I realize that I have written about the Canes young blue line from a half dozen different angles, but it is the best story going right now. And we are constantly getting new information on the readiness of the group. Below is another try at categorizing the group based on NHL readiness/experience.
Categories for Canes young defensemen
Established NHL defensemen (1): Justin Faulk
Still learning but proven capable of learning at the NHL level (4): Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce, Ryan Murphy and Jaccob Slavin. Slavin might be a bit of a stretch and maybe more of a tweener between this and the next category, but I am leaning positive on him after his 5-game audition.
Next wave of highly rated prospects who are making appropriate progress at respective levels (3): Trevor Carrick (AHL), Roland McKeown (juniors) and Haydn Fleury (juniors).
The Canes also have multiple other players including Josh Wesley (juniors), Tyler Ganly (AHL) and other more recently drafted players who are tracking well.
If you consider only the top categories, the Hurricanes 4-5 players for the NHL level next season and also 3 more who have the potential to enter the mix ahead of schedule just like Pesce and Slavin this season.
Possible decisions for Francis
The accelerated development of this group creates some interesting decisions for Ron Francis:
1) Does he consider trading 1-2 of these young defensemen sooner rather than later to get help at forward?
2) Does the accelerated schedule for this group make a veteran defenseman expendable sooner rather than later? John-Michael Liles is a free agent this summer and could be moved at the trade deadline. Could the rapid development of the kids also make Ron Hainsey or James Wisniewski (both signed through 2016-17) tradeable?
3) How do he and coach Bill Peters balance the left and right side? With Slavin being used on the right side (despite being a left shot), the right side of the future is emerging faster with Faulk, Pesce, Murphy and Slavin all NHL-capable (and Wisniewski signed through 2016-17)? On the left side it is Hanifin plus 2 veterans (Hainsey and Liles) right now with Liles spot reasonably likely to open up at the trade deadline or this summer.
The rapid development of the blue line and the decisions that it creates for Ron Francis continues to be the most exciting thing happening for Hurricanes hockey.
Next up is a return to the NHL lineup for Ryan Murphy who was playing pretty well and starting to open things up offensively when he was put on pause by a concussion.