Today’s Daily Cup of Joe features a mishmash of mostly short Hurricanes thoughts…
With 5 assists already in 6 games, there are 2 things that I really like about Sebastian Aho. First and most significantly, the thing I like most about his play so far is his heady ability to create passing lanes and scoring chances. Decent offensively capable NHL players have the ability to capitalize on scoring opportunities when they arise. Great playmakers have an uncanny ability to create offense out of thin air. That is exactly what Sebastian Aho has accomplished recently on a couple occasions when he relatively harmlessly entered the offensive zone the the puck on his stick but with the defense in reasonably decent position. On both the Teravainen goal that came from Hanifin from Aho and also the Staal goal that ame from Nordstrom from Aho, he managed to create offense. Also, as I said on Twitter today, I also like the fact that he enters the home opener still looking for his first NHL goal.
As the Hurricanes push deeper into the 2016-17 NHL season with 2 goalies hovering at .850ish save percentages, the fact that the Hurricanes have a veteran goalie with NHL experience at the AHL level is becoming more interesting. A quick check in shoes Michael Leighton with a 1-0 record, a 3.00 GAA and a modest .878 save percentage. I would be surprised to see Leighton recalled in the next 2-3 games, but after seeing the 2015-16 slip away quickly in October and November, I do not think a Raleigh appearance for him is out of the question if a couple more starts for Ward and Lack do not yield better results.
His rapid rise as an NHL player continues to be incredibly impressive. In his rookie season, he stepped straight into the top 9 and even played more like a top 6 while Jordan Staal was on the shelf for the first half of the 2014-15 season. He was a solid 2-way forward who put up a modest 33 points and basically established himself as a capable checking line center. In his second year, he brought the same responsible 2-way play but also boosted his scoring to 21 goals and 48 points suggesting that he could be more than a defensive forward. Granted it is early in the 2016-17 season and too early to draw final conclusions, but right now he is every bit of a first or second line center who with chemistry and quality line mates might just have another year of marked improvement in process.
Still in the extended honeymoon period granted by virtue of inheriting a pretty bad hockey team, Hurricanes nearly unanimously love Coach Bill Peters. I am in that camp in the sense that I like his methodical approach, how he works with players and his thorough coaching style. But I am guarded simply because at some point ‘looks like he is good’ needs to be replaced with ‘gets results’ in the form of a return to the playoffs. With regard to Peters, right now I am anxiously watching to see if/how he can right the ship or at least find a week to scratch and claw for enough points to stay relevant until he does figure it out. In 2 seasons under Bill Peters, in 2 seasons the Hurricanes have been largely out of the playoff mix before the start of the new year in January. The 2014-15 season was a challenging one trying to put a new system in place, being really light on NHL-level talent and then seeing Jordan Staal lost for the first half of the season. But the 2015-16 season saw a reasonably healthy team subject to constant line shuffling by Peters. He ultimately figured out the equation and lifted the team to stretch of winning hockey, but it took nearly a third of the season to get things on course which is much too long. With a meager 1-3-2 start, the burning question is whether Coach Bill Peters and his staff can simultaneously figure out combinations that will work and collect enough points during the process.
Help from Charlotte?
Despite the Hurricanes early struggles, I am not sure I would be reaching to Charlotte yet to try to help things unless, as noted above, things become desperate enough in net to give Leighton a shot. Aside from the goalie position, the Hurricanes biggest problem has been too many bad breakdowns in the form of turnovers or shoddy defensive zone coverage. Also important to note is this is not a bottom half of the roster problem – quite the opposite actually. The bottom part of the roster has not been perfect, but it has actually been in the middle of relatively few of the messes. So in terms of adding a top half of the roster player who can help solidify things defensively, I do not see any AHL players as likely options.
Are Martin Frk’s days numbered?
While I think that utilizing the waivers process to gain free trials of potential depth is a great idea, I continue to think that Martin Frk is ultimately destined for either the AHL or perhaps another team as I wrote shortly after the Hurricanes claimed him. Frk has not been horrible, but his deficiencies have shown and his upside has not been realized. Theoretically, Frk’s big shot and offensive acumen offered depth scoring upside, but thus far in 2 games, he has yet to tally a scoring point. At the same time, he has been in the middle of a couple goals against that were partially a part of his decision-making. A few games back, the Hurricanes gave up a somewhat odd goal when Jay McClement lost a face-off and an opposing player retrieved the puck and fired an uncontested short from the slot. Frk was the player in the vicinity of where the face-off ended up and never really reacted to the puck or made an effort to challenge the shot. Then in Saturday’s loss in Philadelphia Frk left a Flyer at the point with the puck to try to defend a pass across that never happened. Instead, the Flyer player stepped into a shot and beat Ward through a screen. When Ryan Murphy returns from injury the Hurricanes will need to reduce the roster by 1. I think that could be the end of the line for Frk’s trial with the Hurricanes.