I will likely do a more detailed, formal, “What I’m watching” type article for the start of training camp, but with another slow news day in late August, today’s Daily Cup of Joe will offer a few quick thoughts on what I will be watching for early in training camp and the first few preseason games.
Filling out key slots
Line combinations are subject to change multiple times during training camp and then again during the season, but I still think it will be interesting to see where Rod Brind’Amour’s starting point is for a couple of key slots in the lineup.
With Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen
Best bet is that Valentin Zykov gets a primary look with the Finnish duo based on his favorable audition in that slot last March, but I will also be curious to see who else sees ice time with them. Micheal Ferland brings a power forward skill set somewhat similar to Zykov’s.
Flanking Jordan Staal
I will also be curious who Brind’Amour tries around Jordan Staal. Indications are that Brind’Amour will push Staal to find a higher gear and play a do-everything role similar to Brind’Amour himself played during his best years as a Hurricanes player. That would suggest that Staal will need help not only defensively for his checking role but also offensively to boost his scoring. If Brind’Amour does not reunite Staal with Aho and Teravainen, it is not clear what other players might fit the bill.
Where does Justin Williams land
Brind’Amour obviously thinks highly of Justin Williams as a leader, but one question is what kind of role Brind’Amour thinks Williams can fill as a player at this stage of his career. Is he still capable of being a complementary player on a scoring line with AHo and Teravainen? Despite losing a step or two to his 2005-06 Stanley Cup self, could he flank Staal like he did Brind’Amour on an elite checking line? Could he provide a steadying presence for teenagers Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov? Or…?
Newcomers trying to jump the depth chart
The Hurricanes made a couple interesting European free agent signings this summer somewhat in a Derek Ryan vein. I mean that in the sense that Saku Maenalanen and Michael Fora are not teenage prospects who are necessarily multiple years away from being NHL ready.
If Faulk departs via trade or if a defenseman is injured, there is no clear front runner or experienced player for the #7 defense slot. Michael Fora caught the Hurricanes eye playing steady defense against NHL-ish competition in the world tourney in the spring. Could he be another Niclas Wallin who makes the jump straight from Europe into a depth role in the NHL?
On the forward side of the ledger, Maenalanen is another player who figures to be closer to NHL-ready than your standard young prospect. The Hurricanes forward ranks are crowded only in the sense that there are a number of young players who might be ready to make a mark in the NHL. But if Maenalanen looks like the best option available and also looks like he can contribute offensively, just maybe he leap frogs the promising kids at least for the 2018-19 season.
So I will be watching to see how much preseason ice time each receives and also who they are paired with in practices and games. Then of course I will be watching to see if either looks ready to make an immediate jump to the NHL or if instead AHL seasoning will be required.
Readiness of the kids
The path to winning an NHL roster spot in an open competition is to impress early and often. Svechnikov is incredibly likely to stick at the NHL level simply because the AHL is not an option. But past that, I think all of Valentin Zykov, Martin Necas, Warren Foegele will have to earn NHL slots under Brind’Amour. As such, I will be watching closely to see which youth seem to struggling to get up to NHL speed and which appear to be ready.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What else should I add to my early training camp watch list?
2) Which of those that I listed is most intriguing to you?