For those who follow the Carolina Hurricanes even in passing, it is not big news that the Canes have become younger in the 2015-16 season. The biggest news is the sudden rising of a young blue line that includes 3 rookies in Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin and Bretty Pesce and is led by Justin Faulk who just turned 24 years old himself.
Here are some stats for the youth movement combined with late seasons auditions for players in the system:
9 – Players who made NHL debuts for the Hurricanes (counts Daniel Altshuller who did not see action but was on an NHL roster for the first time as a backup). (Phil Di Giuseppe, Brock McGinn, Derek Ryan, Sergey Tolchinsky, Daniel Altshuller, Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce)
12 – Players who more than doubled their total NHL experience this season. Note that Michal Jordan, Chris Terry and Victor Rask will also come within a couple games of doubling their respective NHL experience. (Joakim Nordstrom, Andrej Nestrasil, Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Phil Di Giuseppe, Brock McGinn, Derek Ryan, Trevor Carrick, Brody Sutter, Sergey Tolchinsky and Brendan Woods.)
More importantly, the how
But I think the bigger story is actually a more subtle one. In unison with using many more young players this season, there has been a noticeable effort to put young players in roles similar to where they excelled at lower levels and to challenge them to play up. Some of this has occurred recently with a bunch of roster openings and a March tryout program, but a significant amount also occurred when the Hurricanes were very much fighting for their 2015-16 season.
Brett Pesce was called up and dropped straight into a top 4 role when James Wisniewski was felled by injury.
Brock McGinn‘s debut was on a first line with Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg. McGinn did ultimately find himself farther down the depth chart, but riding a hot hand in the AHL, Coach Bill Peters gave McGinn a run in a scoring role.
Jaccob Slavin was quietly inserted into the third pairing initially, but when he proved ready, there was no hesitation moving him up the depth chart.
Phil Di Giuseppe was inserted into a role where his skill and scoring was needed and has stayed in the top 9 since his call up from Charlotte.
A staple of Detroit’s successful model
This approach is a staple of the Detroit Red Wing’s model and a key component of their incredible run of making the playoffs. The Red Wings have been consistently deep at the AHL level. The Wings also do a very good job of using the AHL make players ready to jump into the NHL. Finally, with this approach and preparation, the Wings trust AHL call ups with ice time and in roles similar to what they played at the AHL level. The result when successful is incredible depth and the ability to replace skill players with skill players and drop players into important roles seemingly without a hitch. Teams that can do this gain an incredible ability to weather the storm when hit by injuries and also to find temporary boosts in scoring or whatever else is needed from within their own system.
The gains for the Canes
In the end, there are 2 significant gains to be had for the Carolina Hurricanes. First, it makes it possible to drop players into roles that fit them and sometimes find that players are ahead of schedule in terms of their development. Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin and Phil Di Giuseppe were all identified as ready for more because Coach Bill Peters had the guts to try them in bigger roles. The other significant advantage is the depth gained. When it becomes routine for AHL players to be called up, put in roles similar to what they were doing in the AHL and expected to not miss a beat it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The players gain from the vote of confidence and the regularity of this happening makes it a normal team for AHL players in the system.
As the 2015-16 season comes closer to ending, the future continues to look brighter by the day with the number of young players already in key roles and a changing mindset and expectations for the AHL players in Charlotte to all be ready to step in and contribute at the NHL level if called upon.