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With the Charlotte Checkers training camp opening up today, I would have expected another large round of cuts over the weekend. But looking at the lineup for Tuesday’s preseason game in Nashville, it appears that Brind’Amour opted to go a bit out of standard order playing the NHLers at home last Frirday and sending a largely prospect group to Nashville on Tuesday.
The next big round of cuts should come before and/or after the Tuesday game.
Many cuts are inevitable, but there is often much information to be gleaned from the timing and circumstances of them. Two years ago when Warren Foegele stuck around late into preseason well after most junior players were gone, it clearly meant that he had impressed the organization. That same training camp, when Roland McKeown outlasted a number of other higher profile defenseman and more or less won the final defenseman slot (before the team went the waivers route instead), he had clearly impressed in preseason. And last year when Martin Necas survived the big round of cuts, it suggested that he might receive at least a 9-game NHL trial which he ultimately did.
Just like with any other preseason, the order and circumstances of cuts can provide information on a player’s standing within the depth chart and the rating of his preseason play.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a quick look at the first two rounds of cuts, and what information might be gleaned from them.
The Canadian junior cuts
The first three players cut from the roster were Western Hockey League players Stelio Mattheos, Brendan De Jong and Luke Henman to their junior teams. All three were routine cuts to send junior players back to their teams in time for the start of their seasons, so there is nothing negative to read into these players being the first gone.
In fact, I think Stelio Mattheos had a strong summer and boosted his stock. My impression of him improved significantly from watching him in prospect camp and at Traverse City for the second time. His foundation of decent size and skating ability added a bit more skill and offense.
Similarly, my first impression of Luke Henman was also favorable. He has a ways to go in terms of developing physically to play in the NHL, but he reminded me of Brandon Sutter in terms of being ahead of his age in terms of thinking the game positionally, supporting the puck and decision-making.
De Jong is one of a set of mid to late round blue line draft picks who still needs to find a higher level to earn a contract. The defense prospect pool is not as deep as the forwards, but the addition of Adam Fox and Michael Fora this summer took up two slots. De Jong will need to have a strong 2018-19 season to win a contract next summer.
The first round of AHL cuts
Then last Friday, the team announced sort of a partial round of AHL cuts sending eight players to Charlotte in advance of the start of training camp on Monday. The cuts included forwards Aleksi Saarela, Spencer Smallman, Steven Lorentz and Cliff Pu, defensemen Josiah Didier, Michael Fora and Josh Wesley and goalie Jeremy Helvig.
I would categorize five of the cuts as expected routine. All of Steven Lorentz, Josh Wesley and Spencer Smallman were ECHL/AHL fringe players in 2017-18 and therefore start the 2018-19 season toward the bottom of the prospect depth chart needing to earn AHL ice time and impress to move up. Josiah Didier was signed to bring AHL depth on the blue line. Helvig had a strong summer playing well in Traverse City and not looking out of place at the NHL level, but he still starts the season as the bottom of three AHL goalies and needing to leap frog the others to climb to the NHL.
Cuts that offer ranking/evaluation information
The other three cuts offer a bit more new information.
Aleksi Saarela is the one that would qualify as a surprise and/or statement. I have chirped throughout most of the summer about how he just did not do enough when not looking to score. That apparently was the team’s opinion too because he would have figured to be around at least until the later AHL cuts. As cast right now, Saarela looks like a capable AHL scorer but will need to add more depth to his game to challenge for NHL ice time.
Cliff Pu was definitely destined for the AHL this season, but perhaps being on the first bus says something about where he ranks right now.
Finally, as an older but new prospect, Michael Fora was a bit of a wild card entering training camp. His early demotion suggests that he is more of a prospect than a plug and play.
By far and away, the cut thus far that makes the biggest statement is the Saarela cut.
Handicapping what is next
Sometime in the next 48 hours, the Carolina Hurricanes should make another sizable round of cuts to stock the AHL training camp and leave Brind’Amour with something much closer to the opening day roster.
Looking at it by position, it goes like this…
Petr Mrazek and Scott Darling will start the year at the NHL level. As such, when and whether Alex Nedeljkovic and Callum Booth are returned to Charlotte is just a function of how many extra goalies Brind’Amour wants around for practice and possibly to back up in games. The only small tidbit of information could come if Brind’Amour demotes only one of the AHLers in which case who stays longer would be a small measure of who has impressed more in training camp. But at the end of the day, only an injury to Darling or Mrazek makes this interesting.
The Hurricanes have six veterans on one-way contracts and also Haydn Fleury. Those seven figure to be the opening day group though there is a slight chance that Fleury could be sent to the AHL for ice time if he lands in the #7 slot.
That leaves Jake Bean, Trevor Carrick, Roland McKeown and Dan Renouf waiting for the call that sends them to Charlotte. Best bet is that the team keeps at least one of these players longer to have eight defensemen for practice drills. I think this position is a bit random. Who the Hurricanes keep longer could provide an indication of where they fall on the depth chart, but there is also some randomness to it.
The Hurricanes have 11 forwards either on one-way deals or certain/nearly certain to stay at the NHL level. They also have Warren Foegele, Janne Kuokkanen and Lucas Wallmark who at a minimum will be in a battle for a roster spot to the end. If I draw a firm cut line, that is where it is for the forward position.
Brind’Amour might keep a couple more forwards short-term, but given that I think the other eight are ultimately slotted for Charlotte seeing which couple join Foegele, Kuokkanen and Wallmark with be interesting.
What I am watching for?
The battle is basically for the #8 slot which still heads to Charlotte at some point, but I will still be curious to see who seems to win that battle. Carrick seems overdue to become that depth guy, but McKeown has won the slot previously and looked serviceable the few times he was pressed into NHL action.
I will be curious to see which, if any, of the other forwards join the 14 that I see as certain to stay. Who those couple are would provide some data for where players fall on the organizational depth chart coming out of training camp.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you make of the cuts thus far?
2) How aggressive do you think the organization will be with the next round of cuts? Could we see the roster shrink to 25-27 players? Or will Brind’Amour keep a few more around?
3) Who do you think wins what I consider to be a battle for the #8 defense slot?
4) If you had to pick three forwards to keep a bit longer (past 11 regulars plus Foegele, Wallmark and Kuokkanen), who would they be?