Today’s Daily Cup of Joe goes off on a bit of a tangent naming specific skills for Canes players that are near elite or close.
He is as good as anyone at winning 40/60 pucks (more or less 50/50-ish pucks where the other player has a small head start or advantage in winning it). Staal is so incredibly good at using his size, strength and reach to tie players up on the way to the puck or just after he gets it to sort of restart the battle which very often is one that Staal wins. A second area where Staal is incredibly good is being able to advance pucks by himself out of the defensive zone to gain the offensive blue line still with control. That ability amazes me sometimes because Staal is not lightning fast which would seem to be a key ingredient for that skill. Instead he utilizes some combination of is size/strength/reach, vision and shifty skating ability to navigate the middle of the rink protecting the puck.
Martinook has an uncanny sense for knowing what the team needs both on the ice and off the ice. On the ice, he seemed without fail to understand when the team was maybe coming off a flat effort and needed a bit of a spark and sure enough Martinook was always physical and dialed up early in these games to help get everyone going. Off the ice, he even more so possesses a gift for sensing whta the team in total or individuals need. Martinook was at the forefront adopting Andrei Svechnikov as a kid brother and in the process helping the 18-year old quickly get comfortable in what could be a challenging transition. His ‘Marty party’ was cheesy but also sneaky powerful in helping create the fabric that made the relationship between the players something beyond what is the norm even on good teams. His Ray Whitney-like sense for how and when to lighten things up and push fun to the forefront during the playoffs was also subtle but at the same time critical for a young team learning its way in the first playoffs for many players. Players do have to be 100 percent dialed in for playoff games under immense pressure, but I think that actually makes it even more critical to be able to completely let it go and have fun in between games.
Nathan Gerbe has always been my measuring stick for measuring players’ consistency level for effort and intensity. Gerbe was so incredibly consistent at bringing it every single game that it was underappreciated. Brock McGinn is similarly top of the class in that regard. His scoring can fluctuate a bit. His role also changed a bit at times. But with incredibly consistency McGinn also showed up on time and with his intensity level in gear each and every game.
What jumps out about Mrazek’s game when he is on is his level of anticipation. When he is playing well, his combination of reading the play and using his quickness to move makes him look like a character of The Matrix. He repeatedly just seems to have teleported forward by a second to be waiting exactly where he need to be when the puck arrives.
Obviously Jaccob Slavin does a number of things well, but if I had to pick one skill where he is truly elite, I think it would be his acceleration and quickness to quickly close any kind of gap. That ability permeates Slavin’s game and is a foundation for many specific things that he does well. Slavin is as good as anyone in the NHL at defending an opposing player coming in one-on-one from the neutral zone in largely because of this skill. He regularly uses his acceleration and quickness to step up on a player receiving a pass inside of the center line to take away time and space and eliminate any chance for the opposing player to do something before he even has time to figure it out. His acceleration also makes him incredibly good at covering 20ish feet in a hurry to recover in situations where he steps up in the neutral zone and also in cases where his defensive partner gets caught up ice.
Pesce’s greatest skill is a subtle but significant one. He reminds me of the younger Glen Wesley in how infrequently he makes anything more than a tiny mistake. In terms of steadiness, I think Pesce is the best on the team trumping even Slavin. Maybe what is most impressive about this is that Pesce does not come by this mostly by playing a conservative, sit back type of style. He is nearly as aggressive as Slavin stepping up at the blue line or even in the neutral zone to aggressively play the puck yet hardly even gets caught out of position. He also rates very well at not making costly turnovers. When I net it out, Pesce is elite in terms of a ‘big oops’ per minute of ice time non-fancy stat.
At the highest level, Hamilton’s calling card is his ability to score from the back end. Many would probably credit that skill set to having a great shot. Hamilton does have a good shot, but I really think the driving force behind Hamilton’s scoring is his ability to know when, where and how to step up into the play in the offensive zone as a fourth forward. That is what regularly nets him grade A scoring chances and in the process goals.
In a 2019 NHL that mostly frowns on old school hockey and fisticuffs, it is increasingly difficult for a player make a difference with that brand of hockey. But Ferland is a new breed nasty player. He can fight anyone if needed, but more significantly his ability to bump a player three days forward on the calendar like he did Marcus Johansson with a clean check makes the game dangerous for opposing players. The potential for Ferland to line someone up and drill them changes the way opposing players handle the puck making it more likely that a player will discard the puck instead of holding on for another second or two and possibly being hammered for doing it. In a league that has no room for players that cannot contribute offensively Ferland is a rare breed who can match NHL pace and finish at a high enough rate to be a top 6 forward but also bring as much old school enforcer as is needed.
The sample size is incredibly small, but when the chips were down during the 2018-19 season, Foegele rose up. He played most of his best hockey of the 2018-19 season, in the final weeks when every game was critical. In addition, without his performance in games 3 and 4 of the Washington Capitals series, I do not think many people realize how close the Capitals series came to ending up like the Bruins series. Some players, captain Justin Williams being one of them, just have an uncanny knack for rises up when the pressure is the greatest. Foegele showed that he might have this ability. I cannot wait until the next round of huge games to see if Foegele can again vault his play to a higher level.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of these elite (or close) traits are most interesting and most significant to you?
2) I only touched on nine players and left some really good ones. Who has elite (or close) traits for other Canes players?