Yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe highlighted some potential roster battles for training camp in a look at players “on the spot.”
The goalie position had Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek on the spot but only because both will be battling for the starting role. And no other goalie entered the picture in yesterday’s article.
The blue line was similarly pretty tidy counting six NHLers plus Justin Faulk who makes seven if he is not traded. And though the article did acknowledge that there was room for a #7 if Faulk departs, the position is also pretty tidy.
But the forward position is a different story altogether. In that section, I highlighted 10 players battling for roster spots, higher line role and ice time in addition to 6 sure things. That makes for a sizable group of 16 players battling for 13 slots.
In writing this article, I included a number of players, especially at the forward position, who seem mostly likely to compete for an win 2018-19 NHL ice time. One thing that is encouraging is the number of players who were not included who might be longer shots but are not entirely out of the question.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at a few dark horses who were not included in yesterday’s article who could surprise.
Nedeljkovic’s development path is an interesting one. He checked pretty much every box while playing at the junior level including steady play over the long haul and also big game success in both the playoffs and international play. Then he arrived at the AHL level for the 2016-17 season on an upward trajectory and with a good amount of fanfare only to crash upon entry into the AHL. His 2017-18 season was a nice rebound but was significantly aided by playing for a good team that scored goals in bunches. From my checks in Charlotte, I put him dead center in the middle having recovered from 2016-17 but maybe not been as good as his record might indicate. So Nedeljkovic has not played his way up to the point where he is clearly ready to give the NHL a try. But with two risky propositions in net, it is not unforeseeable that the reaches a point where giving Nedeljkovic a try is a smart, calculated gamble. Based on his ability to rise to the occasion at other levels, could he be the type of player who just steps in, gets better not worse with the pressure and is successful? The Hurricanes are due for a break at the goalie position, so just maybe Nedeljkovic will be exactly that and just maybe it will be sooner rather than later.
With the addition of Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan, the blue line appears to be pretty set. But an injury or two could provide a chance for someone currently not expected to see much NHL ice time.
McKeown has always been an interesting case for me. He does not wow with skating ability like some of the other Canes prospects. He has a modest ceiling offensively. And I would not classify him as a surefire shutdown defender or physical force. But McKeown has outplayed his somewhat modest skill set every single time in game action. It will likely take an injury for him to get a chance, but if given the opportunity could McKeown be ready to seize an NHL roster spot for good and make someone like Trevor van Riemsdyk become either solid depth or even expendable?
Just like yesterday, the forward position is again the most interesting. Despite already reaching #16 on the forward depth chart yesterday, I still think there are a couple players who maybe rate #17 or lower but are only a jump or two away from being top 12-capable.
Kuokkanen is arguably the most interesting player on this list. He basically won a roster spot in training camp despite being overshadowed attention-wise by Martin Necas arrival in Raleigh. And though his overall numbers were not eye-popping, Kuokkanen picked up steam as the season wore on in his AHL rookie campaign. He won an AHL rookie of the month award during the second half of the season and exited the season having grown pretty steadily as a player throughout. His flexibility to play wing or center could also come into play as could his fairly broad skill set offensively. In terms of centers moving up, I think the likelihood order is clearly Martin Necas, Lucas Wallmark and then Janne Kuokkanen, but I do not think the gap is nearly as wide as most would think or that the odds are as impossible for Kuokkanen as many might think. Remember that he more or less made the team out of training camp last season competing against the same group.
He struggled to adjust to the AHL early on to the point where he was way down the AHL depth chart and even a healthy scratch as Head Coach Mike Vellucci tried to spark him and get him pointed in the right direction. Based on that Gauthier legitimately tumbled down the prospect depth chart early in the 2017-18 campaign. But here’s the thing…Every bit of his high-end power forward skill set that includes size, skating ability and skill is still intact. And Gauthier did rebound and get his feet under him as the 2017-18 season wore on. Now maybe under the radar and possibly a bit more hungry, could Gauthier be the type who puts it together suddenly? Because of his natural skill set, that is not out of the question.
Saarela was not as lights out as his late 2016-17 AHL debut, but he still posted a solid 25 goals in Charlotte in 2017-18. Especially if Skinner departs via trade as seems possible, the Hurricanes could find the need for more finishing. As far as Canes prospects go, Saarela rates highly in that regard. Right now, Saarela probably slots somewhere around #18-20 on a Hurricanes forward depth chart, but he is skilled enough to move much higher if he gets an opportunity and gets hot when he does. He is one of many will need to do something to get attention early in training camp/preseason to garner more ice time and a longer look as the roster is being finalized, but he has the skill to do exactly that.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Of these dark horses, which do you think has the best chance to surprise and stay late into training camp and maybe even seize a roster spot?
2) Are there any other players who are a ways down the depth chart whom you think could make a move up the depth chart in training camp?