Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a short collection of player notes.
Joel Edmundson/Jaccob Slavin
I have liked this pairing with Slavin moved to the right side and Edmundson on his natural left side. Slavin has not looked significantly different switching across and the gain has been Edmundson looking much more comfortable especially handling the puck under pressure.
He suddenly has four points in his last four games with three of those being primary points from finding ways to get shots to the net from the point. In addition, he has averaged 20:46 of ice time in a much bigger role. Could he be on the brink of taking a step up? That is an intriguing situation to watch as the season winds down especially because the team needs a defenseman or two to step up with the team minus Brett Pesce and Dougie Hamilton. If he is breaking out as we speak, the timing could be perfect. As a restricted free agent who must be re-signed this summer, his late surge could put him in a bigger role heading into the 2019-20, but the effect on his next salary should be modest. He logged three-fourths of the 2019-20 season in a third pairing/healthy scratch role which dictates a modest salary increase over his entry-level contract salary. And though he has been collecting points of late, he is unlikely to score his way up to a significantly higher pay grade. Especially with the Hurricanes having a few other question marks on the blue line with level of play and possible departures to free agency, the Canes could get the best of both worlds with Fleury playing his way up to a higher level but still having his next contract come in at a dept defenseman type of salary.
He is obviously on everyone’s watch list after his stellar three-point NHL debut on Sunday. I think an interesting way to think of Geekie is in comparison to the team’s recent centers to emerge from the system. A couple years back Victor Rask burst onto the scene ahead of schedule by virtue of proving he could play sound defensive hockey. That was enough to win him a roster spot. As he settled in, he also developed a decent scoring touch more as a scorer than a playmaker. He peaked as a solid two-way center capable of 50ish points before cratering. Before his play fell off a cliff, the raps on him were his lack of foot speed and limited ability to create scoring chances for his line mates. Following Rask was Lucas Wallmark who in many ways was very similar. He too earned ice time by showing that he could be sound defensively. From that foundation, Wallmark developed into a capable third/fourth line center with his peak being when he stepped into Jordan Staal’s checking role for an extended period of time during the 2018-19 season and performed admirably in that role. Like Rask, Wallmark was a good two-way center and showed a decent finishing tough. Also like Rask, the limitations of his game were his foot speed and to arguably his ability to generate much for his line mates.
Enter Morgan Geekie. He has some interesting similarities to Wallmark and Rask. Like them, he will be below average for foot speed at the NHL level, but also like them he has the potential to be okay defensively from hockey IQ, decision-making and positioning. Also like Wallmark and Rask, he brings decent finishing ability that should translate to the NHL level. After his stellar debut, I will be watching Geekie’s continued play for both ceiling and floor. In terms of ceiling, his tool bag offensively is a bit more diverse than Rask and Wallmark’s. Could he score goals at the same rate as peak Rask and Wallmark but also add a playmaking component that also boosts his line mates? If so, he could play a role in finding true balance for depth scoring. In terms of floor, the question is whether he can match Rask and Wallmark in terms of two-way play. That was what earned each of them ice time and bigger roles. Offensive contribution is valuable obviously, but if it comes with sub-par defensive play, that is a challenging fit for a depth role for a center.
Though the ideal scenario would have seen this happen earlier in the season and with the Canes possessing a sizable cushion above the playoff cut line, what is happening now is ideal at least for figuring out the 2020-21 roster. Alex Nedeljkovic figured to get at least a first crack at being the Canes backup goalie at the NHL level for the 2019-20 season before Don Waddell found a way to offload Scott Darling’s contract without the cost of buying him out. Best guess is that the arrival of Reimer changed the original plan. But I have to believe that the arrival of Reimer just pushed the original plan back a year. First to be clear, Reimer has performed admirably as a backup and could easily win that same role going forward if the team did not have Nedeljkovic. But because of age, pedigree, level of play at the AHL level and also significantly the fact that he will need to clear waivers next year (which he likely would not), Nedeljkovic figures to start the 2020-21 season at the NHL level as the backup. An important part of heading down that road includes two important things. First is assessing that plan’s viability. Second is trying to get Nedeljkovic acclimated to the NHL level as much as possible. My best guess is that the Hurricanes will try to trade Reimer this summer despite his strong play and that the team will also look to add a capable AHL/NHL goalie with decent NHL experience to be a capable #3 in Charlotte in case Nedeljkovic does not work out. Anton Forsberg is trying to stake a claim to that spot right now. So though dropping two AHL goalies into the NHL lineup in the heat of the playoff stretch run maybe was not ideal, it works sell for trying to assess options in net for the 2020-21 season.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on the new iteration of Edmundson/Slavin that has Slavin on his off side?
2) Is Haydn Fleury on the brink of taking a sizable step in his development?
3) At the risk of being overly optimistic based on one game, what are your thoughts on Morgan Geekie?
4) Finally, what are your thoughts on Alex Nedeljkovic’s play through four games and his viability at least as a backup at the NHL level for the 2020-21 season?