Canes Art provided by Chris Clark.
Today Canes and Coffee’s reader and guest website takeover moves forward into its fourth and final day.
If you are catching up, reader articles include:
Guest writer articles include:
Today’s reader article is courtesy of Craig Johnson and has two sets of three – one of players on the spot and another of rookies who could make the jump.
About the Author
Craig Johnson (Twitter=@cwjohnson23) grew up in Virginia where he played dangerously thin ice pond hockey on a nearby pond those couple of times a year when it froze over. The Capitals were his team by geography, but they were pretty horrible and tough to follow. Fast forward to 2000 when Craig and his family moved from Wilmington to Raleigh. A good friend took him to a couple of Hurricanes games (his company had killer seats) and Craig was hooked. For the 17 years since, Craig has been an “on again/off again” season ticket holder. He attended every home game of both Stanley Cup runs, culminating with going to the 2006 Finals game with his 8 year old and 10 year old sons. Craig and his family remain die-hard Caniacs.
Craig lives in Chapel Hill and writes occasionally for both CanesCountry and the new CanesEdge blogs.
A projected Hurricanes lineup starting point
As we move into the true dog days of summer, the time for speculation is upon us. Over the last few years these mid- to late-summer days were often filled with chatter surrounding roster make-up, which rookies would/might make the team, and what other roster changes might be in the offing. That’s really not the case this season. While there may be some minor camp “battles”, the upcoming season’s roster is pretty much set. One guess at that lineup might be:
We know that Bill Peters has no problem shifting guys from line to line, attempting to gain an advantage or to spark offense. However, some combination of the above is a likely starting point.
What does that mean in the grand scheme of things? What has to happen for this group (“We like our group”) to excel and prove to be a playoff contender? Related to this, who is ready to join the club of difference-makers? Can a youngster force the issue and get the playing time required to have an impact? The answer to the first set of questions boils down to key players doing specific things. While it is easy to answer the last question with a, “who knows”, there are some wild cards at play. Maybe, just maybe, that impact player comes from the ranks of the youngsters attempting to make their mark. We don’t want to think about it, but last season was relatively injury-free, so there is that as well.
Three Guys That Must
Why is the leading scorer from last season on this list? Simply put, Skins is a leader on the team and somebody who has to continue to play at the same high level he established last season. Expectations should remain high for Jeff. He’s got to put up 30+ goals and 60-some points. Ideally, he’d crack 70. He’s got to be the guy who occasionally puts the team on his back and carries them to victory.
Last season, Skinner showed flashes of a more complete offensive game. That has to continue to evolve too. The “one on four” rushes need to be fewer and farther between. But most importantly, Jeff Skinner has to continue his maturation process as a leader. He’s a guy who hates to lose and his competitive juices are contagious…and rightly so. One of the biggest changes in his game last season was the near complete disappearance of pouting when things didn’t go his way. He simply redoubled his efforts and tried to find a way to win. That is the Jeff Skinner that needs to show up at the beginning of the season, maintaining that effort and intensity for 82 games…and hopefully beyond.
Many were disappointed with Rask given his small step back last season. When one digs deeper into the numbers, it proves illuminating. Victor Rask put up 10 points in his first 8 games. He cooled off a bit in November and December but still managed 16 points in 28 games. His January started off quite well as he was on a point per game pace through the 1st six games of the new year. Those 32 points in his first 42 games had him scoring at a 60+ point clip. Then came his dreaded 14 game pointless streak and everybody was searching for solutions.
The Hurricanes need Victor Rask to be a 50-55 point guy. Anything more is gravy. Those 5 to 10 points don’t sound like much but they can translate into 2 or 3 more victories which will be crucial to the 2017-18 Hurricanes. Interestingly enough, the 13 points Rask had after his pointless streak was right about at his career NHL average. The key concurrent manifestation of Victor’s scoring woes was a general loss of confidence which trickled down into his defensive game. There were shifts where he just looked lost and did a good bit of chasing. Still, the team needs Victor Rask to not just return to the 49 point 2015-16 version, they need him to continue to get just a little bit better. We saw that guy in international play early this summer. Let’s hope that’s the Victor Rask that shows up to camp and beyond.
Noah Hanifin/Justin Faulk
Yes, it is cheating to put a defensive pairing as “a guy”, but I’m doing it anyway. Hanifin and Faulk will have to be the post-March 2017 duo. Justin Faulk potted 5 goals, netted 12 points, and had a plus/minus of -2 over the last 23 games. Noah Hanifin actually put up statistically superior numbers over the same span – 2 goals, 13 points, and a plus/minus of +2. While we should all be skeptical of extrapolating short, select groups of game performance, it is interesting that if both players maintained that pace, but would have been 40+ point guys.
Over the same time span, the informal eye test also tells us that both defenders played some of the best defensive hockey of their respective years. That is the most important facet of play that this pairing needs to replicate. They will be asked to match up against a lot of 2nd lines (and probably some 1st lines away from home). Both Justin and Noah will need to quiet the skeptics who regard their defensive play as somewhat suspect. If this pairing can transition from solid defensive play to dangerous offensive play, then fears of a lack of offensive punch might just be overblown.
Honorable Mention: Jordan Staal
He’s most likely going to be paired with Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm, two of the best distributors on the team. If Jordan is ever to overcome lingering concerns about his offensive capabilities, this is the situation and the season for that to happen. Staal’s finishing skills need to, at a bare minimum, be slightly above average. Anything better than that would be a bonus. It is hard to believe that he won’t be banging in a number of rebounds too. Regardless, early season success is critical for the big guy from Thunder Bay.
3 Guys Who Could
While the coaches have essentially penciled Fleury in the third pairing on the NHL squad, the capable Klas Dahlbeck stands waiting in the wings to cover for the youngster, just in case. Haydn Fleury will have to use his speed, his size, and his strength to secure and keep his position in the lineup. Anybody who watched the Checkers saw a kid who is ready for the bigs, but nobody comes up from the AHL without growing pains. Fleury will have to minimize those.
With Trevor van Riemsdyk as a likely playing partner, Fleury will have a young but experienced mentor. TVR skates pretty well two, so this pairing will be interesting in that they should be able to keep pace with nearly any forward. This size and speed should also help them clear pucks out of the zone quickly, transitioning to offense whether carrying the puck or making crisp, smart first passes. The full year in the AHL certainly taught young Haydn many things. Let’s hope it prepared him for the next step in his progression.
There’s been a good bit of hype surrounding Foegele since receiving the MVP of the OHL playoffs award (Wayne Gretzky ’99 Award), much of it dutifully earned. Still, he is a 21 year old, often playing against kids 3 and 4 years younger. Yet, there is something about Foegele that makes one wonder. He’s a very fast and agile skater. He’s got a pretty nice shot. And he’s not afraid to go to the front of the net. This is a profile of a kid who will likely be battling Nordstrom, Jooris, McGinn, and DiGiuseppe for one of those 4th line wing spots.
With his speed and his grit, Warren Foegele also fits into the Bill Peters mold of the player who works well in the system. He almost certainly needs some seasoning in Charlotte, but he just might bull his way into the call-up conversation should a forward suffer an injury. Should that happen, it wouldn’t be inconceivable that his play could make it difficult to send the youngster back down I-85.
During his brief 2-game trial, the young Russian impressed many on a few fronts. First, and foremost, he was fearless in his desire and ability to get to the front of the net. His lone NHL goal came from just such battling, banging home a timely rebound. Zykov is also an underrated skater who has better speed than advertised and is pretty agile for a barrel-bodied player. And anybody who hasn’t taken notice of the wicked wrist shot needs to pay attention. About halfway through this past season, Valentin settled down a bit, regaining accuracy. The offensive results followed.
Zykov can play both wings, but his right shot allows him to slide into an RW position pretty easily. With 34 year old Lee Stempniak manning that side on Skinner and Ryan’s line, it isn’t inconceivable that that injury could be waiting in the wings. Zykov would be a very good option to plug into that line, actually bringing additional size to a line that could readily use it. It might be difficult to see how Valentin Zykov could force his way into the picture at camp, but he does bring certain things to the table that the team still could use.
Honorable Mention: Lucas Wallmark
Throughout his hockey playing career, Wallmark was known as an ace distributor, threading impossible passes to luck teammates. Well something happened on the way to America. Lucas was coached to use his shot more and it paid dividends in a 24 goal, 46 point season for the Checkers. He looked very comfortable in his 8-game NHL stint. Alas, the 4C role that would have been ideal, was almost certainly filled by the Marcus Kruger acquisition. Still, Derek Ryan probably needs to keep an eye out over his shoulder as one can only imagine how Jeff Skinner would love being set up by a player with Wallmark’s skill in that area.
There are others on the team that will need to either continue to develop or maintain their high level of play. Some of that has to be taken for granted. In this case if Skinner, Rask, Hanifin, and Faulk meet or exceed expectations, the NHL squad should be in for a pretty nice roll. Similarly, there are other guys who would want to force their way into the NHL squad conversation. Julien Gauthier, Aleksi Saarela, and Janne Kuokkanen all come to mind. However, they all likely need at least some time in the AHL to continue to work on various facets of their games. In both cases, the upgrade in talent and wealth of opportunity positions this season’s Carolina Hurricanes as something they haven’t truly been in a long time – a true playoff contender.
The Thursday Coffee Shop article which will be up no later than late morning will feature a similar thing looking at both veterans on the spot and rookies who might rise.