Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a shot at categorizing the Canes defensemen.
Bona fide top pairing defensemen — Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin
Both Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin are now enough years deep playing solid defensive hockey that each has clearly established himself as a player who is at a minimum capable of being a solid complementary half of a top NHL pairing. Neither are elite offensively, but both have made strides in this area. And both are so good defensively that they are easily capable of being the stronger part of a top 4 core.
Upside: The upside, which seems to be coming gradually for both players is offense/scoring. Given their lack of power play ice time, both already rate as decent offensively, but the upside if if either could find a higher gear. Regardless, both are solid core type defensemen that you build a top 4 around.
Elite offensive defenseman (plus more?)– Dougie Hamilton
Dougie Hamilton is an interesting case. He arrived already as an elite but maybe underrated offensive defenseman in my book based on his goal scoring totals. He also arrived with a reputation for at times having trouble defensively. I think that mixed bag evaluation mostly held true in 2018-19. He struggled early in the season defensively and actually offensively too. But when he found a higher gear at about the midway point of the season, he was lights out offensively and also took a significant step up defensively such that he was one of the team’s best players down the stretch. Then he took a step backward again in the playoffs.
Thus far in 2019-20, he has hit an even higher gear offensively such that he would be in the conversation as the top offensive defenseman in the league right now. And with only a brief relapse of his defensive downs, he has generally been solid defensively too. If he can maintain his current level of defensive play and something just remotely close to his current scoring pace, Hamilton will finish the season in the Norris Trophy conversation.
Upside: If he regresses back to his historical norm, Hamilton is an elite offensive defenseman who is capable of playing in the top 4 but maybe needs to be spelled during down stretches. But if he can maintain, the higher level of play defensively, Hamilton becomes an elite defenseman who rates even higher than Pesce or Slavin because of how much he brings offensively.
Complementary #4 defensemen — Joel Edmundson and (theoretically) Jake Gardiner
Joel Edmundson is the sneaky smart part of the Don Waddell’s summer. The primary trade that everyone including myself saw was the Hurricanes parting ways with Justin Faulk because he was not going to be part of the long-term once his contract ended and in return netting a higher-end prospect in Dominik Bokk. But the trade also netted Joel Edmundson who back-filled the loss of veteran depth with the loss of Faulk and also boosted the Hurricanes back to having five top 4-capable defensemen. Given Gardiner’s struggles thus far in a Canes uniform, where might the team be right now if pressed to try to make Gardiner work in the top 4? Edmundson reminds me of Calvin de Haan in that he is a proven, steady, non-flashy #4 type that makes it such that his partner does not have to carry the pairing. He also brings a physical element when needed and kills penalties such that he is a great complementary #4 defenseman.
Upside: I think we are seeing it. Edmundson arrived with expectations for being extremely limited. Edmundson’s pae for six goals and 24 points is pretty respectable without any power play ice time.
I know it has not worked out that way thus far, but before arriving in North Carolina Jake Gardiner easily projected as different type of complementary #4 defenseman with more of an offense-leaning skill set. A bit like Hamilton, Gardiner arrived with high marks for what he could do offensively but also mixed reviews based on his intermittent struggles defensively and in terms of puck management. Gardiner’s offensive ability has yet to arrive, and he has struggled defensively such that he is the team’s seventh best defenseman right now. As disappointing as Gardiner’s start has been, I think its nuts to consider his level of play what he will ultimately be in a Hurricanes uniform. Hamilton took about half a season to find his stride. I think that is why Brind’Amour continues to ride Gardiner. He is hoping that with repetition and a vote of confidence even if undeserved that he will eventually find a higher gear.
Upside: Right now the upside for Gardiner is just settling in, playing steady hockey and finding the offensive ability that was his strength in Toronto.
Experienced #5 defenseman — Trevor van Riemsdyk and Haydn Fleury
I think Hurricanes fans are spoiled by how deep the Hurricanes defense has been since the start of the 2018-19 season such that capable even if unspectacular players like Trevor van Riemsdyk and Haydn Fleury are underappreciated. Van Riemsdyk has been a steady defending and stabilizing force for the third pairing. He generally makes whoever is playing next to him look better.
Upside: The upside for van Riemsdyk would be pushing up into the top 4 (likely because of an injury) and proving capable in that higher role. Best bet is that van Riemsdyk leaves this summer to pursue a higher salary larger role with a team who is willing bet that he is capable of being a top 4 regular.
Haydn Fleury is gradually becoming an experienced but still young defenseman. Based on what I have seen so far, I do not see Fleury as a bona fide top 4 defenseman, but I do see him as capable depth for the bottom pairing.
Upside: The upside for Fleury would be if he suddenly found a higher gear in terms of processing things and reacting correctly with pace. Fleury has a physical skill set capable of being a top 4 defenseman. Based on what I have seen thus far, I do not project Fleury to be more than a capable third pairing defenseman, but having just passed 100 games at the NHL level, it is still possibly that Fleury suddenly finds a higher gear.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you agree with how I slot/categorize the Canes defensemen?
2) Do you think this it the year that Dougie Hamilton maintains his top level defensively and takes his game to whole new level? Or is he destined to regress a bit as the season progresses?
3) Do you expect Jake Gardiner to rebound as he settles in over the course of the 2019-20 season?