If you prefer a dose of optimism that looks farther out and if you checked out of the Canes hockey world early for the holiday weekend, you can find ‘back to school’ articles on promising Canes prospects Matt Filipe, Max Zimmer and Jack LaFontaine.
Today’s daily post will turn toward training camp and the beginning of the sorting out process for the 2016-17 lineup.
Line combinations and defense pairings are subject to change numerous times during preseason and on into the season. Last season, Coach Bill Peters seemed to shuffle things at forward constantly until finally finding a winning combination in early December. Once Brett Pesce settled into the hole created when James Wisniewski was injured things were a bit more stable on the back end early and then endured shuffling when Faulk’s injury shook things up.
That said, I am still curious to see what Peters tries first in training camp and preseason games and also how that works out.
Projected version 1.0 of Hurricanes lineup
The summer has provided a good number of clues between Bill Peters’ interviews at Summerfest. When combined with where the team left off in closing out the 2015-16 season and also intuition, my best guess for the first try at a lineup is:
Hurricanes forward lines
Jeff Skinner / Victor Rask / Lee Stempniak
Joakim Nordstrom / Jordan Staal / Andrej Nestrasil
Sebastian Aho / Teuvo Teravainen / Elias Lindholm (with Teravainen and Lindholm splitting center duties)
Bryan Bickell or Phil Di Giuseppe / Jay McClement / Viktor Stalberg
Hurricanes defense pairings
Jaccob Slavin / Justin Faulk
Noah Hanifin / Brett Pesce
Ron Hainsey / Ryan Murphy
After a strong second half of the 2015-16, Cam Ward enters as the incumbent starter.
Combinations worth watching
The blue line
Slavin/Faulk: I will be most curious early in preseason to see how the defense pairings start and how they look. Peters suggested that he might try Slavin with Faulk initially. It makes sense in that Justin Faulk should be the #1 defenseman on this team and in that Jaccob Slavin was the team’s best defenseman down the stretch and only looked better when pressed into a larger role. But Faulk has a history of starting slow which might make a familiar face in Ron Hainsey a safe starting point. And though Slavin did play well in a top 4 and even top 2 role down the stretch, it is asking a lot for a second year player to start the season on the first pairing.
Hanfin/Pesce: This duo spent some time playing together after the Faulk injury and Liles trade departure. The chemistry was a bit rough early, but they did improve. If this pairing holds and it is in fact the Canes second pairing, it would represent a big challenge. Hanifin spent the vast majority of the 2015-16 season in a third pairing role, and while Brett Pesce did spend much of the 2015-16 in the top 4, the 2016-17 version of that would be minus the steady veteran presence of John-Michael Liles.
Hainsey/Murphy: Can Ron Hainsey provide stable, stay-home support that enables Murphy to do what he does best which is rush the puck up the ice? I really like the idea of pairing Murphy with a veteran things hold.
Skinner/Stempniak: Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask have played together enough to build chemistry and learn each other’s game. Can Lee Stempniak find chemistry with Jeff Skinner and provide the balance scoring-wise on the opposite side of Skinner? That could go a long way toward boosting scoring.
Nordstrom/JStaal/Nestrasil: This trio was the Canes best line from December through February when the team was winning. In training camp, I will be looking for early indications that the 2015-16 run was not just a hot streak but rather represented chemistry that will carry over into the 2016-17 season.
Aho/Teravainen/Lindholm: This is probably the most interesting line out of the gate. There are so many questions. Can Sebastian Aho make the jump to the NHL and be a dynamic offensive catalyst in 2016-17 or is a dose of patience in order. Does 1 of Teravainen or Lindholm seize the center role or is it a flexible situation as Bill Peters has suggested. Can Lindholm and/or Teravainen find another gear offensively and find a higher level scoring-wise?
McClement/Stalberg: Jay McClement had a tough 2015-16 season at even strength. He was regularly paired with aggressive forecheckers that too often let the puck get behind them and into the neutral zone with speed. The result was McClement struggling mobility-wise to prevent a rush up the ice at backpeddling Canes defensemen. Stalberg theoretically brings speed and defensive acumen that can help shore up the fourth line. Preseason will provide the first look at whether the puzzle pieces do in fact fit together.
Despite the fact that much of the roster is returning from 2015-16, the number of players potentially stepping up into bigger roles makes for an interesting beginning of training camp seeing how it all plays out.