The Carolina Hurricanes are red hot as the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs approach — and they added another piece to an elite forward core this week. Jackson Blake, a forward for the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, signed his entry-level contract, the team announced on Wednesday.

Blake is a Hobey Baker Award finalist as one of the top-three players in NCAA college hockey in 2023-24, along with presumed No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NHL Draft Macklin Celebrini (Boston University), and Boston College sophomore Cutter Gauthier.

“Jackson is an explosive playmaker who has played a key role in North Dakota's success over the past two seasons,” Canes GM Don Waddell said in a statement. “Hockey is in his blood, and we can't wait to see how his game continues to grow at the next level.”

Blake's contract will kick in as soon as 2023-24; “he'll make $775,000 at the NHL level this season and earn $832,500 at the NHL level in the 2024-25 and the 2025-26 seasons,” reported ESPN's Ryan S. Clark. “He'll earn $80,000 at the AHL level for all three seasons, and his deal also includes a $277,500 signing bonus.”

Jackson Blake the son of longtime forward Jason Blake

Jackson's father Jason Blake played 871 NHL games between 1989-99, per Clark, suiting up for the Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs and Anaheim Ducks. He scored 40 goals as a member of the Isles in 2006-07.

He also represented Team USA in the World Championships and Olympic Games in 2006.

Jackson Blake was selected in the fourth-round, 109th overall by the Hurricanes in the 2021 NHL Draft. He's spent the last two seasons at UND, dominating to the tune of 22 goals and 60 points in just 40 games in 2023-24. He scored at above a point-per-game clip last season as well, potting 16 goals and 42 points in 39 contests.

“Blake was one of the major reasons why UND was among the nation's top 10 teams. His 22 goals and 38 assists for 60 points was not only the most on the UND roster, but he was only one of four players nationally to have 60 points at the time of his signing,” wrote Clark on Wednesday.

“North Dakota finished the season winning the NCHC regular-season title before losing in the finals of the conference tournament. UND returned to the tournament where it lost to Michigan in the opening game of the Midwest Regional Semifinal in Maryland Heights, Mo.”

Although Blake likely won't be playing for the Canes this postseason, he should be a candidate to join a powerhouse group of forwards sooner rather than later.

Hurricanes eyeing Metropolitan Division crown, another deep playoff run

Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov (52) is congratulated by defenseman Brett Pesce (22) after defeating the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

And the Hurricanes are looking like one of the league's premier teams with just a week left in the 2023-24 regular-season. After winning three consecutive games and seven of their last 10, the Canes have closed the New York Rangers' gap to just three points for the Metro Division lead.

With three games left on the schedule — for both Carolina and New York — it would be difficult but not impossible for the Canes to leapfrog the Blueshirts in the waning days.

The Hurricanes will play all of their final three contests on the road, and they'll all be against non-playoff opponents. They'll travel through St. Louis and Chicago over the weekend to play the Blues and Blackhawks, respectively, before wrapping up in Columbus on April 16.

Shortly after that, it'll be another Round 1, Game 1 at PNC Arena in Raleigh. And after reaching the Eastern Conference Final last year, it'll be Stanley Cup or bust for Rod Brind'Amour's club this time around.