As a fan of a team that has struggled again this season, one can easily fall into the trap of taking the bright side of players and expecting too much from them for the next season. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the Hurricanes reference point for as far as most can remember is that of a set of players who were not good enough to make the playoffs.
The downside of doing this can be overslotting players relative to a full evaluation and where they would fit on a good hockey team.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks past the optimistic side of a few players and owns up to limitations in their game.
The strides that he made offensively during the 2017-18 season are encouraging and definitely a step forward. But despite gains on the offensive side of the puck, he will still exit his third season in the NHL as a third pairing defenseman. When pressed by higher-end NHL forward lines, he still just is not there in terms of every shift soundness defensively in terms of sorting things out defensively.
First, I think Sebastian Aho belongs at center going forward, and I also think he is already where he needs to be as an offense-driving NHL center. But maybe not surprisingly for a 20-year old, Aho’s play without the puck is not yet at the same level defensively especially at transition points, in the neutral zone and when situations require adjustments from finding and marking a single player. Aho is a smart player who should learn quickly on the job, but he does have another level to reach in terms of his two-way play.
After a couple years struggling probably simply because he was rushed to the NHL level, Lindholm has built his game and become a well-rounded and capable top 9 forward. And he has played impressively at the center position during his recent audition. But on a team that is already slotting too many scoring-light players at the center position, I have to wonder if he is an answer at center given the team’s current mix of players. The good version of Lindholm at center does not look significantly different than the right wing version of him and his 43 points through 80 games. He has not scored a goal in March, and his 51-point pace is not significantly different from his prior pace.
His steady progression toward being NHL-ready is a positive, and his strong season at the AHL level suggests he could be ready to fill an NHL role for the 2018-19 season, but I think those who think he could step into a second pairing role are putting the cart before the horse. The challenge for McKeown is balancing his safe and sound that rarely makes big mistakes with being aggressive enough against good NHL scorers. McKeown, like Fleury to some degree, has a tendency to just keep backing up when facing speed coming at him. He too regularly backs up to the point where he gives attacking forwards on the wing room enough to cut across which makes for a tough situation to defend for the goalie and the rest of the defense. I think McKeown is capable of being a depth defenseman for the 2018-19 season but at least in current form is not ready for more than that.
I am on record as giving Cam Ward high marks for his intended role as a backup in 2017-18. But ceiling on work load at 34 years old and a level of play that is more good backup than every night starter sets a limit for him as a good backup at this stage of his NHL career.
Regardless of what he does offensively, the current version of Justin Faulk just is not a top 4 defenseman defensively right now. The biggest issue is quickness. As such, I do not think it is as simple as Faulk finding a higher gear, busting out of a slump or whatever. He needs to somehow find another step or two quickness/acceleration-wise. Until he does, I think his ceiling is that of a good offensive #5 defenseman who can sub in the top 4 but not succeed there on an every-game basis.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of these limitations do you disagree with?
2) Who has others for players not noted?