With both new roster additions via trades and a number of young guns from Charlotte ready to compete for NHL roles, the upcoming preseason figures to be an interesting one in terms of roster battles, especially at the forward position.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes an early look at Carolina Hurricanes players who will be on the spot come September.
I do not see either goalie being just handed the starting role. In an ideal world, Scott Darling will rise up and become the goalie that the team thought it obtained last summer. But after his struggles last season, he will not be guaranteed the starter’s crease but rather will have to earn it. By the same token, Petr Mrazek does not enter with any guarantees either. The situation is likely to be fluid early in the season, but whichever, if either, goalie impresses in preseason is likely to get the first and greatest chance to be the #1 when the regular season starts.
The blue line is actually one area where the NHL roster is mostly set. If Justin Faulk is still with the team (which I see as highly doubtful), then the situation changes, but in a Faulk-less scenario, the top 6 is set. The potential does exist for a battle for the #7 slot but if the team is healthy to start the season that slot is likely to be spent on an older player (i.e. Trevor Carrick) versus a younger prospect who will benefit significantly for NHL ice time.
So whereas things are mostly set at least in terms of roster in goal and on defense, the forward position has the potential to be an all out battle for NHL ice time in September. As such, there are multiple players who I see as being on the spot come September.
The coveted slot with Aho/Teravainen
Valentin Zykov enters training camp as the player who has had the most actual success playing alongside Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. In 10 games late in the 2017-18 season, Zykov posted a respectable three goals and four assists in 10 games primarily playing with the Finnish duo. The 24-goal/57-point pace are pretty good and at least in the neighborhood of what would be targeted if the Hurricanes ultimately look internally to fill this slot. Maybe more so than the scoring totals was the visual on how Zykov’s ‘to the crease’ style of play meshed well with the skill and puck play of Aho and Teravainen. I think Zykov is definitely capable of playing in that slot as a fill in at a minimum, but with competition arriving in two forms, the questions are twofold. First, is Valentin Zykov the best player for this important slot? And second, if not, is there still another place in the lineup for Zykov? As a 23-year old who is gradually aging out of the prospect category and needing to cross the bridge to become a regular NHLer fairly soon, this training camp is a huge one for Zykov. He did all he could do at the AHL level in 2017-18 and impressed enough that he will certainly get a chance in preseason. He might never get a better opportunity to land in the top half of an NHL roster. As such, Zykov is very much a player on the spot come September.
Filling Elias Lindholm’s slot on the right side is power forward Micheal Ferland who could also contend for the slot next to Aho and Teravainen. My check in with knowledgeable hockey sources from Calgary suggested that at least at times Ferland looked very capable of providing a crash the crease/power forward element to a scoring line. Inconsistency plagued Ferland in 2017-18, but the good version of him was a strong complementary player with a similarly skilled duo of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Ferland is likely to get a chance next to Aho and Teravainen at some point in preseason. How Ferland performs in that audition determines if he starts in the top 6 or falls back to be just another depth forward near the bottom of the roster. As such, Ferland is very much a player on the spot in training camp.
As a player touted as being NHL ready and not having the option of going to the AHL, Svechnikov is a high probability to stick at the NHL level. But perhaps what is more significant is where he lands in the lineup. As a high ceiling right wing who projects to have scoring prowess, the projected version of Svechnikov is exactly the type of pure finishing that I think Aho and Teravainen need to push up to the next level and become point per game players. The question is whether or not Svechnikov is ready for such a role now or if instead he will need to adapt and develop in a slightly lesser role. So how ready Svechnikov looks in preseason in NHL-ish competition will play a huge role in the makeup of the Hurricanes forward lines. As such, Svechnikov is clearly a player on the spot during training camp and preseason.
That three-way roster slot battle is incredibly intriguing. The combination of a young player who worked his way up, a veteran and a high-ceiling 18-year old makes for three strong and very different options.
Carving out longer-term roles
As I noted above, the volume of players who might be capable of playing at the NHL level has grown by leaps and bounds recently. The young Hurricanes forwards who had NHL ice time in 2017-18 better not rest on their laurels. If they do, they will most certainly be trampled by the pack of young forwards on the way.
In addition to leading the NHL (literally) in posts hit, McGinn also had 16 shots find the back of the net for a goal. For a player with limited ice time and minimal power play time, that represents impressive depth scoring. Combine that with McGinn’s every shift intensity, and he currently sits in good position to maintain a roster slot regardless of what shakes out around him. He does not so much need to win a roster spot in training camp, but he does need to remind the coaching staff what he brings in terms of compete and at time production. So for Brock McGinn, training camp will be important for him to reassert what he did in 2017-18 as lineup decisions are being made.
Phil Di Giuseppe
Di Giuseppe is another forward who successfully matriculated from prospect to NHLer. His one-way deal signifies the team’s intent/expectation that he will remain at the NHL level in 2018-19. In training camp, Di Giuseppe will be aiming to show that his mini surge scoring-wise for nine points in nine games to close out the 2017-18 season were what to expect and not the scoring-lite version from the rest of the season. Di Giuseppe’s one-way contract gives him a high probability to stay at least as an extra, but to carve out something permanent will require a strong season with some offensive production. That being the case, Phil Di Giuseppe will be a player on a the spot in this fall’s training camp.
Martinook, who was obtained for Marcus Kruger, brings a much-needed physical edge to the Hurricanes lineup. But just like with Di Giuseppe and McGinn, Martinook will need to fairly quickly carve out some kind of meaningful role to be more than a one-year rental before he leaves. Martinook does not offer the high-end scoring potential of younger contenders for roster spots, but his physical play is still something the Hurricanes lack. As such, Martinook will get a close look in preseason to determine where he fits for 2018-19 and possibly beyound.
Of the young guns, the player who looks most like a solid around depth forward is Warren Foegele. He had a really short tw0-game audition and performed well in those games. Possibly with some scoring upside, Foegele has a really good chance to earn NHL ice time for 2018-19. In other words, Foegele’s skill set could replace McGinn or Di Giuseppe, but at the same time at least the potential to boost scoring.
Parachuting into the already crowded depth forward fray is Finnish forward Saku Maenalanen. Maenalanen is a unique situation. Though he is new to North America, he is already 24 years old and well past the young prospect stage. As such, Maenalanen will need to absorb information and adapt quickly to chart a rapid path to NHL-readiness. As a good all-around forward who can skate, Maenalanen could be immediately in the mix for depth forward ice time. Maenalanen is on the spot come September as a bit of an unknown but with NHL skating ability.
A center for today and for tomorrow
The Hurricanes figure to have one center position open to be won if the team does not add a higher-end center before training camp. By most accounts, Martin Necas will the front runner to win that slot. He did what he needed to do to rise above the young group at prospect camp. And at least in terms of trying to project July prospect camp play to an NHL try out in September, Necas did all that he could do to begin charting a course toward the NHL in 2018-19. If Necas is not ready, he could head to Charlotte. But one has to figure he will be in the mix for NHL ice time and therefore a player on the spot. Players destined to be stars often rise up and seize opportunities before schedules. That is what I and many will be watching for Necas to do this fall. But if Brind’Amour keeps his word which I think he will, ice team will be earned not gifted. As such, Necas is very much a player on the spot trying to burst onto the NHL scene.
Lost in the hubbub about #2 overall pick Andrei Svechnikov and the rapid rise of Martin Necas is the strong work by Lucas Wallmark in 2017-18 in Charlotte. He is arguably the most polished and NHL-ready player from the Checkers’ roster. But even with a good track record having worked up to an NHL chance, Wallmark will enter the 2018-19 very much a player who needs to do something noticeable to win an NHL roster spot. Wallmark maybe needs to be out Necas to win an NHL center slot to start the season. That could prove to be a tall task but also the only that Wallmark pushes up to hockey’s highest level. Though maybe under the radar right now, Wallmark is very much a player on the spot trying to convert his strong 2017-18 season into NHL ice time.
The math at forward
Only including the players noted above and NHL roster players, the total is 16 forwards competing for 13 roster slots. Injuries could also open up more slots at different points during the season, but as of right now September shapes up to be a heated battle for roster slots and ice time at forward.
What say you Canes fans?
1) If you take the groups/categories as I laid them out, who wins each of the three forward roster battles?
2) How many rookies make the opening day lineup and which ones?
3) Who has other players who are on the spot for training camp for 2018-19?