Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at the fringe of the NHL level for the Hurricanes and considers players for whom the team needs to make decisions fairly quickly.
The poster boy for play me or let me go right now is Haydn Fleury. He has played decent hockey thus far in 2019-20 but is now relegated to the press box as the #7 defenseman with Trevor van Riemsdyk back in the lineup. Even with a back-to-back set that could have made sense to use Fleury, Brind’Amour decided to go with the same group that had won three straight and left Fleury in the press box.
Fleury is at an interest point value-wise as a young defenseman with decent size and skating ability and NHL experience to boot. He would seemingly have value to a team with less blue line depth that saw potential upside for Fleury who is only in second NHL season at the age of 23. I wrote recently about the potential longer-term need for Fleury with van Riemsdyk and Edmundson set to become unrestricted free agents next summer, but the other side of the coin is possibly collecting trade value for Fleury if the team only views him as a #6/#7-ish defenseman long-term.
I would like to see him in the lineup either way hoping to either boost his trade value or see if he can grow into a bigger role.
Next in line on the blue line is Jake Bean. He is a bit younger at age 21 but still very much a player that the Hurricanes need to figure out at some point. Bean had a strong first professional season with the Checkers last season but by my estimation still was very much a questionable proposition defensively in preseason/training camp this fall. He is another high draft pedigree player who is nearing the point where he will no longer be waiver-exempt. At that point if the Hurricanes are unwilling to audition him at the NHL level, very likely someone else will claim him off of waivers and do so.
At best, Bean is #8 on the depth chart right now which means it likely takes a couple injuries for him to see ice time at the NHL level. Depending on how the team’s scouting and management see Bean’s potential, is there a case for collecting value while he is an unknown with upside? Based on the team’s depth chart, that has to at least be considered.
From the same draft class as Bean, Julien Gauthier is another player with a high draft pedigree and NHL-capable skill set. He was the story of preseason, but one has to wonder how much of that was level of play and how much of that was the Hurricanes marketing. Gauthier has been linked to possibly trades for Jesse Puljujarvi. Might playing Gauthier in every preseason game been a push to boost his value not for the Hurricanes but for the trade market? The physical skill set is there such there should be some value for a 22-year old with every bit of the physical skill set for a modern day power forward.
Perhaps the player with the most urgency for the Hurricanes is Alex Nedljkovic. After a strong season in Charlotte in 2018-19, he figured to the team’s choice as backup at the NHL level for the 2019-20 season. But when the team happened upon a chance to move Scott Darling for a player potentially with usefulness short-term and potential trade value long-term in James Reimer, the team pounced on it. That move slotted Nedeljkovic back in the AHL. But as another high draft pedigree prospect with some success at the lower levels who will need to clear waivers to return to the AHL next season, the Hurricanes are officially on the clock for figuring out where he fits into plans at the NHL level. I think ideally, the team is able to trade James Reimer sometime between now and the start of the 2020-21 season to clear space for Nedeljkovic. But no doubt the team would also like to audition him at the NHL level to get a higher degree of confidence that he is ready for that role. In addition to having Reimer, the situation is now complicated by the fact that Nedeljkovic is off to a slow start with an 0-4-1 record and a meager .874 save percentage. Ideally, its a two step process from here. First, Nedeljkovic needs to get his feet under him and find some rhythm and confidence at the AHL level. Then second, the Canes need to find a way to get him starts at the NHL level to see what they have before next summer.
My 2 cents
The team has shown an aggressive willingness to make decisions and move on from players who did not fit long-term. Based on that, I would not be surprised to see as many as two of these players traded before the start of the next season if the team can collect reasonable value.
I think Nedeljkovic will get a chance at the NHL level this season if injuries present an opening and possible even otherwise.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which, if any, of these four players will play his way into a meaningful role at the NHL level?
2) Which, if any, are most likely to become trade bait?
3) What do you think the team should be doing with each of these four players?