This Carolina Hurricanes blog is a catch up post with few random notes and thoughts that have not made into a bigger post yet.
Viktor Stalberg for Andrej Nestrasil
It is no secret that the Hurricanes best line when the team was playing well from December until the end of February was the line of Joakim Nordstrom / Jordan Staal / Andrej Nestrasil. The run ended when Andrej Nestrasil broke a vertebra in an awkward fall into the boards at the end of February. Nestrasil is reported to be tracking toward being at 100 percent and ready to play for the start of the season, but the situation is still one to monitor. Nestrasil’s role on that line was that of a power forward and strong player on the boards who made a good puck cycling partner for Jordan Staal and the puck possession game that the line played so well in the offensive zone. If the Canes, including Nestrasil, are healthy Viktor Stalberg figures to slot on the fourth line. But if Nestrasil’s recovery is delayed Stalberg’s skill set looks like a direct replacement for Nestrasil’s. He is a left shot who is comfortable on the right side where Nestrasil lined up. Also like Nestrasil, Stalberg is a big body who is strong on the boards but equally importantly who skates well enough to match the pace of the speedy pace of Joakim Nordstrom flying up the ice and Jordan Staal lugging the puck through the neutral zone. So while the hopeful role of Stalberg is that of a solid skating fourth-line forward, Francis might also have intentionally built a contingency plan for his most successful line if Nestrasil’s return is delayed.
Curtis Joseph for Alex Nedeljkovic
Last week, the Hurricanes announced a few coaching and scouting moves including the addition of Curtis Joseph as sort of a system goalie scout. He is expected to spend 7-10 days per month working with the Checkers and possibly another few days here and there on specific projects possibly to include helping other Hurricanes goalies at lower levels. For Canes fans with long memories, CuJo was a long-time NHLer who was in net for the Maple Leafs during the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals that saw the Hurricanes win and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Though his role is broader, Joseph is a fairly direct investment in top goaltending prospect Alex Nedeljkovic who will make the jump from juniors to the AHL this season. At a basic level, for young goaltenders, I really like the idea of having a coach capable of working on the technical aspects of the position but also being someone who has lived and thrived under the psychological rigors of being an NHL netminder. Joseph obviously qualifies. There is no certainty to development time, but something like 2 years might be a reasonable guess for Nedeljkovic. At that point, just maybe if Joseph and Nedeljkovic have built a successful relationship, Joseph also makes the jump to the NHL level.
Elias Lindholm, Teuvo Teravainen or Sebastian Aho
As currently constructed, the Hurricanes have Jordan Staal, Victor Rask and Jay McClement who will all slot as centers. That leaves a fourth center slot up for grabs. Based on this, I actually noted prospect Nicolas Roy as a potential dark horse in my prospect camp preview yesterday. Roy would be a long shot to jump from juniors to an NHL slot, but the Hurricanes actually have an interesting history of young players including Josef Vasicek, Eric Staal and Victor Rask rising up in prospect camp and the Traverse City tournament to surprisingly seize roster sports.
But more likely, 1 of Lindholm, Teravainen or Aho will play center. All are natural centers who have also played wing. In the cases of Teravainen and Lindholm, each has played more wing than center in transitioning to the NHL. My wild guess is that Aho gets the first crack at center. His skill set at lower levels is that of exactly the dynamic, playmaking center that the Hurricanes need to balance out Jordan Staal’s checking-leaning line. That said, perhaps Teravainen and Lindholm benefit from being a couple years deeper in NHL experience.
Jake Bean for Ryan Murphy
Toward the beginning of the summer, I pegged Ryan Murphy as a player reasonably likely to be pulled into a trade to land a forward. That is still a possibility, but the probability of Ryan Murphy still playing for the Carolina Hurricanes come opening night has increased significantly since then. First, the Canes have added a collection of forwards (Bryan Bickell, Teuvo Teravainen, Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg) with Murphy still in tow. The forward roster currently sits at 13, so while another summer trade is possible, there is also a reasonable chance that we are looking at the opening night forward roster. In addition, Murphy moved a notch up the depth chart with the buy out and departure of James Wisniewski. Right now, I would slot Murphy at #6 next to Noah Hanifin which is right where he started the 2015-16 season. Addition Matt Tennyson does bring the Canes blue line to 7 players, but that still leaves room for Murphy.
So short term, the outlook for Ryan Murphy looks reasonably promising (realizing that saying things like this too directly seems inevitably to cause the hockey gods to look down and make you look dumb).
But longer-term, the addition of Jake Bean with the #13 pick in the 2016 NHL draft could make Ryan Murphy even more expendable. Murphy has yet to put it all together at the NHL level, but in terms of skill set he is an offensive skating and puck-moving defenseman whose strength should be generating offense from the back end. He is a bit undersized for the NHL and leans offense over defense which more of a stay-home type partner a good fit for him. The part of Bean’s game that had him rated as a 10-15 selection by most scouts is very similar to Murphy’s skill set. Bean gets credit for using his hockey IQ, skating ability and creativity to generate offense from the back end. The most notable number from Bean’s stat line is the 24 goals that he scored last season. Sounds a bit like Ryan Murphy. Yes?
I view Murphy as potentially growing into a good ‘new/skating NHL’ #5/#6 defenseman. If Bean’s game defensively develops like his game offensively (he gets mixed reviews in that regard), it is possible that Bean could jump right over Murphy and into a top 4 spot leaving room for Murphy below him. But if Bean rounds out into more of an offense-leaning defenseman, Murphy and Bean could become a duplicate skill set especially if they both fell to the third pairing and were opposite each other.
It is important to note that barring a surprise at training camp, Jake Bean is still likely 1-3 years away from the NHL roster which means this is not something that needs to be sorted out this summer. But at a more basic level, Bean adds another top-end prospect to an already rich blue line prospect pool which leads back to my original premise for trading Murphy which was spending from an area of strength/depth (defenseman) to add to an area of weakness/need (forwards).