Only two games from the midway point of the 2017-18 season, timing is right to start doing assessments for the halfway point of the season.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe lists players who have exceeded my preseason expectations.
His scoring pace has slowed a bit, but he has still been impressive in 2017-18 relative to my preseason expectations. I had him pegged as a depth forward likely to slot at #12 or #13 and not do much offensively. Instead he has been what I would call the #9 forward for most of the 2017-18 season and more significantly has provided decent depth scoring. McGinn is on pace for 12 goals and 31 points which is solid considering that he averages only 13:15 of ice time and has received minimal power play time.
Noah Hanifin’s offense
Noah Hanifin’s game is still a work in progress defensively especially in terms of every game consistency. As I said to someone yesterday, Hanifin seems to be making progress in terms of how frequently he has a tough night defensively, but when he does, the volume of badness still seems similar to his rookie year. But in total, I would say that Hanifin is making gradual strides defensively.
But what has been very impressive and has far exceeded optimistic preseason hopes is the growth in his game offensively. The skating, puck carrying, Joni Pitkanen dynamic of Hanifin’s game has appeared more regularly and generally been positive and productive when it appears. Hanifin has always had the wheels to join the rush offensively from behind but only this year has he become more aggressive but still with good judgment such that he has become a great third or fourth attacker and often the shooter off the rush. His shot and ability to find and/or make shooting lanes has improved in 2017-18. And when you put it all together, Hanifin’s broad improvements have yielded results. He has been the team’s best defenseman offensively, and his pace for a big 14 goals and 41 points is a great contribution scoring-wise.
Trevor van Riemsdyk
When Trevor van Riemsdyk was acquired, my hope was that he would just be good enough in the #6 role to upgrade the third defense pairing that was a problem in 2016-17. He has met that target and exceeded it. Van Riemsdyk has had a solid season in his own right, but maybe more significantly he has played a vital role providing a stable situation for two young defensemen in Haydn Fleury and Noah Hanifin. Hanifin struggled through most of the 2016-17 season at least partly due to the instability of the third pairing that saw a revolving door in the spot next to him. Early in this season, van Riemsdyk made sure that rookie Haydn Fleury did not suffer a similar fate, and more recently he has provided a stable situation for Noah Hanifin who found his higher gear offensively mostly after sliding down into the bottom pairing and playing with van Riemsdyk.
Entering the season, I was cautiously optimistic about Cam Ward’s ability to be productive in the backup role. On the one hand, less work had the potential to keep him rested and fresh. On the other hand, Ward had not been a backup for a long time, so he was clearly entering uncharted waters. Not only has Ward been adequate or better as a backup, but with Scott Darling struggling to get his feet under him with a new team and in a new role, the 2017-18 season might already be over for the Carolina Hurricanes if Ward similarly struggled in his new role. In a poll in the Monday Coffee Shop, he was voted the team’s most valuable player for the first 38 games of the season, and he will enter the second half of the season as the starter. On December 20, I wrote that Cam Ward was the player with the greatest ability to boost the team’s fortunes. I stand by 15 days later and nearing the start of the second half of the season.
Justin Williams’ leadership
His scoring pace is similar to 2016-17 with a decrease in goals. That is roughly what I would have expected from Williams in terms of scoring production. But though I did value the leadership aspect that Williams added, I actually think I underestimated it to some degree. I think his “losing is not okay” tone that he started with in his summer press conference and has pulled out multiple times already in the locker room is having more of an impact on the attitude and culture across the entire lineup than some might appreciate. I also think that his consistency going to the front of the net is gradually finding followers such that the Hurricanes are making modest strides in this regard.
Entering the season, I viewed Dahlbeck as a necessary evil to avoid having to expose another roster defenseman to the expansion draft, and I feared that he might be a liability even as a rarely used #7 defenseman. He has proven me wrong thus far in 2017-18. Often with long layoffs between games, Dahlbeck has been steady and serviceable in a good way whenever he has played with very few exceptions. That is a positive.
Honorable mentions that I considered
Haydn Fleury: By no means has Fleury been perfect in his rookie season, but he has been pretty good. And the fact that he has already been elevated into the top 4 is impressive. I left him off the list because at a basic level I do think he is still learning as a rookie somewhat as expected.
Teuvo Teravainen: Teravainen is on pace for low 60s for points which is a little bit higher than I would have projected in early October. Further, he had a stretch where he was utterly dominant offensively. But I left him off the list simply because he is not that far ahead of pace and has been just as streaky as in the past with long stretches of just not being visible enough.
My tentative plan is to have a similar theme for the Thursday Coffee Shop later on Thursday, but feel free to also chime in here with comments on the players that I noted. I would also be curious to see if anyone else has different players who have exceeded expectations.