With the return of most of a team that made the playoffs and a few new additions, the Hurricanes roster is pretty full but with a few heated battles for roster spots likely in preseason.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes an early look at those roster battles by position.
If the team starts the season with James Reimer still in tow, I think the goalie position is the most straight forward of the lost. No doubt the Hurricanes will want to get Alex Nedeljkovic some NHL ice time during the 2019-20 season, but I think that would wait. Out of the gate, the Hurricanes have two good reasons to get Reimer some ice time at the NHL level. First, after a tough 2018-19 season, that would give the team a measure of what they have in Reimer. Related and more significantly, getting Reimer launched positively into the 2019-20 season would position the team to trade him as teams have issues with injuries or poor play at the goalie position. One has to figure that the end desired end game for Reimer would be to trade him to clear space for Nedeljkovic. Anton Forsberg is even deeper down the depth chart. I do not think there is anything he can do in a preseason start or two to leap frog the three goalies in front of him.
So though the team will talk about ‘earning ice time in net’ (what else are they going to say?), I think Reimer is destined for the NHL initially and that Nedeljkovic will mostly be playing to show that he is in fact ready once the team can make room for him.
How it ends: Reimer starts the season at the NHL level with the aim of boosting his stock ideally for a trade.
With Calvin de Haan’s departure, the Hurricanes top 4 is set with Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Justin Faulk and Dougie Hamilton. Trevor van Riemsdyk also figures to be a regular though he could be delayed recovering from his shoulder injury. But that leaves an interesting try out between Haydn Fleury, Jake Bean, Gustav Forsling and Roland McKeown likely for two slots to start the season and probably only one once van Riemsdyk returns. As I noted in a previous article, only Bean can return to the AHL without having to clear waivers which makes it reasonably likely that the team could trade a player from this group instead of risking losing one of them for nothing. Each player in this roster battle has merit. Fleury would be the front-runner based on experience, but Forlsing is also a left shot with a good amount of NHL experience. McKeown is a wild card with his limited NHL experience, but he has a history of dialing up his game wearing an NHL uniform. As a player who could boost scoring and the power play, Bean is probably the most intriguing of this group, but because he can be returned to the AHL without clearing waivers, he is probably most likely to at least start there.
Here is what I think it takes for each player:
Fleury: As the incumbent, he can win a spot just by looking steady and ready to take another step.
Forsling: Forsling needs to jump Fleury. I think doing so requires showing a higher level in terms of advancing the puck and pushing pace.
McKeown: If van Riemsdyk misses the start of the season, McKeown could land in an audition on the right side. To stick, he only needs to show enough to suggest that his upside is higher than the others. That in itself should cause the team to pause.
Bean: His path to regular NHL ice time comes via his offensive ability and potential to quarterback a power play unit. As noted above, he could still end up on hold in Charlotte while the team tries to net a trade return for one of the other players.
How it ends: Bean starts in Charlotte to buy time to evaluate the other three players. If van Riemsdyk is not ready for opening day, all three of the other defensemen rotate for evaluation purposes. In the end, I think either Forsling or McKeown is traded for a mid to late round draft pick, and Bean works his way up to the NHL before the midway point of the season.
If Williams returns, that would be 12 forwards at the NHL level not counting Martin Necas or Saku Maenalanen.
In that scenario, I see a two-stage try out. First, Martin Necas will be given every opportunity to win an NHL slot, and if he does it will be in the lineup not the #13 slot. In that scenario, the bottom wings including Brock McGinn, Jordan Martinook, and Warren Foegele would be battling to stay in the lineup if the full roster is healthy.
If Necas does not prove ready yet, he would be sent to the AHL (no need to clear waivers) where he can continue his development playing heavy minutes. That would tee up a battle that includes the three forwards noted above plus Maenalanen, Clark Bishop and possibly Brian Gibbons to fill out the last couple forward slots and the #13 forward role.
How it ends: If Williams returns (my gut says he will), and Necas does at least start the 2019-20 season at the NHL level that would trigger a battle for the last couple forward slots. Rather than a single winner, I think the result is Martinook, McGinn, possibly Foegele and anyone else who is dinged up rotating in and out of the lineup. The odd man out in this scenario could be Maenalanen who is waiver exempt and could log time in the AHL to make room.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you think there is truly a try out for the backup goalie position? Or is Reimer a near certainty at least to start the season?
2) On defense, of Fleury, Forsling, McKeown and Bean, which two will prove to be the best in preseason? Once the dust settles maybe later in the season after van Riemsdyk returns, who do you see as the bottom pairing?
3) At forward, after sputtering at the NHL level but then rebounding at the AHL level, do you think Necas will prove ready for the NHL this time around? If so, who will get pushed out of the lineup and into the #13 slot?