Later today, Canes and Coffee will launch into a 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes season preview series. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe is part 2 of 2 first taking a look backward at the preseason and offering player by player assessments and readiness ratings. (If you missed it, part 1 which covered the goalies and defensemen can be found HERE.)
Below is a similar assessment for the Hurricanes forwards:
Hurricanes regular forwards
Sebastian Aho: By no means did Aho look bad in preseason, but at the same time, playing against a mix of AHL and NHL competition, Aho did not stand out as a player ready to become an elite offensive producer. His game is that of a heady and opportunistic player not so much a physical force, so it is reasonable to think that his game will rise up when real hockey begins. Readiness rating: I thought Aho had an okay preseason, but I will be looking for a higher gear when regular season action kicks off.
Josh Jooris: Like Kruger, Jooris seemed to settle into his new surroundings quickly and even offered a couple flashes of offense during preseason. Readiness rating: Count him as ready to go.
Marcus Kruger: Like Williams, he seemed to hit the ground running. He looked capable against tough match ups and was plus 3 in three games. Readiness rating: He seemed to adjust quickly and appears to be ready to go.
Elias Lindholm: His game looked fine offensively. He had a number of the quick passes that yielded its share of assists in the second half of the 2016-17 season but was probably under-rewarded on the score sheet due to lack of finishing by line mates. But one thing that stood out about Lindholm’s preseason was a noticeable lack of the physical edge that was the catalyst and trademark for his surge in the second half of the 2016-17 season. It seems reasonable to guess that the Peter Forsberg element in Lindholm’s game was just latent during exhibition hockey, but it is definitely something that I will be looking for in the first week or so of the regular season. Readiness rating: Pending the all-important return of his physical edge, Lindholm looks ready to go otherwise.
Brock McGinn: His every-shift intensity was evident even in preseason, as he did all he could to make an impression and win one of the last slots in the lineup. He did not find his way onto the score sheet in five games. As such, in preseason he continued to look like a player capable of bringing energy but not a ton on the score sheet. Readiness rating: McGinn is a known quantity at this point, and I think his preseason reinforced what he is capable of bringing to the lineup.
Joakim Nordstrom: He is a bit like McGinn in the sense that he is a known quantity as a depth forward. He did not magically find a new offensive tool bag and put it on display in preseason, but he did look capable for the role he has generally filled the past couple years. Readiness rating: If someone with greater offensive production does not steal his slot in the lineup sooner rather than later, Nordstrom looks ready to provide steady defensive play and penalty killing from the fourth line.
Victor Rask: His preseason was quiet. Probably too quiet. He looked serviceable but not like a difference-maker in three preseason games collecting only a lone assist and three shots on goal in three games. Readiness rating: If he has a higher gear than the second half of the 2016-17 season, he did not show it in preseason. Here is hoping that real games jolt Rask into a higher gear.
Derek Ryan: He launched into preseason like he was shot out of a cannon, easily being the team’s best offensive player in the first few games and finishing with a team high five points despite playing only three games. As the player who is sitting in the center slot that many hoped would be filled by a high-end playmaking center over the summer, his level of play is critical to the team’s offense. Readiness rating: His preseason surge made as big of a statement as possible in the preseason. Important to note is that a carry over is not certain.
Jeff Skinner: He did not score a goal in three preseason outings. Nevertheless, I liked Skinner’s game. He spent enough time buzzing around the offensive zone that I am not concerned: Readiness rating: Skinner can be streaky like most scorers. Here is hoping he finds his first streak right out of the gate to help the team get off to a better start.
Jordan Staal: For Staal, mostly what I look for is his skating stride. I think he looks ready skating-wise, and he had five points in four games to boot. Getting a read on Staal in preseason is significant because in years past his game has built over the first few months to reach top gear around the start of December which not coincidentally has been when the Hurricanes have found a higher gear. Readiness rating: He looked ready to go in preseason. The team’s belated early December launch each of the past two seasons has not coincidentally occurred in unison with Staal finding a higher gear. Staal and the team in total need to launch about two months sooner in 2017-18.
Lee Stempniak: His preseason was a write off due to injury. He is not currently expected to play opening night which has two more rookies in the mix looking to fill the right wing slot on a scoring line. Readiness rating: Obviously after being out with an injury he will need to get back up to speed.
Teuvo Teravainen: In yesterday’s article, I labeled Noah Hanifin as the player whose preseason level of play I would gladly accept for the full 82 games of the regular season. Teravainen could be the forward equivalent (with Derek Ryan the other candidate). I really like him opposite Justin Williams as a player who can help drive possession into the offensive zone and offer a similar balance of finishing and playmaking. Readiness rating: He has been on the shelf for a few days with a minor injury but has returned to practice. He looked ready to go and produce at a higher level, so hopefully the injury does not steal any momentum.
Justin Williams: His preseason has been on target. He has produced offensively, but equally significantly, he has shown his ability to influence puck possession and the game in total in all three zones. Readiness rating: He seemed to transition easily to the new team and system and appears to be ready to go.
Two rookies trying to rise up
With Phil Di Giuseppe and Lucas Wallmark cut on Monday and Lee Stempniak on injured reserve, there is currently one roster spot remaining and two rookies battling for that final slot. Janne Kuokkanen entered training camp atop my dark horse list, and I thought he might be ready to push Derek Ryan for the final center slot. Ryan has been lights out and defended his preseason spot on the depth chart, but an injury to Lee Stempniak has opened at least a short-term slot at wing. Martin Necas, meanwhile, has risen up everyone’s watch list with some dynamic preseason play.
Janne Kuokkanen: He has demonstrated the ability to play at NHL speed and make good reads with and without the puck in the offensive zone. He has had a few impressive scoring plays to boot. In the preseason finale, he had some trouble receiving and handling the puck but again seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Readiness rating: Kuokkanen has looked like he could be ready but not to the degree that he is a no-brainer for an immediate jump to the NHL level.
Martin Necas: His case is an interesting one. My read is that he has pure playmaking center written all over him much more so than Elias Lindholm ever did and more so even than Sebastian Aho probably. But two things come into play for the 2017-18 season. First is that the opening right now is at wing, not center. Second is that he has looked capable for playing in the NHL now but somewhat like Kuokkanen not so much a no-brainer. Readiness rating: I would not say that Necas is a no-brainer for the NHL in 2017-18, but at the same time, if one allows for some adjustment time, just maybe he is getting ready to hit stride.
Netting it out
At forward, I am most eager to see if Elias Lindholm (physical play) and Sebastian Aho (dynamic offense that is step up from 2016-17) can flip the switch to a higher gear at the start of the regular season. I am also anxious to see if Teuvo Teravainen’s strong preseason was just another short scoring burst or if it signifies that he is ready to bring offense on a more regular basis.
What say you Canes fans?
From the forwards, who most impressed you in preseason? Who are hoping finds a higher level of play after a ‘meh’ preseason?