Regardless of how well or how poorly preseason goes, we will only begin to understand the trajectory of the 2016-17 Hurricanes season after the real games start in mid-October.
But when an NHL fan base is 7 years removed from playoff hockey but seemingly trending in the right direction, September is a time to look for any kind of cause for optimism.
Here are _ September events that could offer that cause for optimism:
A great Hurricanes prospect showing in Traverse City
I wrote about the Hurricanes Traverse City prospect tourney roster and some things to watch. I think 3 things would offer cause for optimism not so much for the 2016-17 season but for the future. First would be a great showing from the franchise’s goalie of the future, Alex Nedeljkovic. Second would be a great showing from the 2015 and 2016 draft classes. Finally, winning the tourney outright would offer measurable evaluation of Ron Francis’ progress thus far in building a deeper prospect pool.
A strong strong World Cup by Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho, especially if playing together
Who knows for certain how it will shake out, but if Teravainen and Aho do play together in the World Cup and play well that could have a direct carry over to the Hurricanes season since the 2 are currently expected to play together. A strong tourney by Sebastian Aho would reinforce the belief that he is NHL-ready and on a path to being a great NHL player very soon.
One more move by Ron Francis
The odds are against it, but the same was true last September when Ron Francis pulled off a surprise mid-September trade. At the very close of August, I wrote about a number of trade options with the Tampa Bay Lightning. A significant move by Francis would make one last push to build a team aimed at winning in 2016-17.
A Julien Gauthier rising
In terms of style of play and Hurricanes needs, I think Julien Gauthier is the Canes prospect whose skill set is most needed in the Hurricanes lineup. The team could definitely use another pure power forward who creates havoc around the crease and has enough skill to score in bunches from in close. Logic would suggest that at 18 years old and as a #21 overall draft pick that Gauthier is still a year or 2 away from being NHL-ready. But if he plays well in Traverse City and then starts to carry it over into the NHL preseason, it definitely has me paying attention.
Jordan Staal picking up where he left off
During the extended run of games when the Carolina Hurricanes were a good hockey team, Jordan Staal was the team’s best player. During that stretch he played a ton with the puck on his stick carrying through the neutral zone and drove play into the offensive zone. It would be incredibly encouraging to see Jordan Staal bring that same level of play for preseason games suggesting that he can get out of the gate and into stride faster for 2016-17.
An offensively assertive Noah Hanifin in preseason
The 2015-16 season left no doubt about Noah Hanifin’s elite physical skill set. He already skates better than the majority of the league and will only get better. But in terms of his overall game, the 2015-16 season was very much a learning year for Hanifin as would be expected from most 18-year olds jumping straight into the NHL. I actually grumbled a bit early in the 2015-16 season about a desire for Noah Hanifin to play a bit for aggressively with the puck on his stick even if it meant a few more mistakes. My comparable for Noah Hanifin after seeing him only a some scrimmage action during the Canes prospect was former Hurricane Joni Pitkanen. In short, I want more of Pitkanen’s skating and creating from Hanifin in 2016-17, so preseason will offer the first glimpse of what Hanifin’s game looks like for his sophomore campaign.
What potential September causes for optimism should be added to this list?