After 3 days off, the Carolina Hurricanes will take to the ice in preseason in the team’s 2016-17 home debut and then depart for a run of 3 games on the road Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Exact timing is unclear, but the team will depart for Sunday’s game in Minnesota with a much lighter roster as a bus loads up for Charlotte’s AHL training camp which starts on Monday. I offered an expected schedule for roster cuts earlier in the week.
Friday’s game could represent a last chance for some players sitting on the cut line to make a big impression and push to stay at the NHL level past the big round of cuts over the weekend. Sunday’s game could see a few more players returned to the AHL or Canadian juniors.
Five Carolina Hurricanes players most on the spot Friday and possibly Sunday
Torres is likely to receive 1 chance to make a big impression and a chance to push farther into training camp. Most logical might be to use Friday’s game to evaluate any Checkers players who are sitting on the cut line before Monday’s opening of the Charlotte Checkers training camp. That would make for a smaller roster and probably an opportunity for Torres on either Sunday or Tuesday. My quick read from seeing Torres at practice is that he will not be able to match the pace of the NHL and Bill Peters’ system/style of play. He needs to have a huge game to avoid fading off into the sunset of his NHL career.
I think Tolchinsky’s potential to be a scoring spark plug and his play against younger competition in Traverse City and on Sunday in the Red-White scrimmage will keep him in Raleigh past the big AHL cut likely to happen this weekend. But to push up the depth chart, he needs to have a game where he opens eyes but having a big results game on the score sheet. If he is unable to do that, I think he is destined to start the year in Charlotte to continue his development and likely see Raleigh later in the season. Tolchinsky received a pretty good situation filling in for Andrej Nestrasil on Jordan Staal’s line on Tuesday. The game was a mixed bag for him. On the positive side, he did not look out of place and made a handful of good plays. On the negative side, his possession/shot stats were not good, and he did not register results in the form of participation in a goal for. Basically, he looked reasonably capable but not really impactful offensively. I view “reasonably capable” (defensively) as a prerequisite to be considered for a roster spot, but “impactful offensively” as the key requirement to actually make the opening day roster unless injuries open up a bunch of spots. So even though, I think he stays with the big club into next week regardless, at some point he needs a big game. Sooner is better than later.
Coming out of prospect camp, I put the odds of Julien Gauthier sticking at the NHL level at least for 9 games (tenth game would expend first year of his entry-level contract) fairly high. His skill set as a power forward with scoring ability continues to be one that the Hurricanes do not have enough of which gives Gauthier a chance. Important to note that one game is an incredibly tiny sample size, but I am less optimistic about Gauthier’s chances to stick at the NHL level even for the 9 games. While I think he is capable of making big plays offensively at the NHL level right now, my impression from his preseason debut at the NHL level is that he is not quite far enough along in terms of understanding how to use his physical ability to make a difference shift in and shift out instead of prairie dogging for an occasional great play. With it being his very first game at the NHL level, it is entirely possible that Gauthier now settles in and rises up quickly. If Gauthier is ultimately returned to his junior team, the time table will be more about how much the Hurricanes organization wants to see him play at the NHL level and what is best for his development. Because a return to juniors is irreversible (except emergency call up or end of juniors season), the Hurricanes could make a decision to ultimately cut him but still keep him around a bit longer to get him more time with the Hurricanes coaching staff, system and NHL-level experience. To play his way into the roster mix, I think Gauthier needs a big game that demonstrates a higher motor in terms of being a factor even on shifts that do not find the puck on his stick or yield a scoring chance. Just like with Tolchinsky, hitting the score sheet and suggesting that he can provide much-needed offense also helps.
He had a solid game on Tuesday with a goal, a couple other good chances and a solid all-around game tainted only slightly by a late penalty. Of players who would have been considered long shots to make the opening day roster, he is arguably the player whose stock has risen the most with his big first game. If he can follow it up, he could quickly go from being in the pack to leading it in terms of 2015-16 Charlotte forwards trying to make a case for an NHL slot. If he has a ho-hum second game, he still gets credit for the first game, but it looks a little bit more like a good night and an outlier. If he follows up the first game with another strong effort, he starts to stand out from the pack. After the shuttle bus of short March NHL try outs, I noted Patrick Brown as the player who might be able to make the best case for a safe and sound fourth-liner. If injuries open a slot and the leaning is not to go for offense but instead to go for safe, Brown could fit on a fourth line.
I continue to think that his all-around game is more mature than other options like Tolchinsky and Gauthier, but at the same time I think he has the potential to offer some offense. But to be considered, he needs to separate himself from the other options ideally with a solid and sound 2-way game where he is a difference-maker ideally with some ice time with NHL players. Even better would be to get ice time on Jay McClement’s line and look like a good complementary player for that line.
I think any 2015-16 AHLer who gets into the lineup on either Friday or Sunday is playing in a big game. As noted above, the majority of them will be headed to Charlotte over the next 2-4 days, so any ice time is a chance to stake a claim to boarding the airplane for next week’s road trip.
Who did I miss who might be in the spotlight this weekend? Which of these players do you think has a chance to make the Hurricanes roster? Who do you think will even get the chance to play this weekend? And most importantly who do you think will make a big impression.