The Carolina Hurricanes kicked off their last week of preparation for the 2017-18 season with a Sunday morning practice. Canes fans should have a fairly eventful week in front of them with a last round of cuts still pending and the expectation that a new captain will be named sometime during the week.
But today’s Daily Cup of Joe will actually look backward and share player by player assessments for the preseason.
Scott Darling: After being slowed by an injury early in training camp, Darling started two of the last three games. I thought he looked shaky most notably in terms of rebound control in his first start but better in Friday’s preseason finale. He seems to be a little bit behind schedule in terms of being sharp, but there is a reason for that, and he does have a full week to face a bunch more shots in practice to be ready. Interestingly, despite my ‘meh’ grading, Darling’s goals against average was roughly 1.50 and his record was 2-0. We could use more of that kind of ‘meh’ in net. Readiness rating: I feel better after Friday, and another full week of practice should also help.
Cam Ward: I rated Ward’s initial appearance as sub-par, but thought he played well in his second start and not as bad as four goals against might suggest in his third start. The challenge for Ward will likely not be getting ready but rather staying ready as he slides into an unfamiliar role as a backup. Readiness rating: I am okay with where Ward finished up preseason play, but next comes a unfamiliar challenge for him playing after about two weeks off from game action.
Klas Dahlbeck: I thought he was in the middle of a few too many of the passing lane breakdowns for the penalty kill, but 5-on-5, he looked the part of a serviceable depth defenseman. Readiness rating: I do not see Dahlbeck seizing a spot in the lineup, but he should be ready when an injury requires another blue line option.
Justin Faulk: To me, he looks like a completely different player skating forward through the neutral zone versus skating backward and defending in his own end. I guess when I think about it, that is actually a decent characterization of his 2016-17 season. The pace and attacking mentality that makes Faulk a top offensive defenseman was there, but so were some of his troubles defending. Readiness rating: The paranoid part of me fears another slow start defensively, but I would be thrilled to be proven paranoid and wrong.
Haydn Fleury: He had an up and down preseason finale, but in total I think it is time for him to learn and grow at the NHL level. He will undoubtedly make some mistakes, but his combination of size, skating and step-wise experience seems to have him ready for the next step. Readiness rating: He is going to have some ups and downs, but I think he is good enough to play at the NHL level and should grow into the challenge.
Noah Hanifin: I think the best way to sum up Hanifin’s preseason is to say that if I could take 82 games of Hanifin’s preseason play, I would. A bit more detail is to say that he just looks more assertive and confident both with and without the puck. Watching to see if this carries over into the regular season against 100 percent NHL competition will be atop my early watch list. Readiness rating: If I had to pick one player whose preseason builds confidence that he can take the next step up, Hanifin would be top of my list. That said, the real test and all that matters in the end is the regular season.
Brett Pesce: His preseason overall was okay, but I really liked the crispness and intensity from Pesce in the preseason finale which makes me think he is ready for real games right on time. Readiness rating: I did not think he was great early in preseason, but his intensity and play with a purpose on Friday makes me think he is ready to pick up where he left off at the end of the 2016-17 season.
Jaccob Slavin: He is just fast. It is starting to show up more when he carries the puck up the ice with just the slightest opening, and it shows up when he takes away angles in the neutral zone or steps up on a lazy pass. Readiness rating: He looked fast and was aggressive with the puck on his stick on Saturday. Like Pesce, I think he built from a modest base a couple weeks ago to be ready on time.
Trevor van Riemsdyk: As I stated awhile back, I really like van Riemsdyk at a conceptual level in terms of have a player whose strengths include carrying and moving the puck. In the 2017 NHL where teams have four lines of players who can skate, attack and score, third pairings that cannot move the puck increasingly get eaten alive. Van Riemsdyk should make sure that the Hurricanes do not have such a pairing. Readiness rating: As one would hope, van Riemsdyk was the steady half of the third pairing on Friday and looked ready to start.
Netting it out and identifying first game watch points
When I boil it down, I will be watching Justin Faulk (a historically slow starter) and Scott Darling (delayed in training camp due to an injury and also stepping up in a bigger role) most closely out of the gate for potential downside. In terms of potential upside, I will also be eagerly tracking Noah Hanifin’s start to see preseason is an accurate indication that he is ready to take a big step up in 2017-18.
What say you Caniacs?
1) What are your player assessments and readiness ratings for the goalies and defensemen heading into the 2017-18 season?
2) Does anyone’s play in preseason concern you heading into the season opener this coming weekend?