With a couple days minus any new data from games, here are a few random thoughts heading into the weekend:
1) Noah Hanifin. When I think about where he is right now, the thing that excites me the most about his game is his ability to defend with the puck in front of him. He is not the “young skating defenseman” who skates well forward with the puck on his stick but is just beginning to learn how to actually play defense. His gaps are good. He uses his reach and stick real well. And he skates well backwards such that he is not prone to being beaten by anyone with speed or a decent move. Ironically, the part of his game that needs to tighten up most is his play with the puck.
2) Eric Staal. His 1 goal and 0 assists in 3 games are obviously not going to cut it if the Canes are going to win much in 2015-16, but I continue to like Eric Staal’s game. He has been physical, played well winning and distributing pucks from behind the goal line and spent more time in front of the net than usual (and even at least sometimes avoided his natural temptation to give up his screen to move to the side for a tip chance).
3) Jeff Skinner/Kris Versteeg. After a huge game for Skinner with 2 goals and another in the 3-on-3 exhibition in the third preseason game, the duo was inexplicably separated. With Skinner scoreless since and constant line reshuffling, I continue to be surprised that they have not found their way back together.
4) Elias Lindholm/Jeff O’Neill. Their style of play is different, but I wonder if Lindholm is a bit like O’Neill in terms of finding his way into games. O’Neill always played his best hockey when he got physically engaged early. If O’Neill was forechecking and banging bodies in the process, the rest of his game almost always followed, as if the physical aspect was the ignition switch for everything else. Similarly, I think Lindholm’s game picks up when he can get into a couple puck battles to help trigger his pace and compete level.
5) Chris Terry/Cory Stillman. If I had to pick a former Hurricanes player that I would hope Terry could model his game after, it would be Cory Stillman. Stillman was not a dominant player physically. He was below average by NHL standards for speed and quickness. He made up for it by thinking the game fast and using that to be in the right place and also create scoring chances for his line mates using the same smarts. Terry is similarly a player with a decent tool bag offensively but also the challenge of matching the NHL pace. Stillman managed to fit with the young versions of Erik Cole and Eric Staal, so it is possible. If I was Bill Peters, I would have Terry sitting with Stillman on a regular basis just working through game tape and helping him figure out how to style his game a bit like Stillman’s.
6) Noah Hanifin/Ryan Murphy. As much as this duo has the potential to be fun, I am not so much of a fan of it through 3 regular season games. I think both players might benefit from a partner who is a little more safe, sound and predictable. The challenge is that now with Wisniewski lost to injury, I am not sure this is even an option.
7) Jordan Staal/Andrej Nestrasil. Of the latest batch of line combinations, this is the new combination that I like the most. Andrej Nestrasil has quietly looked pretty good playing a power forward game on lower lines. Minus enough pure playmaking to go around and with the need to get scoring from all lines, I think this iteration of Jordan Staal’s line could work if they can play a strong puck possession game, generate point shots and create chaos around the net.
8) Brett Pesce. It will be interesting to see how Peters/Francis play this. I am on record as liking Pesce in Wisniewski’s slot and am fine with giving that a go on Friday. It will be interesting to see if Peters takes more of a gradual step-wise approach. Pesce could sit Friday and then play Saturday. I also think he could start on the third pairing and move up as warranted. Or just maybe I get my wish. 🙂
9) Brock McGinn. He seems much more certain to draw into the lineup immediately. Nordstrom did not practice Thursday, and McGinn slotted on a McGinn/EStaal/Versteeg line. McGinn could not ask for a more favorable situation for a debut and a chance to make a good first regular season impression. He enters following a lackluster game that had Coach Bill Peters calling for more of exactly the jam and competitiveness that is McGinn’s calling card. And if the lines from Thursday’s practice hold for Friday’s game, he will see ice time with 2 very scoring-capable line mates.
10) John-Michael Liles. He has quietly been playing pretty good hockey with a rotating set of partners since the Wisniewski injury.