During the regular season, I am probably one of least well read Carolina Hurricanes fans. I am often in over my head trying to keep up with the pace of the NHL season for CandC and at times oblivious to what is going on in the broader Carolina Hurricanes community. The positive is that it keeps my thoughts independent and my opinions reasonably independent and sheltered from others’ ideas. The one thing (okay there are a couple others with the draft, prospect camp and free agency) that I like is that I am less busy and have a better chance to gauge others’ ideas and opinions. Prospect camp and especially the lines for autographs are phenomenal for being a part of or just being within ear shot of great Canes conversations. Lost on the rest of the league in the headlines of smaller market and lately weak attendance is how knowledgeable the core of the Carolina Hurricanes fan base is.
Because of that much of what I write is common knowledge condensed into 3-minute Canes fixes, but as is the case with any knowledgeable and passionate fan base there are some things that elicit significantly different opinions from equally intelligent fans.
Trying to fill up another day of the dead of the NHL summer, today’s post identifies and discusses a few things where I think my thoughts differ from a significant portion of the fan base:
(Important disclaimer) IF the Canes exit training camp healthy, I think the chances of Fleury making the opening day NHL roster are slim. Ironically, I actually think that Fleury will show in training camp that he is good enough to continue his development at the NHL level. It is not about that. Rather, it is a numbers game. On the left side, the Hurricanes have Hainsey, Slavin and Hanifin who are pretty fixed and not moving. I think the same is true for Faulk and Pesce. The spot most open for competition is the last slot on the right side with Ryan Murphy as the front runner and Matt Tennyson also in the mix. Without another opening caused by an injury, Fleury seems destined for the AHL with a undefined return ticket for later in the season. Jumping Fleury into the NHL and forcing him to play on the right side for his first set of games is not ideal. And even if the Canes are short for Ryan Murphy, he cannot go back to Charlotte (would be lost on waivers), and the Hurricanes would be better served showcasing him briefly and then trading him. Injuries are of course the wild card. The other is the fact that Jaccob Slavin is comfortable on the right side, so I guess there is a chance that he could play on the right side to open a slot on the left side which fits Fleury better.
I think Fleury is NHL ready or close. I think he sees the NHL in 2016-17 to go with a ton of all situation/top 4 minutes in Charlotte. But unless an injury opens a slot, I think he starts the season in Charlotte.
Phil Di Giuseppe
He is the forgotten man. With the arrival of Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen and the draft pedigree upside of Elias Lindholm, Phil Di Giuseppe seems to have become an afterthought when crafting line combinations for 2016-17 and roles for the future past that. In a half season at the NHL level and with no boost from power play scoring, Di Giuseppe was quietly productive offensively. For 5v5 scoring his 1.79 points per 60 minutes of ice time rank second only behind Jeff Skinner’s 2.14 and well above Lindholm’s 1.04 and Teravainen’s 1.28. Per my recent post suggesting that an alternative cost-friendly way to boost scoring might be through depth rather than a pricey new first line, 30-35 points from Di Giuseppe in a depth role and without a power play ice time boost would be a net positive for increasing team scoring. The other young players are good too, but I will be watching Phil Di Giuseppe just as closely as the others in training camp.
Best guess is that it takes an injury for Di Giuseppe to crack the top 9 out of training camp, but I will be surprised if he does not push his way onto the roster and provide needed depth scoring.
I like Alex Nedeljkovic as much as everyone else. Thus far, he has done everything one could ask of him in terms of development and the challenges in front of him. As far as the chances of a 20-year old maturing into a good or even great NHL starter, Nedeljkovic has as good of a chance as anyone. But I think people can overestimate how good those chances are. I did some quick research on second round goalie draft picks from the 2007 through 2011 NHL drafts which is 5 years of picks and far enough back that even the youngest are now 23 years old. In the second round of those 5 years combined, 15 goalies were drafted. Only 4 are recognizable NHL names (Jake Allen, Jacob Markstrom, Robin Lehner, John Gibson).
Based on how he has performed thus far, Nedeljkovic’s odds are much better than 20 percent, but to call a 20-year goalie a sure thing ignores the math. And to build an NHL team assuming a 20-year goalie will automatically mature especially on a certain time table is fraught with peril.
I like Nedeljkovic’s chances to be the team’s starting goalie in 3-4 years. I would consider him when making goalie moves. But a team has 2 goalie slots, and good teams very often use both of them in today’s NHL. When Nedeljkovic hopefully arrives in a couple years, it might force adjustments, but I would not just be waiting for Ned in net. In a small way, I think Francis and his staff showed that they get this when they drafted 2 goalies in the 2016 draft despite having Nedeljkovic on the way and a couple other decent netminders in Daniel Altshuller and Callum Booth already in the system.
I think Alex Nedeljkovic does fulfill expectations as the franchise’s goalie of the future, but I think it is a normal, gradual process that looks more like 2018-19 than 2016-17.
But here is the thing…In a young man’s game like NHL hockey, great players usually do not so much develop on a schedule but rather seize an opportunity. Matt Murray did it last year in Pittsburgh. Cam Ward did it in 2005-06. Despite my prediction that calls for patience, I will be sitting on the edge of my seat in anticipation just like everyone else if an injury creates an opportunity for Alex Nedeljkovic to man a net in Raleigh this season.