If you do not care for a sneak peek inside Canes and Coffee and the oddities of the hockey website calendar, just skip below the ———-.
Canes and Coffee inside peek diversion and the challenges of September
One of the things that I have found odd about managing a team-focused NHL website is the weird schedule that makes for the absolute busiest times in terms of day-to-day for the site largely coinciding with what can be a fairly slow time for much of the hockey world.
I have a half-written article on some of the ins and outs of running a team-centric hockey website that I will save for a slow day, but one of the takeaways is how challenging September can be personally. One of the things that helps keep it all sane is scheduling some stuff out and occasionally getting ahead of the game in terms of writing such that I can take a day or two off here and there without the site taking time off. But that is not possible for instant news (i.e. trades, free agent signings, draft picks, etc.), and it is not possible for content that depends on what happened the day before (i.e. what the roster should look like in September).
So September is the perfect storm in terms of just trying to stay up to date. Things change daily with roster battles and such, so if I wrote something tonight much of it could be out of date in 4-5 days. That forces Tuesday’s article to be written on Monday which sometimes fits neatly into the rest of my life and sometimes does not. On top of that, September offers some gauntlets in terms of game coverage which are time-consuming. Games are two and a half hours and if I do pre-game and post-game, it becomes a pretty big chunk of time. During the regular season, the three games in four nights are not just tough on the players. I feel their pain sometimes. 🙂 But September often offers a couple crazy stretches. The Traverse City Prospects Tournament had four games in five days. And when including the double set of practices for the Caniac Carnival on Sunday, this week features four games in four days. On top of that, September is full of games that have defined time blocks which is a royal pain. When life gets in the way during the regular season which it often does, the DVR is the savior that makes it possible to stay very close to real time without actually doing so. But that is not an option for the Traverse City tourney or any of the seven preseason games. So just like non-hockey people look at me oddly when I tell them that June is my busiest month of the year for the website, no one gets that October is a sigh of relief and less chaotic times than the month that preceded it.
So it is barely over two weeks until opening night when things actually slow down a little. 🙂
Back on the ice, the timing is a bit odd right now. The team just completed its first two preseason games which should offer a wealth of clues as to how it will all turn out come opening night on October 7. But because both games were broadcast radio only, the volume of information gathered from Raleigh is significantly less than what is possible.
So while waiting on a bit more on ice data to roll in starting with Wednesday night’s preseason home game, in no particular order here is a short list of things that I like right now mostly at a conceptual level right now.
1) Teuvo Teravainen with Victor Rask and Justin Williams
Teravainen is a skilled player with playmaking ability. I think it is fair to characterize Teravainen’s 2016-17 season as being one of intermittent bursts of offense. He had some phenomenal games, but also games and even stretches of games in which he was quiet and largely a non-factor. He is skilled player who just turned 23 years old who has the potential to push through the ‘decent depth scoring ceiling’ and become more. As far as potential line mates to do that in 2017-18, I think Victor Rask and Justin Williams could be the best possible set. Jeff Skinner is a bigger scorer but maybe not a great complement for Teravainen. Skinner likes to play with the puck on his stick and largely creates his own chances which often leaves line mates in secondary roles. But Williams and Rask while not being elite snipers are both decent finishers and also the kind of heady players who can read situations and put themselves and their line mates in positions to score. In addition, as a veteran leader Williams might also be able to help Teravainen find a higher level of every game consistency.
2) The potential for Coach Steve Smith to use the slashing and face-off violation crackdowns to his advantage
For those who have not tuned in or checked in on the first two preseason games, both have been a parade to the penalty box for letter of law crackdown on any stick on the hands and also footwork violations on face-offs. The early results across the league are a boat load of penalties. Enter Coach Steve Smith who is the coach of the Hurricanes’ penalty kill which has been near the top of the league since he took over. What is even more impressive is that Smith has accomplished this largely using depth forwards and with significant turnover in personnel from year to year. The turnover has manifested itself in moderate (not bad just middle of the league) starts in terms of killing penalties followed by mid-season surges up the rankings as the new group settles in. For the 2017-18 season, Smith again finds himself building anew. He lost Viktor Stalberg, Jay McClement and Ron Hainsey who were all key players on the 2016-17 penalty kill. And in comes Marcus Kruger, Josh Jooris and more time for other defensemen filling the hole left by Hainsey’s departure. Timing is right for Smith to work with Peters to make sure that he gets a few sets of penalty killers into the lineup together to take on a heavy helping of game speed practice while the volume of penalties is still through the roof. If the result is a penalty kill that hits the ground running instead of taking a month or two to transition to new personnel, the Hurricanes could run away from the pack in terms of penalty kill proficiency.
3) Alex Nedeljkovic’s start
Nedeljkovic entered training camp for the 2016-17 season anointed as the Hurricanes goalie of the future. He had checked every box possible at the junior level both in terms of consistent and extended strong play in juniors during the regular season, success under the spotlight of international tournaments and a strong playoff effort as a leader to cap it off. But his 2016-17 season was bumpy to say the least. He flat out struggled early, and even when he settled in, his play leaned much more toward learning than dominating at the AHL level. He ceded the net in Charlotte to veterans for the playoff chase and spent most of the tail end of the 2016-17 season in the ECHL.
Two partial preseason games is a really small sample size, but I find his start to the 2017-18 season incredibly encouraging. He played well on Monday in a busy period of work plus overtime where he won. He also seemed to play well on Tuesday. Those two efforts start his 2017-18 season off on a strong note and will hopefully launch him into his second professional season with confidence. Goalie development can take awhile, and it is not uncommon for it to include alternating steps forward and backward. Only time will tell, but my hope is that Nedeljkovic’s strong start wearing an NHL jersey will fuel a resurgence in his development and the next leg up in his path to become an NHL goalie.
4) Trevor van Riemsdyk as a catalyst for the third defense pairing
Who exactly his partner will be is yet to be determined. I had Haydn Fleury as a front runner to win a third pairing defense slot for the 2017-18 season awhile back, but whether it is Fleury, Klas Dahlbeck or Trevor Carrick, I view van Riemsdyk as the leader of the duo at least to start the season. In the NHL of old, third pairing defensemen needed to have size, strength and some amount of nastiness to a good number of shifts against other teams’ old school physical checking lines plus a few enforcers and agitators to boot. Because the competition was somewhat hockey limited, being able to move the puck and skate was secondary and maybe not even at the top of priorities. But in today’s NHL that sees players that can skate and score throughout all 12 forward slots, teams that ice third pairings that cannot move the puck from their own get preyed on. Reports on Van Riemsdyk suggest that he might be in over his head as an every night top 4 defenseman, but he receives pretty high marks for being a capable third pairing defenseman of the puck-moving variety. That skill set should fit nicely either with Dahlbeck who is more of stay-home type without tremendous puck skills or with helping either Fleury or Carrick settle in with less pressure with van Riemsdyk doing the heavy lifting exiting the defensive zone.
5) The increasing organizational depth and its potential to fill holes from within later in the season
When General Manager Ron Francis added Josh Jooris and Marcus Kruger at the forward position to go with headliner Justin Williams, the lineup became pretty full at forward. The potential is still there for a young player to stake a preseason claim to being a significant upgrade offensively and steal a roster spot from someone else, but there really are not any roster spots that are truly wide open. But with so many talented players moving up to the professional ranks, the potential is there for these players to benefit from a run of healthy ice time against good AHL competition in preparation to step into the Hurricanes lineup later in the 2017-18 season when an injury creates an opening or a need for a spark offensively encourages Peters and Francis to look outside of the NHL core for more goals.
The timeline for the next wave is uncertain, but it is unmistakable how much deeper the Hurricanes are right now compared to a few years ago in terms of having players who at least have the potential to become top half of the roster players. Not all of them will make it, but the surest way to make sure that at least some do is to have a sizable pool of players which the Hurricanes do right now.
What say you Hurricanes hockey fans?
What trends do you like right now?