End of offseason / Beginning of new season coffee drive
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A couple-part season preview will hopefully kick off sometimes on Tuesday. But in the meantime, today’s Daily Cup of Joe is part 1 of 2 detailing watch points for the entire roster.
Sebastian Aho (early goal scoring)
The second half of preseason was encouraging, but he is still one to watch out of the gate. In both of his first two years in the NHL, he started incredibly slow in terms of goal scoring. He did not score a goal until his 16th game (November 13) in 2017-18 after not scoring until his 14th game (November 12) in 2016-17. Having Aho scoring goals before mid-November would be helpful for a team that needs to get off to a faster start.
Justin Faulk (a defensive rebound)
I will be watching to see if a fresh start and a higher-end partner can help Faulk re-find the defensive side of his game. He looked more aggressive and generally better in preseason, though when Nashville dialed up the pressure, Faulk’s challenges advancing the puck from deep in his own zone reemerged. So early in the season, I will be watching to see if Faulk can better handle pressure and more generally to see if he can find a higher gear defensively.
Micheal Ferland (top 6 scoring capability)
Is he a player that can offer top 6 type scoring? Or is he just another physical depth forward? The Hurricanes have other options for the latter but could desperately use another higher-end goal scorer. So early in the season, I will be watching to get a read on which he is and also checking to see if he can find chemistry with line mates such that the scoring comes.
Haydn Fleury (another step up from 2017-18)
The big question for Fleury is whether he can take another significant step forward. On a positive note, Fleury stepped into the NHL as a rookie and straight into a top 4 role and did not look wildly out of place doing so. On a negative note, he peaked at ‘serviceable’ and reasonably sound. He brought nothing offensively and mostly was just capable of avoiding big mistakes in 2017-18. But he was also a 21-year old rookie, so it is reasonable to think Fleury could take another step forward yet development-wise. His strong play in training camp suggests that is possible. So I will be watching to see if Fleury can find a higher gear in his second NHL season.
Warren Foegele (fewer penalties but with same intensity)
He seems to have that Nathan Gerbe-like every shift intensity that the team could use more of. In addition, he has been productive in preseason. But with a never say die style of play, he has been picking up a few too many of what I call Tuomo Ruutu penalties trying to do just a tiny bit too much. I will be watching to see if he can strike a balance whereby he still plays at full tilt all the time, but can clean up his game just a little bit to reduce the penalties.
Petr Mrazek (a push for the #1 role)
I will be watching to see if he can regain starting form and push for the job. Unlike Darling, Mrazek has at one time been a successful number one. (Darling’s successful #1 stints were as an injury fill in for Corey Crawford.) In addition, Mrazek does not have the pressure and/or emotional baggage of a tough 2017-18 season with the Hurricanes. As such, I think Mrazek could have an easier path to building confidence and seizing the job. I will be watching early in the season to see if he can do just that if given the opportunity.
Martin Necas (NHL-readiness)
My watch points for Necas are twofold. First, does he look NHL-ready? Based solely on his preseason play, I am torn on whether his long-term development is best-served by playing in the NHL or AHL. His game is so raw at this early stage of his development that part of me thinks he could benefit from heavy minutes in the AHL with regular film work. But he has enough talent that the potential to learn on the job at the NHL level is there. My hope is that the team assesses this situation on an ongoing basis without bias for the original plan.
Jordan Staal (minutes and ability to maintain same high level of play)
I will be watching to see what he gets for ice time and how he handles it. Staal has been a key player as a top 6 forward, but his ice time has been a normal/modest 18-19 minutes per game. With the team short at the center position and with a lineup filled with youth, I think Brind’Amour will lean heavily on Staal’s line in tight games. Does that mean a number of 22-24-minute nights for Staal? If so, can he handle it and still maintain the same level of play?
Lucas Wallmark (steadiness in second defensive slot)
If he plays in the fourth center slot (Martinook seems to be the other option), I think Wallmark’s level of play will be critical to the team’s success. I see him as filling the exact same role that Rask filled as a second reliable center/line to play behind Staal on the road. So I will be watching to see if he can be steady and sound even if unspectacular.
Justin Williams (ability to hold his own against league’s best)
My watch point for Williams has to do with his ability at age 36 to play 15-17 minutes per game lining up against the NHL’s best next to Staal. Williams excelled in this role next to Brind’Amour in 2005-06, but he is a dozen years older now. I see two potential issues from watching preseason play. First is that he has had a bit of the same issue that plagues Faulk which is sometimes lacking acceleration in his own end such that he is forced to pass before ready, under duress or a greater distance which increases the risk. Against the type of players he will see playing next to Staal, turnovers in bad places will very quickly end up in the Hurricanes net. So I will be watching for early confirmation that Williams can still perform in this type of role.
Valentin Zykov (line mates and production)
I actually was not sold on Zykov sticking with Aho/Teravainen heading into training camp. But the more I watch him the more I think the sheer simplicity of his game could be a good fit. Most notable are his ability to play and be productive without touching the puck much and also his ability to wreak havoc at the top of the crease. I will be watching where he lands in the lineup and his production.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of these player watch points would you consider most critical out of the gate to start the season?
2) Would you add other watch points for this list of players?