Putting the obvious disclaimer up front, it is obviously too early to make any kind of final assessment of the Hurricanes roster. But for those of us who are Hurricanes hockey die-hards, we have to bandy something around in mid-July, so working with what we have is the only option.
The leadership is still untouched, but the Hurricanes roster has undergone a reasonably significant transition below that level. The team has added five new NHL players in addition to the potential for 3-4 rookies to also play their way onto the opening night roster. Fun right now is to focus on the potential improvements (which are legitimate), but with all the moving parts, the potential exists to create deficiencies too. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe details a few potential deficiencies generated by the player movement thus far.
1) The penalty kill
The Hurricanes struggled to a 24th place finish on the penalty kill in 2017-18, so at first glance significant changeover here could be a good thing. But there can be benefit in continuity and familiarity too. Whereas the team arguably needed to add penalty killing talent, it has mostly shed this at the forward position. Gone is the entirety of the fourth line that was expected to do the heavy lifting in this regard in 2017-18. All of Joakim Nordstrom, Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris are elsewhere now. Elias Lindholm is also out of the mix. Jordan Staal and Brock McGinn return, but past that training camp should include some auditions. On defense, mainstays Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, but with Slavin’s propensity to be on the ice for every (41 out of 43) power play goals against, it is even possible that he is replaced. Calvin de Haan is nearly certain to draw in, so there hopefully are enough options on the back end. Significantly, Coach Steve Smith re-signed to take a similar job with the Buffalo Sabres. Though the 2017-18 results were not good, Smith had led a strong penalty killing group in all of the other years he has been running it.
2) The center position
The Hurricanes have fairly quickly gone from being a team with a ton of depth at the center position to a team with upside but also significant lack of experience in key slots. Again, Kruger and Lindholm are gone, as is Derek Ryan. With Rask’s down 2017-18 season, I think it is fair to say that at the center position the current Hurricanes roster would enter the 2018-19 season with significant upside looking into the future but also with significant question marks. Jordan Staal is a solid starting point. Sebastian Aho will be fine with the offensive part of the game at the center position but will still be growing into the role in other areas. Again, Rask is a bit of a question mark coming off his sub-par 2017-18 season. And as promising as Necas is, he is unproven at the NHL level. It pains me to say it, but current Hurricanes centers remind me a bit of the blue line recently in that they have a ton of upside but may or may not be ready for the season ahead.
3) Face-off acumen
Amid various other struggles, one thing that the Hurricanes did do well under Coach Bill Peters was win the possession and shot total battles pretty consistently. A key factor in this success was the team’s face-off ability that had the team in the top half of the league. But with the departure of Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan, the Hurricanes lose two good right shot face-off options. Martin Necas is a right shot, but he is inexperienced obviously. And if the team is going to commit to Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas at center, it will have to also let them take their share of draws. If Aho and Necas do start at center, it will be interesting to see how big the downgrade is in face-offs and how significant the impact is on broader play including possession.
4) The goalie position
I am not sure I would so much call the goalie position a deficiency necessarily but rather a complete wild card. With two players whose ceiling is high enough but who are both looking to rebound from recent struggles, the range of possibilities is really wide entering the season. Though I was not a fan of him as a starter for 2018-19, Ward was the better of the two goalies in 2017-18. If neither player rebounds, the potential is definitely there for the Hurricanes to maintain their regular position near the bottom of the NHL goalie rankings.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of the four potential deficiencies with the current roster most concerns you?
2) Do you see any other potential deficiencies generated by the roster changes so far?