Prospects Fleury, McKeown looking to crack talented young Carolina blueline

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We’ve written before about all the good, young, intriguing talent GM Ron Francis has assembled in Carolina.

Come next year, even more of it could be on display.

A defense that already features Justin Faulk (24 years old), Ryan Murphy (23), Jaccob Slavin (22), Brett Pesce (21) and Noah Hanifin (19) could get another injection of youth next season, with former first-rounder Haydn Fleury (19) and Roland McKeown (20) looking to make the jump.

McKeown was acquired from Los Angeles in the Andrej Sekera trade, and actually played alongside Fleury for Team Canada at the world juniors. Described by ‘Canes amateur scouting director Tony MacDonald as a “world-class skater,” McKeown looks like he’ll challenge for a spot with the ‘Canes this fall.

More, from the News & Observer:

The 6-1, 195-pound blueliner was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings, along with the first-round pick that became Julien Gauthier, in exchange for Andrej Sekera at the 2015 trade deadline.

In his first full season in the Carolina organization, he finished third in OHL Defenseman of the Year voting after his fourth campaign with the Kingston Frontenacs, tallying 42 points as team captain and leading Kingston to the best regular-season record in the conference. He called it a “special year” and said he developed substantially “in all aspects.”

Fleury, the seventh overall pick in 2014, is currently attending his third consecutive prospects camp. He’s been brought along slower than some of Carolina’s other defensive draftees — like Hanifin, for example — but there’s reason to believe he could challenge for minutes this year.

“I went back to junior the last two years and got better at the areas I needed to get better at to give myself the best chance to make the team this fall,” Fleury said. “I’m going to come into main camp in the fall and do my best to take that spot.”

The biggest question is how many spots Carolina will have available on defense. One was cleared out when Francis bought out the final year of James Wisniewski’s contract, and it remains to be seen how big a role Czech defender Michal Jordan will play next year — if at all, as Jordan is still unsigned.

Whatever the case, though, one thing is clear. The ‘Canes blueline has a very bright future.

(Oh, and by the way, Carolina has yet another good young d-man in the system — Jake Bean, the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft.)