That article saved arguably the biggest training camp try out player right now in Martin Necas.
Necas was drafted in the first round at #12 overall in the 2017 NHL Draft. He arrived maybe a bit more of an unknown than some of the North American players who receive more media attention leading up to the draft, but he quickly made a name for himself with a strong prospect camp and Traverse City tourney. You can find comments from Hurricanes Head European Scout Robert Kron in our ‘Back to School’ article on Martin Necas from prior to training camp.
Martin Necas has continued his momentum into the NHL training camp and preseason schedule. He caught Bill Peters’ eye early and with his start on Wednesday night is the only player to have played in five of the six preseason games. Heading into Wednesday’s game, he had collected only a lone assist and put only two shots on goal, but he had also shown that he can play at NHL speed and also exhibited flashes of offensive brilliance. Through six of seven preseason games, he has at a minimum played his way into consideration for a trial run at the NHL level. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at Martin Necas’ situation on a couple levels deep.
Three considerations for Martin Necas’ ultimate 2017-18 destination
Three factors will come into play in determining where Martin Necas will play in 2017-18.
1) Whether he is capable of making the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes a better team.
2) What is best for his long-term development in terms of reaching his ceiling 2-4 years from now.
3) The fact that there is a reasonably significant contractual benefit to having him play the 2017-18 season NOT at the NHL level.
So let’s look at those three factors…
Is Martin Necas good enough to play in the NHL as an 18-year old? And is he capable of making the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes better?
Important to note is that those are two completely different questions.
For the first question, in a word, yes. Necas already has more than enough speed, acceleration and broader skating ability to play at NHL speed. Further, his natural instincts to track the puck keep him around the puck and engaged defensively. And he has natural playmaking ability that is at least serviceable at the NHL level today. And because he is so early in the process of adjusting to the NHL game, he has the potential (but not a guarantee) of finding a significantly higher level of play at any point along the way.
The tougher question to answer is not whether he is capable of playing at the NHL level but whether he makes the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes better. In this regard, I think the buzz around Martin Necas right now is to some degree confusing potential in the future (2018-19 – 2020-21) with the reality today. He has made his share of NHL-level playmaking plays with the puck on his stick in preseason action, and he clearly can match the pace of the game. But in terms of raw output today, he had only a single assist through five games and definitely leans pass-first which would tamp down his goal scoring if that trend played forward into the regular season.
Necas’ ceiling is much higher and if he gets NHL ice time there is a reasonable chance that he continues to adjust rapidly as elite players often do, but based on what he has accomplished, I think he projects to be a 35-45-point player who leans playmaking (assists) over scoring goals. Importantly, I think that is as a center and that his immediate readiness at wing as at least as an 18-year old is less certain. In the Edmonton game on Wednesday, the fact that he is giving up 20+ pounds to many players finally showed in the game. Further, for all of the skills he has demonstrated in preseason, finishing really is not one of them. His greatest strength (which is what he has shown in preseason) is carrying and distributing the puck. I think his NHL future is playing in the middle of the rink with the puck on his stick. This pure playmaking center is arguably the Hurricanes biggest lineup hole right now which makes this tremendous news. But with Hurricanes four deep at center and Derek Ryan tearing it up in preseason, there really is no room there for the 2017-18 season.
Necas will undoubtedly be a better player in a couple years when he adds strength and a level or two of sophistication to his defensive play on the forecheck and in the neutral zone. And as an 18-year old, even the strong parts of his game like his skating and playmaking stand to become even better. But when I look only at the 2017-18 season, I am not sure he makes the Hurricanes significantly better, especially if the only opening is at wing.
What is best for Martin Necas’ long-term development?
Especially given that it matches a significant need for the team, I view Martin Necas as a future top 6 playmaking center. His combination of speed, lateral shiftiness, vision and puck skills project to be top 6-capable at the center position.
In recent history, the Hurricanes have shown a preference for starting young players at the wing with the intent that they might someday return to the center position after they establish themselves at the NHL level. Jeff Skinner never looked back after his move to wing. Elias Lindholm now looks like he has settled into the right wing role. Sebastian is the next in the line and still figures to maybe move back to center. But in assessing Necas skill set as a shifty playmaker whose skating ability creates breakdowns, time and space and passing lanes, I think his development might be best served taking a more direct to a center position at the NHL level.
If the powers that be with the team agree, I think that Necas’ long-term development might be better-served for 2017-18 playing center in either the OHL or back in Europe while also getting another year bigger and stronger.
And that contract thing?
If Martin Necas logs 10 games at the NHL level in 2017-18, it will use up the first of three sub-$1 million years on his entry-level contract and also push him closer to his next contract, arbitration rights and ultimately free agent rights all of which represent salary increases for top young players.
If instead, Necas plays in Canadian juniors or Europe, the first year of his entry-level contract will roll forward a year.
Doing what is best for Necas’ long-term development is priority one with winning in 2017-18 a close second. The contract situation would rank third by a decent margin. But in the case where the decision based on the first two priorities is not clear cut, it could come into play.
Either at the end of training camp or possibly at the end of a nine-game trial at the NHL level (just short of burning the first year of his entry-level contract), I think Bill Peters and Ron Francis have a conversation that goes something like this.
Ron Francis: So we need to make a decision on Martin Necas.
Bill Peters: Yes. He is an impressive young player.
Ron Francis: I completely agree. But specifically for 2017-18, do you think that he is a player that you need to make the team the best possible?
Bill Peters: Hard to say. His upside is high, but it is difficult to say how soon he will realize it. I would probably use him intermittently unless he suddenly finds that higher gear.
Ron Francis: If he is not a clear cut lineup player for you who is significantly better than your other options, playing a ton of minutes elsewhere could be in the best interest of his long-term development. Are you okay with that?
Bill Peters: As much as I would like to have another option around at forward, I feel pretty good about the ready options available to me in Charlotte, so I am okay with that.
How does it end?
If I had to venture a guess, I think that Martin Necas will ultimately be cut from the NHL roster and sent to continue his development elsewhere for the majority of the 2017-18 season.
What is less clear is when this will happen. He can play at the NHL level for nine games without triggering the first year of his entry-level contract, and depending on the Hurricanes health at the forward position, most notably Lee Stempniak, I would not at all be surprised to see Necas stay at the NHL level for the start of the 2017-18 season. And with his talent level and potential to quickly absorb and grow at a new level of play, NHL ice time has some chance of yielding a rapid rise that makes it impossible to cut him.
But I think the most likely end game is that Martin Necas is cut either before the start of the regular season or before the 10-game limit is reached.
I say that primarily because it is not clear that the 18-year old 2017-18 version of Martin Necas is enough of a difference-maker to justify spending the first year of his entry-level contract. I think that is even more likely to be true if he plays wing instead of his natural center position. As I noted above, I think people can sometimes confuse massive upside in the future with readiness to excel at the NHL level today. In terms of boosting expectations for his ultimate ceiling, Necas’ trajectory has been steadily upward since his arrival in Raleigh for the prospect camp. Nothing has changed with the fact that he looks like a steal at #12 based on what he has accomplished thus far. But at the end of the day, it is not clear that he is ready to be significantly better than the other options available at the NHL level for the 2017-18 season.
I will go out on a limb and predict that he will make the opening day roster especially if Lee Stempniak is still out of the lineup and that he will see some regular season NHL ice time before departing before playing 10 games and kicking in the first year of his entry-level contract.
That said, Trevor Carrick’s play in preseason could jeopardize Necas’ chance to stay if Stempniak is healthy. I am on record as thinking there is a good possibility that the Hurricanes will carry eight defensemen rather than risking Carrick on waivers, and the team also has 13 forwards in tow if Stempniak is not on injured reserve. If that all happens, there would not be a roster spot for Necas unless someone is risked on waivers.
Areas for improvement if he does depart for the OHL or Europe
Necas has exhibited the ability to make dynamic plays with the puck on his stick, but his game still has some gaps. He is not ready to take draws at the NHL level on a regular basis. His combination of skating ability and general instincts to track/hound the puck are not at all a bad thing, but to be a good two-way center at the NHL level, he has work to do yet in terms of understanding angles, positioning and assignments when he is not the first man in on the forecheck with fairly straightforward ‘attack the puck’ responsibilities. And as is the case with 95 percent of players his age, he must continue to add size and strength.
The fan part of me
Analytical part of Martin Necas completed, I next root like crazy for him to get a chance at the NHL level and take one more big step upward way ahead of schedule just like many elite young NHL players do.
Here is hoping that he is learning quickly right now and ready to do even more if given the chance at the NHL level in early October.
Martin Necas is featured in the polls and discussion in the Thursday Coffee Shop too, but feel free to also chime in here with comments.