For an off day, it was a busy day of Canes hockey news:
Thursday’s Daily Cup of Joe builds on some of my previous thoughts about Jaccob Slavin’s recall.
A good summer
The Hurricanes entered the summer with high hopes for a good young batch of blue line prospects and significantly added to it when Noah Hanifin fell to them at #5 in the 2015 NHL draft. The team got a chance to compare players coming from various levels/leagues in the prospect camp and Traverse City tournament and to get an early benchmark of them against NHLish level talent in preseason.
The Canes exited the summer with even more optimism.
- Haydn Fleury made significant strides since last summer.
- Noah Hanifin looked capable of continuing his development at the NHL level.
- Ryan Murphy showed signs of improvement defensively.
- Jaccob Slavin, Trevor Carrick and Brett Pesce all had decent NHL training camps and continued to project as future NHLers.
When the summer ended, the next logical step was for these players to head off for a full season or most of 1 continuing to hone their skills and round out their game on the path to the gradual assembly of a young blue line a couple years out.
Continuation and acceleration into the regular season
Partly out of necessity and maybe partly out of readiness, that plan now seems to be running at fast forward speed. Hanifin and Murphy started in Raleigh which was not a surprise. But then a James Wisniewski injury in the first game of the season quickly led to Brett Pesce being pulled up to the NHL and inserted right into the top 4. And now with Murphy out with a concussion and Michal Jordan struggling to hold down a spot, we just might see Jaccob Slavin get a look next. If he does, that will make 3 defensemen making NHL debuts in the same season, and all would be in the lineup together. That is unheard of.
Importance of managing the young defensemen’s development properly
The tricky part for Ron Francis is to balance the management of what the team needs for 2015-16 and what is best for these young players development. The ultimate priority for each of them must remain charting a course to the their maximum level of play a couple years out and not jeopardizing that priority for short-term needs. Thus far, injuries are driving that bus, but at least so far I think it is okay because so far the players have not been thrown in over their heads. Noah Hanifin is physically ready for the NHL, and though he has his learning moments, he is holding his own so far. The same is true for Brett Pesce. The next trial could be Jaccob Slavin as early as Friday.
Depending on if Slavin gets a shot and how he looks, Ron Francis’ juggling of blue line could take on another level.
Current issues on the blue line
Right now, I think the Canes are struggling a bit defensively in a couple regards:
1) Most significantly, minus James Wisniewski who would have helped, they are struggling to generate much offensively from the back end.
2) The veterans are actually part of the problem. Ron Hainsey is struggling at times as a top pairing defenseman, and while Liles skill set in his prime was that of a puck carrying defenseman, there just is not as much of it as a 34-year old.
When you net it out, I think the Canes need to get better defensively, and I think the Canes need to generate more offense/scoring chances from their blue line. The long-term path to both of these things runs straight through the players being pulled into the NHL mix early this season. The question is if and how ready they are to provide these these upgrades now or at least build positively toward them at the NHL level. One would have figured that the youth transformation of the Hurricanes blue lines would take 2-3 years. But right now, there at least seems to be a chance that it happens much sooner.
Questions for Ron Francis
The questions for Ron Francis are many:
1) Which of Hanifin, Murphy, Pesce, Slavin and Carrick might be ready to develop at the NHL level? He has a decent read on the first 3 already. It is also important to assess this constantly, as it is possible for these players to be fine for awhile but later hit a wall physically during the long and demanding NHL season.
2) How does he provide needed support for Justin Faulk? Not to be lost in the whole player development thing is Justin Faulk. He is already a good NHL defenseman, but he is also only 23 years old, is still developing himself and has some parts of his game with room for improvement. It is important not to forget about him in the process of trying to grow the other players.
3) How much veteran support is needed to help the kids along? I noted some issues with Liles/Pesce pairing in terms of generating offense, but it is important not to lose track of how tremendously positive Pesce’s start in the NHL has been and also how significant of a role Liles played in that process. There is a balance to throwing kids out there and letting them learn and also providing support, so they can do so in a situation that makes it possible.
Things are moving more quickly than expected in terms of player development for the Canes young defense prospects. How Ron Francis and the coaching staff manage this is critical at this important juncture of their development and something to keep an eye on as the season rolls forward.