In case you missed it, Canes and Coffee coffee cups are officially for sale. There is also an option to order one now and pick it up at the Caniac Carnival. Details are HERE.
If you are thinking about adding a Canes and Coffee cup to your collection and will be at the Caniac Carnival, please consider pulling the trigger. I am already learning that boxing stuff up and shipping it is time consuming, so taking care of as many people as possible in one shot would be greatly appreciated. Plus what’s not to like about free locally roasted Counter Culture coffee from Tenco Coffee?
Serendipitous timing had the Carolina Hurricanes announce the practice groups today which leads perfectly into part 2 of my preview looking at Bill Peters’ work to sort out lines and defense pairings.
You can see the practice groups HERE at CarolinaHurricanes.com.
Likely combinations given the groups announced on Wednesday
Expected NHLers: Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Haydn Fleury, Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm, Joakim Nordstrom, Marcus Kruger, Josh Jooris, Brock McGinn and Scott Darling.
Dark horses to watch: Phil Di Giuseppe, Jake Bean, Janne Kuokkanen, Warren Foegele.
Possible line combinations and defense pairings: I listed the NHLers in the order I did because that is my best guess for what we see for lines and combinations to start.
Slavin/Pesce are the top pairing, and Fleury/van Riemsdyk is the third pairing.
Aho/Staal/Lindholm is the top defense-first line, and Nordstrom/Kruger/Jooris is the second defense-first line. In addition, the two other players with a decent amount of NHL experience who could challenge for depth forward roles in Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe are included in this group.
Possible fun for the future: I would love to see Kuokkanen center a line with some combination of Foegele, McGinn and Di Giuseppe. The group would have the ability to play with pace and enough skill to be dangerous. I could easily spend 10-15 minutes of a drill session seeing if they can muster anything against Slavin/Pesce.
Expected NHLers: Noah Hanifin, Justin Faulk, Klas Dahlbeck, Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, Justin Williams, Teuvo Teravainen, Derek Ryan, Lee Stempniak and Cam Ward.
Dark horse to watch: Nicolas Roy, Aleksi Saarela, Julien Gauthier.
Possible line combinations and defense pairings: Again, the order is there.
Hanifin/Faulk figures to be the second defense pairing.
Skinner/Rask/Williams would be a first scoring line, and Teravainen/Ryan/Stempniak would be a second scoring line.
Possible fun for the future: Nicolas Roy (hopefully leaving Tuesday’s game in Traverse City and not returning was just precautionary) centering some scoring-capable wings like Aleksi Saarela, Julien Gauthier or even heady Nate Schilkey could be fun.
Reading the tea leaves and evaluating them
Important to note is that just because a group of three forwards are slated to skate together in the first practice obviously does not mean they are etched in stone for the rest of the 2017-18 season. Things can and will change in training camp and as the long NHL season rolls on. But disclaimer aside, it is not as if Coach Bill Peters drew names out of a hat randomly. He is working to build his lineup. And he will use all ice time to evaluate possibilities. So there is some meaning in what he puts together for the first day of practice and likely at least some combinations that are his best guess for what will work best for opening day.
Team Dineen strongly suggests that Peters’ starting point for building forward lines is leaving Aho/Staal/Lindholm together. I have mixed feelings on this line. I like Staal/Lindholm as two-thirds of a solid two-way line that Peters can give all of the tough match ups on home ice. At a conceptual level, Aho adds more of a playmaking element that theoretically boosts the line’s scoring. But at a visual level in 2016-17, I think the scoring potential for Aho’s playmaking ability is underutilized with Staal and Lindholm. What was most telling for me in 2016-17 was the stretch where Aho caught fire. During that burst he netted a bunch of goals and easily could have beaten his goal-scoring total with assists except for the lack of finishing by Staal and Lindholm. Both are great players, but at least circa 2016-17, neither was the finisher who pairs with Aho.
I’m conflicted and torn on whether there is a better use of Aho’s playmaking.
Watch points: My watch point for this line is to what degree they can play cohesively in the offensive zone and generate and more importantly finish scoring chances. For a team that needs more goal scoring, utilizing Aho as a serviceable third player on a great defensive second line that is light on scoring is not good enough.
From the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” files, Slavin and Pesce seem destined to at least start training camp together. I like the idea of leaving the duo together. They are both good players in their own right, but more significantly, I think they were truly a case of complementary styles such that 1+1=3. I like them together but am not certain that Hanifin/Faulk will prove strong enough for the road where they would see the other teams’ best lines just like Hainsey/Faulk did last year.
I like it!
Watch points: I actually think the watch point for longevity of this pairing is actually the other pairing. The issue that makes separating them a possibility was not their play together but rather the struggle to get solid hockey out of the second pairing. So the watch point for whether Slavin/Pesce is viable is how well Hanifin/Faulk plays together in preseason.
This duo of newcomers featuring a rookie and one of the latest Blackhawk transplants figures to be penciled in as the third pairing. This was another area of weakness for the 2016-17 season. At a basic level, this really needs to work. I am on record as preferring to add one more veteran depth defenseman. I am not sold on Dahlbeck being an every-night NHLer, and there is no one else in the system with more than a handful of games of NHL experience. As of right now, Francis has a bunch of eggs in the ‘Fleury is ready’ basket.
I am hopeful and scared. Francis decided against adding more options in case Fleury is not ready.
Watch points: The biggest watch point is Fleury. He forged a path upward during his first professional season in Charlotte in 2016-17, and based on that it is reasonable to think that he is ready for NHL duty. But one never knows with young defensemen until they step into NHL speed. So especially in preseason game action, I will be watching Fleury closely to assess his NHL readiness.
I am on record as thinking that Nordstro and/or Jooris could be vulnerable if a young player capable of playing on a checking line but also chipping in a bit of scoring emerges. Phil Di Giuseppe and Brock McGinn wait in the wings as do a handful of promising youngsters. If McGinn and/or Di Giuseppe can also fill a role on the penalty kill and can match the ‘defensively solid’ of Jooris and/or Nordstrom, I think they offer more upside. That said, I think the simple fact that Francis added both players suggest a bias for building a fourth line that is defensively solid.
I am open to other options if someone with higher scoring potential can also bring penalty kill and solid defensive play.
Watch points: I will be watching this line to see if it finds chemistry and also to see if it can quickly build a foundation of being air tight defensively. The line and its individual members gain strength in numbers and as a unit if they look like a line that Peters can trust with a defensive zone draw against good competition on the road in October.
First is watching to see if this is actually right or if perhaps Stempniak and Williams flip flop. Williams adds a dose of everything to the mix. He is solid defensively, has historically driven possession to the offensive zone which is where goals happen, has decent size and is also a scoring/finishing upgrade. Is Williams the missing piece that makes this a legitimate first line?
I am eager to see how it looks.
Watch points: One of my key watch points on Skinner’s line is chemistry and ability to keep all three players engaged. Skinner can be a bit of a one man show at times which does not always fit well with other players who similarly want to play with the puck on their stick. I have no idea how Williams will work with Skinner, but if they do in fact start on the same line, chemistry, cohesion and complementary play will be high on watch list.
The duo played pretty well for the last roughly one-third of the season which hopefully is a springboard into the 2017-18 season. Each player is clearly capable physically of being a solid top 4 defenseman defensively. Save for the burst at the end of the season, I would not say that either player was for most of the 2016-17 season.
I am equally optimistic and skeptical that it will work.
Watch points: The watch point will be scrimmages and preseason games. Do they use their physical ability to play assertive and attacking hockey both with and without the puck? Or are they prone to being too passive such that elite NHL scoring lines take the time and space and use it to eat them up? There really is not much for other top 4 options, so if this duo struggles, it upsets the apple cart and pulls Slavin and Pesce into a reshuffling of the top 4 on defense.
If this is in fact the line combination, I would label this line as an offensively-leaning 3A line with Kruger’s line being the defensively-leaning 3B line. For a team that needs more goal scoring, this line really needs to score. Some amount of sporadic could be bearable, but if this line is below average for third line scoring, it likely makes at least one line too many with that distinction and challenges to score enough to win.
I like the potential.
Watch points: Does this line look capable of preying on bottom defense pairings and forward line mismatches? I will be watching for chemistry and playmaking from a group of three with pretty good offensive ability.
What say you Caniacs?
1) Who is heading out the PNC Arena for Friday’s first set of practices?
2) Feel free to comment here, but also check out the Thursday Coffee Shop which has line combinations and defense pairings as the primary topic.