but is still only 19 years old and has developed into a solid, stay-at-home defensemen for the Oil Kings and that's about what he projects to be at the pro level. How much upside he has remains to be seen but he could find himself playing an even bigger role in Edmonton this coming season with Mark Pysyk likely graduating to the pro level, which means that we should have a better idea of Lowe's potential then.
Standing at six feet and three inches, Lowe possesses the frame of a solid shutdown defenseman and I'm sure that he is going to put on a few extra pounds when he gets older, so it's possible that he can work his way to the NHL if he works hard enough. The Hurricanes do have a bit of a need for a stay-at-home defenseman with top-four potential since Brian Dumoulin was traded and Lowe might need to be one of those players to step up into that role. As of right now, we don't know if he can fill that void and he could easily turn into a career AHL-er or a bottom-pairing defenseman at best. It is still too early in his career to determine this, though. Lowe isn't completely one-dimensional since he does contribute offensively but he is more known for playing a strong game in his own zone and his puck-moving skills aren't exactly a force to be reckoned with. He's also spent a lot of time in the sin bin the last couple of seasons with over 100 penalty minutes in consecutive years.
Personally, I never know how to project young defensemen and it's especially difficult to gauge the talent of a stay-at-home defender like Keegan Lowe. Since most of their contributions don't show up on the scoresheet, you have to watch at least some of their games to get an idea of what kind of upside they have and what they could do in the future. Even after that it is tough to predict what they will become in a few years (take Luke Schenn for example). Judging from what I saw in the Memorial Cup, Lowe plays a very physical style and is very good at winning battles in front of the net. He is also a pretty decent skater for a stay-at-home defenseman. My concern with Lowe is if he can be as effective physically at the next level because he isn't the strongest player and this could be a problem when he's taking on bigger forwards.
Carolina fans could have an even better idea of what to expect from Lowe in a couple months if he is with the team at the Traverse City prospects tournament. He still has not earned a pro contract but I get the feeling that will change by this time next season and we could see him in Charlotte in another couple of seasons. Right now, Lowe is one of the team's more intriguing prospects but his full potential is still unknown and he is behind some of the team's other defensive prospects such as Danny Biega and Mark Alt. I'm very excited to see what he can do next season, though.