Congratulations for Team USA on winning the World Juniors Championship yesterday by defeating neighbor and rival Canada.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a set of quick hitters on the Canes defensemen (in alphabetical order).
The stage is set for him to finally get a real audition at the NHL level. My watch point for him is whether he can generate offense both on the power play and pushing the puck from his own end. That figures to be the strength of his game. So if he can do that along with being okay or better defensively, he could quickly reach a plateau as a third pairing defenseman with a valuable offensive skill set. If instead the offensive part of his game does not translate to the NHL level, he instead is trying to be just adequate defensively at the NHL level which makes him a replacement level depth defenseman.
He is arguably the most intriguing Canes defenseman entering the 2020-21 season. After taking a step-wise path to the NHL over five years after being drafted #7 overall in 2014, he seemed to arrive during the 2019-20 season. On the one hand, he definitely took a sizable step forward. On the other hand, he mostly did so in a third pairing role. The question is whether he just finally plateaued as capable depth defensemen or if instead that is a stepping stone to something bigger. While it is possible he is still improving, he is 24 years old which is only two years younger than Slavin and Pesce. Skjei figures to start in the top 4 next to Pesce, but if injuries open a spot, it will be interesting to see if Fleury can repeat his 2019-20 in a higher slot against tougher competition.
Based on the 2019-20 season, I no longer see Gardiner as an offensive defenseman who could replace Justin Faulk in the top 4. I just do not think the mobility is there to log regular ice time against top scoring lines in the NHL especially in the Canes system that forechecks aggressively which can leave defensemen defend 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 against the rush when teams get behind the initial pressure. But with the Hurricanes depth on defense, Gardiner does not have to play in the top 4 to contribute. If he can be a productive second unit power play quarterback, that will help in multiple ways. First, generating scoring from the second power play unit that will be a bit less stacked is a positive obviously. In addition, if the Hurricanes go with four forwards, Gardiner being effective could shift a few more minutes of Slavin’s ice time to even strength and penalty kill where I think his skill set is best utilized.
With the injury that cut his Norris Trophy consideration season short and the odd off-season, Dougie Hamilton is now just six months away from being an unrestricted free agent. Alex Pietrangelo signing for seven years at $8.8 million per year established a high benchmark for Hamilton’s agent. The fact that Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are signed for $5.3 million and $4.1 million respectively sets a low internal mark for Don Waddell to point to. The range between those two amounts is significant. The team’s demonstrated willingness to part ways with higher-end players whose salary demands did not match what management thought they were worth could give the team leverage if Hamilton has a strong enough preference for staying versus collecting top dollar. The addition of Skjei at the trade deadline last year adds additional leverage. I see Hamilton as a unique player with his forward-like contribution offensively, but I would not pay anything close to Pietrangelo money. It will be interesting to see where things go once negotiations get going in earnest.
He could be the key to the blue line. He is the least flashy of the big 3 on defense, but in my opinion actually the most consistent (by a small margin over Slavin even). He has shown an underrated ability to be a chameleon in different roles with different partners. He actually burst into the top 4 before Slavin playing a simple but solid defensive game with John-Michael Liles. He has played on his off side. He handled a bit more of the puck carrying role with Edmundson and has at other times deferred a bit more with other partners. As the player who figures to be the stronger/steadier half of the second pairing, Pesce’s ability to stay healthy and continue to adapt and thrive with different partners will play a significant role in building a blue line that is solid from top to bottom.
I am on record as not being as high on the Brady Skjei trade as many and also as not being overly impressed with his initial regular season stint in a Hurricanes uniform. My first read on him was that he just makes too many errors in terms of decision-making/judgment which is actually part of the book on him with the Rangers. He looked better in round 2 in the playoffs, so I am torn on what to expect for the 2020-21 season. The physical skill set and skating ability is there, but is he another Noah Hanifin whose skating ability catches your eye but his hockey ability less so? Or does he exactly fit the Hurricanes mold as another big, mobile, skating defenseman whose skill set meshes well with Brett Pesce? With the timing of Skjei’s acquisition and Pesce’s injury, they have yet to see game action together so seeing how they fit will be high on my list of things to watch to start the season.
Maybe missed because of the attention on Dougie Hamilton’s goal-scoring barrage, Jaccob Slavin also had an incredible year offensively. His 33 non-power play points tied him for fifth among defensemen in the entire NHL. He is not the stereotypical power play scoring defensemen, but he has made strides offensively.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Pick a Canes defenseman and share your thoughts.
2) What roles/slots do you see each of Skjei, Fleury, Gardiner and Bean in by the midpoint of the 2020-21 season?