Hopefully everyone will read as intended with morning coffee because we are at one of those frenetic stretches of roster moves that could make this article obsolete and/or wrong by lunchtime on Monday.
Right now, the Carolina Hurricanes have 31 players on the roster at the NHL level, so one thing we know for certain is that there will be moves either Monday or Tuesday to get down to a maximum of 23. Three moves that are nearly certain are that Ryan Murphy will go on the injured list but stay at the NHL level, and Tyler Ganly and Andrew Miller will either go on the injured list or be returned to Charlotte (not sure of legalese for these players who were technically in camp but are now injured).
That still leaves 5 players to be either cut from the NHL roster or I guess traded.
Sunday added another twist to an already interesting situation when the Hurricanes added 2 players. First, they signed defenseman Jakub Nakladal. Then they claimed Martin Frk off waivers. Earlier today, I wrote these 2 moves up in some detail while also recapping some other roster stuff.
With all of the things happening over the past few days, I figured what the heck…I will take a shot at making sense of it all and predicting how it all ends despite the fact that I will certainly be proven wrong in less than 48 hours. (I think the general rule of thumb for is to only predict things 90+ days out, so that by the time you are wrong no one remembers. :-)).
This is obviously the easy one with Cam Ward and Eddie Lack the only 2 remaining goalies. To make sure I get something right, I predict that Cam Ward and Eddie Lack will be the Hurricanes 2 goalies on opening night. 🙂
Assuming Justin Faulk is healthy and no new injury bugs crop up, I think 5 of the 6 players are set and at least the October 8 version of the pairings is as well. Opening night should feature Jaccob Slavin with Justin Faulk, Ron Hainsey with Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin with someone. And that is where it gets interesting…
Ryan Murphy is on the shelf for 3-4 weeks, so we can officially schedule another round of figuring things out for late October or early November when he returns. But until then, there is the trio of inexperienced by rising kids in Roland McKeown, Haydn Fleury and Trevor Carrick. First of all, how cool is that the the Hurricanes could theoretically have 3 rookie defensemen ready to step up to the NHL in consecutive years. That is absolutely unheard of and a testament to the Hurricanes young blue line depth. In addition to the 3 rookies, the Hurricanes signed Jakub Nakladal to a 1-year (importantly) 1-way contract today. Per my post on Sunday afternoon, Francis would not have committed to a 1-way contract if he was not expecting Nakladal to play the 2016-17 season at the NHL level. At a minimum, I think Nakladal fills the role originally intended for Matt Tennyson which was to be a reasonably experienced yet inexpensive #7 defenseman. It makes no sense to put any of the young players in that slot when instead they could be playing 20+ minutes per night in the AHL. On the high end, I think Nakladal will be given every opportunity to win a roster slot. He is a right shot who fits in the same slot vacated with Murphy’s injury and at least for Friday filled by Roland McKeown.
So player by player, here is how I think it all goes down:
I think he is still in Raleigh primarily to spend more time with the NHL players and in the Hurricanes system. The aim is for the coaches to understand his game as much as possible and also for Fleury to learn as much as possible such that he is prepared in the fairly likely event that he sees time in Raleigh later this year. I would be moderately shocked if the Hurricanes kept Fleury for the #7 slot for anything more than a very short stretch. He is better-served development-wise playing heavy minutes in all situations in Charlotte. And as a left shot, I think it is unlikely that the Hurricanes would push Fleury up into the place vacated by Murphy. Finally, if Peters did want to try Fleury on his off side, I think he would have done that on Friday instead of giving the ice time to McKeown.
Shorter answer: He is getting a greater immersion in the Hurricanes NHL system but is ultimately destined for Charlotte to start the season likely to see some games at the NHL level later in the season.
As a player who has played 2 seasons at the AHL level, the urgency to get him back to Charlotte to log a ton of minutes for his development is less. Like Fleury, Carrick is a left shot and therefore not an ideal fit for the right side next to Hanifin. For Carrick to make the opening day NHL roster, it would require Nakladal to win the #6 slot and then for the Hurricanes organization to prefer sending McKeown and Fleury to Charlotte to play a ton. And this is actually a pretty strong possibility.
Shorter answer: Carrick likely gets the #7 slot if Nakladal gets the #6 slot.
When he slotted into Friday’s lineup next to Noah Hanifin, he basically received the chance to audition to have that role on October 8. I think he looked capable in that game just like he has throughout the preseason, but I think his game still has room to mature especially in terms of handling the puck deep in his own end. To stay in Raleigh, Friday would have had to convince Bill Peters that he is the best option for #6 to win games today. I think the fact that Francis added a defenseman 2 days later indicates that the preference might be to go with a little more experience to start the season.
Shorter answer: It is far from a sure thing, but my wild guess is that despite having a tremendous training camp that Francis goes the route of patience, sends McKeown to Charlotte and gives the slot to Nakladal.
With the preseason games completed, he will not get a chance to audition in game action, but as a player who played about 1/3 of the 2015-16 season at the NHL the Hurricanes scouts and organization have a pretty good idea what they are getting. As noted above, he is nearly certain to start the season at the NHL level with the key question being whether he is ready depth in the press box at #7 or actually in the lineup at #6.
Shorter answer: I would not be shocked to see Nakladal at #6 or #7 but per my comments on McKeown, my wild guess is that Nakladal at least starts the season next to Hanifin in the third pairing.
The forward situation is much more convoluted but did become a bit clearer with Saturday’s cuts.
The battle for the center slot
With Derek Ryan and possibly Patrick Brown (who played more wing in training camp) sent to Charlotte, the only 2 likely centers left are veteran Jay McClement and upstart Lucas Wallmark. Warren Foegele is a center/wing and did play some center in training camp, but like Patrick Brown spent more time at wing. I would be both surprised and thrilled if he somehow emerged as a 2016-17 roster player, but I think that is more likely to happen later.
The biggest thing McClement has going for him is familiarity, experience and a regular role on the penalty kill. As a player on a 1-way contract who has manned the fourth line center slot for awhile now, he is sort of the incumbent. To get bumped would require Coach Bill Peters to think he can significantly upgrade the team by changing the C4 slot. The fact that the Hurricanes played Wallmark in this slot on Friday suggests that Peters is at least thinking about it.
Shorter answer: I am not sure it is actually true, but I think McClement is viewed as the least risky alternative. I think there is at least a 50% chance that this is enough to get him the nod on opening night. From there, I think Peters closely monitors the play of the fourth line. If it does not look significantly better than 2015-16 then I think Peters has collected enough information to move quickly to another option.
As I have said previously, Wallmark’s Victor Raski-like sound positional play and puck support makes him much sounder defensively than your run of the mill rookie trying to figure things out under duress. Because of this, I actually think Wallmark could prove as good defensively as McClement but also bring some secondary scoring. It all comes down to Peters evaluation of his play on Friday night and if he felt like there was risk rolling that out in a real game on Thursday.
Shorter answer: Perhaps to be proven wrong as early as Monday late morning when we see lines for practice, my hunch is that McClement gets the NHL job for October 8 and a really short leash if things do not go well early. Wallmark heads back to Charlotte but with his phone number on speed dial.
The collection of wings: Options still in training camp for wings include whichever of Andrej Nestrasil or Phil Di Giuseppe does not slot up higher, Bryan Bickell, Viktor Stalberg and the prospect trio of Sergey Tolchinsky, Warren Foegele and Martin Frk.
I think he is a bit like Haydn Fleury in that he is destined for Charlotte, but the Hurricanes want to get him as acclimated to the NHL players, system and coaches as possible. He could be the first call up from Charlotte if the Hurricanes have trouble scoring and go looking for an offensive spark plug.
As I said on Twitter Sunday evening, I think people are overestimating this move. Frk is a 2012 draftee who had to work his way up from the ECHL and has yet to play an NHL game. Obviously someone from the Canes scouting department liked something they saw in Frk, but I still think he is very much a try out who is just as likely to see waivers again as he is to make the Hurricanes roster. I think the Canes are deeper at forward and that he might spend a week or so with the the team for a look in practice, but I think he ultimately gets cut.
He has been everything one would want in a fourth line player in terms of being noticeable, physical and a difference-maker most shifts. He has played well enough to be considered, but Bryan Bickell and Phil Di Giuseppe have had strong camps, and I think Stalberg is likely to win a spot. I think Foegele finally gets his entry-level contract but not an NHL role just yet.
The winning wings – Di Giuseppe or Nestrasil, Stalberg and Bickell as an NHL roster extra
I think the roster spots at least to start the season go to Viktor Stalberg and whichever of Phil Di Giuseppe or Andrej Nestrasil does not play in the top 9. Bryan Bickell has had a strong preseason, so by no means is he a cast off but rather a player waiting his turn for some ice time.
Shorter version: I think the fourth line on opening night is most likely to be Di Giuseppe or Nestrasil / McClement / Stalberg with Bickell mixed in sometime within the first 5 games of the season. I think McClement gets 5-7 games with new line mates, and if that does not go well then we see Wallmark back by the end of October.