Tuesday marks the start of the Carolina Hurricanes preseason slate with a road game in Tampa. The addition of Jake Gardiner makes the Canes blue line pretty full without much room for surprises. With Justin Williams and Saku Maenalanen’s late decisions not to return, there could be a bit more room at forward especially if the team encounters an early injury. And in net, the logical starting point is the two goalies on one-way contracts.
The Hurricanes enter preseason without much for room for players to win open slots, but nonetheless today’s Daily Cup of Joe identifies a couple possible dark horses.
Regardless of how he plays in preseason, and I do figure he will see some game action, Alex Nedeljkovic is almost certainly destined to start the season in the AHL. But I do think the team wants and needs to get him some NHL ice time to evaluate him for the 2020-21 season if not sooner. As such, I think this training camp is an important one for Nedeljkovic. More so than just level of play, he needs to show the demeanor of a capable NHL netminder. If he looks ready, Nedeljkovic should punch his ticket to return to the NHL level if/when there is an opening and also be given ice time when he does.
Kuokkanen was out with an injury when both the Checkers and Canes surged in the second half of the year. That combined with having maybe a somewhat lower ceiling than a couple other young guns, and Kuokkanen is a bit of a forgotten prospect. What I like about him is his hockey sense. Though his scoring potential might not match Julien Gauthier and other higher-end prospects, I think Kuokkanen is as close to plug and play as you can get for his age and experience level. And he offers offensive upside to someone like Clark Bishop. As such, I think Kuokkanen could surprise and win a roster spot especially if an injury opens one more at forward.
More than any other player not expected to make the opening day roster, Julien Gauthier has the potential to throw down a gauntlet and force the team to adjust its pre-training camp thinking for who makes the team. As a player with the skill set to be an elite power forward, if he suddenly finds a way to be more engaged and become an every-shift difference-maker, he could add an a unique element to the lineup. His development thus far has been more step-wise progression, but is it possible he has just been building a platform for a massive leap up the depth chart in the coming weeks?
I have a couple times chronicled the Hurricanes numbers game on defense that has the team with a couple young depth defensemen who could be at risk if sent across waivers to the AHL. Being waiver-exempt, that puts Jake Bean in a position similar to Alex Nedeljkovic in that he is almost certain to start the season at the AHL level simply because he is on a two-way contract, is waivers exempt and can still benefit from playing there. The one opening I saw for Bean about 10 days ago was proving to be a spark as a puck distributor on the power play that struggled last season. But the acquisition of Jake Gardiner fills that role with an experienced player and adds yet another NHL level player. As such, Bean is almost certain to start the season in Charlotte. But I still training camp could prove fruitful for him if he can show that he has matured some defensively and is capable as suggested above on the power play. If he does that, I think he sets himself up for a return when injuries hit or after the team can make a deal or two to lessen the logjam at the bottom part of the blue line.
What say you Canes fans?
Who do you like as dark horses to surprise and make the Hurricanes opening day lineup or at least position for a quick call up when a spot opens up?