As noted in the game preview for Sunday’s match up against the New York Islanders, even when things go south, it is not possible to just surrender the rest of the season. The games still must be played. As such, they might as well be used productively.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe lays out a few priorities for the last 10 games of the season.
1) Sebastian Aho at center
I am on record back to last summer as saying that the Hurricanes needed to add at least one higher-end scorer to fill out a true first or second scoring line. During the course of the 2017-18 season, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen have emerged as two-thirds of such a line. And with the market for playmaking centers so pricey, the path to building out that line could prove to be moving Aho back to his natural center position. In limited ice time at center this season, Aho has looked reasonably comfortable even if not spectacular playing with the puck on his stick in the offensive side of the role. His play without the puck defensively while not horrible is still a work in progress. As such, I think Aho could significantly benefit from a run of 10 games at center.
2) Jaccob Slavin on the power play
I would not say that Jaccob Slavin is necessarily a can’t miss or a natural in a power play role, but just like last season, he seems to have hit stride in terms of creating and using shooting lanes in March. That is a decent starting point for being productive on the power play. With power play somewhat better since about the midway point of the season but with the second unit still not really clicking, I would make Slavin a regular on the second unit. Even if he is not seize a role as a regular, it boosts his capability in case he needs to fill in during an injury to a regular. In addition, as a young player who has not had much of a chance in this role, I would like to see what he can do with more than a handful of games to settle in.
3) AHL call ups (importantly with consideration for the Checkers playoff hopes)
An important starting point for considering AHL call ups is recognizing that the Charlotte Checkers are in a playoff spot right not but with little margin for error. As such, I would be careful to balance NHL auditions with not sabotaging the Charlotte Checkers’ playoff hopes. Ideal would be to find time for multi-game auditions for just a handful of players. Though Lucas Wallmark is near the top of the list for NHL potential in 2018-19, I think he is enough of a known commodity that he maybe just stays in the AHL. The player I would like to see most is Warren Foegele. He maybe does not have the scoring ceiling of a few other prospects, but as a player who brings energy, is strong in all three zones and can kill penalties, he has the potential to seize a fourth-line slot next season. Valentin Zykov is another player worth a look. The core of his game which is going to the front of the net, creating chaos near the crease and finishing is something the Hurricanes need more of. It might only take a few games to get an updated read on his ability to match NHL pace between the blue lines, and I think that would be valuable information to have heading into the offseason. Those are the two players at the top of my list. Ideal might be to call up each separately and to strategically pick short stretches where the Canes and Checkers schedules line up such that a chunk of Canes games can be played while missing fewer Checkers games.
4) Noah Hanifin in a second pairing role against tough match ups
His availability is uncertain after sustaining an upper body injury late in Saturday’s game and then missing Sunday’s game, but if Noah Hanifin returns, I would consider getting him some ice time in a second pairing role. When pushed into a higher slot at the tail end of the 2016-17 season, he responded well. The last 10 games of the season represent a good opportunity to try to push Hanifin’s limits and hopefully aid his growth as a player in the process.
5) Scott Darling
I am mostly of the opinion that Scott Darling’s season mostly is what it is at this point and that any late surge after the season’s outcome is more or less decided will not significantly alter my assessment of his season or outlook for 2018-19 season. But even still, I would give him the lion’s share of the remaining starts.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What initiatives would you prioritize for the final 10 games?
2) Do you have any that you would add to this list?
3) What balance would you strike with AHL call ups with the Checkers battling for a playoff spot?