Welltime with Brandon Stanley’s latest ‘Checking In’ which will go up sometime on Wednesday, today’s Daily Cup of Joe has a similar futuristic theme considering the few players at the top of the list in Charlotte and at the same time considers if/where these players could fit right now as the Hurricanes enter the stretch run with room for improvement.
After a slow start in 2019-20, Alex Nedeljkovic rounded into form and is again making a claim to getting a shot at the NHL level. During the front part of last summer, he figured to be the Hurricanes backup for the 2019-20 season. But when Don Waddell dug up a chance to unload Scott Darling and his contract without buying him out, Nedeljkovic was suddenly third on the Hurricanes depth chart with James Reimer added to the mix. Ideal at least for Nedeljkovic’s development would have been an injury that got him some starts at the NHL level. But with the Hurricanes in a dog fight with no margin for error and both starting goalies healthy, Nedeljkovic seems destined to wait another year.
The situation will be interesting. Nedeljkovic will almost certainly be elevated to the NHL level for 2020-21 but without any NHL track record to show he is capable.
I am torn on his viability as a regular NHL goalie but at the same time all in on giving Nedeljkovic his chance. He very much has that ‘it’ factor that is common to great players and maybe even more common to the goalie position. Dating back to his days in juniors, Nedeljkovic has been a winner and has played his best hockey under the pressure of post-season and international tournament play. That ‘winner’ label is intriguing. But the flip side for me is whether he truly has the skill set. My impression of Nedeljkovic again in preseason was that he is incredibly noisy in his play. His size maybe forces him to be a bit aggressive and scrambly, but his volume of movement seemed to make him prone to overplaying situations and also potentially having holes as he moved.
As I said above, the team has to give him a shot at least as a backup, but barring an injury, I think it makes sense to push that to next season.
Jake Bean is another player who has made steady progress such that an NHL audition seems imminent. For the longest time, I have been significantly less high on Bean than the consensus. With some time to acclimate to NHL speed, I think he could be a competent second unit power play quarterback right now. But because of the defensive part of the game, I still do not project him to be more than a third pairing defenseman who can play power play and help boost offense late in games when trailing.
The issue lies with his defense. The reason I put his ceiling lower than many is not so much because of how well he defends but more so just how. My read on him through the years without a significant change at training camp last fall is that to avoid making big mistakes he is just too passive. The opposite of players like Pesce and Slavin who aggressively take away time and space, Bean too much settles for being between the player and the net. The result at the NHL level if a limited number of big mistakes but also a situation where good NHL forwards just feast on the time and space. This might sound odd, but I actually think I would be higher on Bean if during his preseason auditions, he made more mistakes playing aggressively. That would suggest that he has the right approach but still needs work developing it.
As with Nedeljkovic, I do think Bean should get an NHL audition, but also like like with Nedeljkovic, I think it should wait until 2020-21. The help that the Hurricanes need on defense right now is another sound option for the top 4. Even if he does work out, that is not where Bean fits short-term. As such, I do not see Bean entering the NHL mix for 2020-21 unless an injury or two force it.
Another high draft pedigree Canes prospect tearing it up at the AHL level is Julien Gauthier. After a strong preseason that nearly won him an NHL roster spot, Gauthier has had a couple sort NHL auditions during the 2019-20 season. He has not looked out of place at the NHL level, but significantly he was not a real difference-maker or offensive contributor either. But in only 41 games at the AHL level, Gauthier has scored a massive 25 goals and looked every bit an NHL-capable scoring power forward in the process.
The question with Gauthier has always been his play when he was not causing ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ with the puck on his stick. For a big body, he was not physical, and just in general he did not seem overly engaged when not trying to score. But in preseason, Gauthier demonstrated that he had at least made strides in this area being more aggressive hounding the puck on the forecheck and competing in the neutral zone and defensive zone. On a team that already has a few wings who lean offense over defense, Gauthier is maybe not ideal for the here and now. But as a forward with potential scoring upside, I would be inclined to give him another look at the NHL while Martinook is out of the lineup.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Of the big three Canes prospects at the AHL level, which do you think could fill a role and provide a boost (or at least should get a chance to) at the NHL level for the remainder of the 2019-20 season?
2) What do you predict for a longer-term future for an NHL career for each of these players?
3) Of the other prospects in Charlotte, which do you see as having a future at the NHL level?