Today’s Daily Cup of Joe shares first impressions on the group of four players who have just played their first three regular season games in a Hurricanes uniform. Technically, Nedeljkovic played two prior games, but these are his first for 2019-20.
To be clear these are by no means any kind of final answer on these players, but I do find it interesting to compare a few games of being watched closely at the NHL level versus expectations.
His 2019-20 debut was an all-around clunker. The failure of the team in front of him to be even remotely close to sound to let Nedeljkovic play his way into the game was a huge disappointment. And Nedeljkovic did not have anything or answers to try to hold the fort. But two things stood out to me from that game. First, even though the game was not going his way, he did not look rattled as the game wore on. How he played, handled the puck and defended the net seemed to stay steady without trying to do too much or looking like a deer in the headlights. In addition, I liked his demeanor in his post-game interview. After a 4-1 loss, I was a bit surprised that the team did not hide him a bit and chuck someone else in front of the camera. But somewhat like the tail end of the game, he did not look shell-shocked. His matter of fact approach that acknowledged that it was not a great night but looked forward not backward showed some maturity.
So fast forward to his second outing in relief on Saturday night in Montreal. Down 3-0 when he entered, he looked sharp and was a perfect 18 for 18 in regulation before being beaten off the rush in overtime.
One out of two good outings is not a good enough pace for the NHL, but there are enough positives to fuel some optimism.
As with Nedeljkovic, Forsberg’s one and a half games of 2019-20 NHL action are a mixed bag. He was generally a positive in his start against the Colorado Avalanche and came up just one big save short of being a more definitive positive. But he was beaten on a tough chance to save when the defense broke down in front of him, and the Canes lost in regulation just short of at least netting an OTL point. His second start on Saturday was even more of a mixed bag. The Canes again failed to show up for a first period, and Forsberg was easily the team’s best player doing very well to get the Canes out of the first period down only 1-0. He was again under siege in the second period with the Canes still struggling to find a higher gear, and he was again good on first shots. But somewhere along the way, he seemed to start spitting out juicy rebounds on everything and two second chances found the net behind him. Forsberg being pulled maybe had a little bit to do with the two rebound goals but also a lot to do with Brind’Amour pulling whatever levers he could to try to spark a lackluster team.
Trocheck came labeled as a hard-charging center who could both finish and create chances for his line mates and was also a good fit for Brind’Amour’s aggressive system. Thus far, Trocheck has matched that description. The negative on Trocheck through three games is that he has not tallied a point. But the chances have been there, and almost always that ultimately leads to scoring. I like him with Necas. Both players can push pace and both distribute or finish. My watch point with Trocheck is if/whom he finds chemistry with offensively to hopefully get a second scoring line going behind Aho’s line.
The thing that jumps out to me about Skjei is how much his game reminds me of Dougie Hamilton. Historical statistics suggest that he likely does not have the finishing/goal scoring upside that Hamilton does, but then again how many players do. And the peak version of Hamilton has shown a greater ability to be a great defensive defenseman too. But stylistically Skjei is a big body who is incredibly mobile. Skjei regularly shows the ability to step in on the rush as a third or fourth forward and also enough wheels to quickly retreat back into the neutral zone. That skill set/ability can be a great fit for Brind’Amour’s system and style of play that wants defensemen to step into a forward role in the right situations. And his skating ability and propensity to join the rush will result in a good amount of depth scoring from a defenseman. But the burning question is whether he is good enough defensively. Interestingly, Hamilton arrived with a similar question mark, did have some defensive struggles initially but seemed to put it all together this year. In three games, Skjei has been in the middle of too many ‘oopses’ or just lack of judgment. In his first game a whiff on a pass up the wall led directly to a goal against two seconds later, and he also stepped up at the wrong time off a face-off to generate a 3-on-1 the other way. He was solid on Friday. But then on Saturday he was front and center on the goal primarily caused by a Teravainen turnover at the defensive blue line. The sequence saw Teravainen turn the puck over and then a pass across to the player Skjei was defending. In a situation where there was likely to be problems behind him at a bad transition point, Skjei played it passively and ultimately had a pass go right through him to the front of the net for a goal. Again, three games is a small sample size, but so far the scouting report that had Skjei as a big, mobile defenseman easily with a top 4 physical skill set has been on target but so has the question marks about his defensive play.
What say you Canes fans?
I love to hear everyone else’s first impressions through three games for the four newest Canes players.