I will save Martin Necas for another article (probably tomorrow’s Daily Cup of Joe) since his situation has so many angles to it, but today’s Daily Cup of Joe will look at what it takes for each of the other 10 players still in training camp to make the opening day roster.
I put the players still in camp but at least originally slate for the AHL or elsewhere into two categories. Based on my estimation,
Players potentially competing for NHL roster slots
Most of the conversation around Trevor Carrick hones in on his battle with Haydn Fleury for the sixth and final defense slot. I actually think his work order to start the 2017-18 season at the NHL level is much simpler. Whether or not he can beat out Fleury, I think Carrick simply needs to finish the preseason strong such that Ron Francis cannot risk losing him on waivers. If Carrick does that, I think Francis will at least start the season with eight defensemen including Carrick to avoid losing blue line depth for nothing.
Phil Di Giuseppe
At this point, for Di Giuseppe to make the opening day lineup. I think he needs to have a huge game (if he gets the chance. Otherwise, I think he is destined for Charlotte to start the 2017-18 season. He would need to clear waivers to do so, so there is at least a chance that he gets claimed and plays somewhere else for 2017-18.
Kuokkanen is the first of three forwards (plus Martin Necas) who could be in the mix if a top 9 wing slot opened up. With Stempniak still out of action, that just could happen. After ceding the prospect buzz to Martin Necas over the past two weeks, Kuokkanen stepped up with a huge game in Edmonton on Monday night. He finished with a goal and two assists and demonstrated an ability to generate offense. If Stempniak is healthy on opening day, I think Coach Bill Peters is most likely to go with the lineup that Ron Francis built rather than taking risk on a younger player right out of the gate.
As a wing with goal scoring capability, I think the door is cracked open ever so slightly for Saarela to put up one more huge game offensively and earn at least a short regular season audition at wing if Lee Stemniak remains out of the lineup. Most likely, though, Saarela starts the 2017-18 on a scoring line in Charlotte and makes his transition to North America at the AHL level.
I think Wallmark has made a strong case for himself in preseason as a steady, all-around centerman. If Marcus Kruger was felled by injury, I think Wallmark would be a no-brainer for that slot, and I think any injury at the center position brings him into play. But if the set of four centers is healthy in two weeks, the odds of Wallmark stealing someone’s slot for opening day is virtually zero.
After sitting out the first three games of preseason while practicing but maybe not cleared for game action, Valentin Zykov had a strong debut with a goal and an assist on Saturday night. I put him with Martin Necas, Janne Kuokkanen, Phil Di Giuseppe and Alesksi Saarela as players who could compete for Stempniak’s slot if it becomes available.
Players still in camp for a specific reason but not really (in my opinion) competing for NHL roster slots
I do not see him as still being in camp because he is still being considered for an NHL slot. Rather, without the ability to step up to the AHL level because of age, I think he is still at the NHL to play as much as possible against higher-end competition before returning to juniors where he will be a veteran.
My best guess is that Jake Chelios is still in training camp because he is the only veteran AHL defenseman who has yet to see game action. At best, he is #9 on the defenseman depth chart right now and not really in the mix for an NHL slot.
Peters stated that he wanted to get Nicolas Roy into an NHL game. I think that is why he is still in training camp. But with ice time comes opportunity. I think the door is still cracked open for Roy if he has a HUGE game in his first preseason action, but odds are that he plays in Charlotte.
Plain and simple, it takes an injury to Scott Darling or Cam Ward. He is 100 percent slotted for Charlotte if Darling and Ward are both healthy and ready to go on opening night.
If they are healthy, I think Peters has a reasonably strong bias toward icing a team with NHL experience. If it becomes clear that Lee Stempniak will not be ready for the NHL regular season, I think the battle for his roster slot will be an entertaining one.
I will follow up with similar but more detailed thoughts on Martin Necas’ situation likely tomorrow.