The first thing that jumped out when I started digging through some of my game notes to find areas for improvement for the Hurricanes under 25 players is how many players fit into this category. The Hurricanes have 11 players under 25 years of age and also 2 more (Justin Faulk and Joakim Nordstrom) who are right at 25. That youth is obviously a good thing.
With the 2016-17 winding down, my thoughts are increasingly turning to the 2017-18 season. My hope is that general manager Ron Francis will make a deal or 2 to boost the roster. But with such a young lineup, there is also significant potential to improve simply from players making strides individually. I will probably do more in-depth player evaluations over the summer, but here are some quick hitters of areas that I see for potential improvement by some of the Hurricanes young players.
For being 19 years old and in his first year in the NHL, he has demonstrated a decent amount of quickness and shiftiness with the puck on his stick. But at his young age, he still lacks the quick acceleration and burst to take 2-4 quick strides in from the blue line with a tiny head start to convert it quickly to a scoring chance. Right now, Aho is still forced often to button hook to buy time instead of making a quick burst to the net. Some improvement will come naturally as he gets older, but he may be able to accelerate the process this summer too.
Phil Di Giuseppe
I have harped on this previously but will also include it here for thoroughness. I really like how Di Giuseppe’s game has evolved to become that of a hard-skating, physical, defensively sound forward. But to be more than a depth forward, Di Giuseppe needs to score more. He has enough skill. I think it is a matter of having a bit more composure with chances to shoot such that he can slow things down just a tiny bit, pick spots instead of just getting the puck on net and start to finish more.
Important to note is that Hanifin has made significant strides in the last quarter of the 2016-17 after being challenged in a top 4 role after Ron Hainsey’s departure. But he still has room to grow in terms of every shift consistency in terms of staying engaged and sorting things out positionally. He can wander a bit in the neutral zone/defensive zone defending the rush and also lose track of things in his own end on occasion. Hanifin like Pesce is also still a work in process in terms of receiving, handling and shooting from the point.
Lindholm’s game has seen strides in multiple areas in the second half or little more of the 2016-17 season. That is incredibly encouraging. And though he has emerged as a strong passer/playmaker, I think there is still room for improvement as a finisher. I think the key is improved shot accuracy. Lindholm seems to miss on a good number of decent scoring chances and could probably boost his goal scoring modestly by simply hitting the net more often.
I think he is a bit similar to Di Giuseppe. McGinn brings every shift intensity and consistency in that part of the game. But to be more than a fourth-liner or fringe AHL/NHL player, McGinn needs to score more. He seems to find himself with the puck on his stick at a reasonable rate, but maybe just needs to find a higher gear in terms of finishing.
Murphy’s biggest challenge is sorting things out defensively under duress both in his own end and even more so defending against the rush. He still looks like a deer in the headlights too often when defending a 2-on-1 or a 3-on-2.
In my opinion, Pesce is the best Hurricanes defenseman in terms of of being sound defensively, but the offensive part of his game is still a work in progress. Even if it never develops, he is still a valuable defenseman as a solid stay-home type. But at only 22 years of age, the part of Pesce’s game with arguably the most upside is his ability to receive, handle and shoot the puck from up top in the offensive zone. His shot could be more accurate, but the other element is the ability to handle the puck and find/create shooting lanes with improved ability to slow things down and assess the options when receiving passes and with improved ability to open shooting lanes with lateral mobility.
He is never going to be speedy. And he is sound enough in terms of anticipation, positioning and decision-making that he has proven he can be a good NHL player even with his below average wheels. But what if he could find even a slightly higher gear in terms of mobility? What might it do for his game? Rask just turned 24, and I wonder if a summer working the right combination of strength and/or agility type coaches might be able to coax just a bit more acceleration and speed out of him.
How cool is it that he is still in this group and a wily veteran at the same time? Jeff Skinner is always going to be a bit of streaky goal scorer. His streakiness is not uncommon for goal scorers, and I do not think it is such a bad thing. That said, I think there is still 1 notch higher for Skinner in terms of goal scoring if he can make a minor upgrade to his consistency in terms of going to the dirty areas. He has made strides in this area but does still see short stretches where he is quiet for a few games oftentimes because he becomes content playing on the perimeter before he self-corrects back to going where goals happen. And therein lies upside that could see him push up against 40 goals scored.
Fairly recently, I would have put Slavin in a category with Pesce and Hanifin in terms of having significantly more upside offensively. But in the past 4 weeks or so, Slavin has found a higher gear offensively. He could benefit from having a bigger slap shot to trot out once in awhile when presented with a chance to beat a goalie, but his newfound ability to receive pucks and find or create shooting lanes to get a wrist shot through to the front of the net has been very effective at generating offense collecting assists on rebound, deflection or screened goals. In addition to a more proficient slap shot for occasional use, think Slavin could benefit from a slightly more nasty element defending in front of his own net to move bodies and clear sight lines for his goalie. This is not so much about raw strength but rather an attitude and style of play.
Teravainen’s potential improvement is more of the low hanging fruit variety. A bit like the Jeff Skinner of yesteryear, Teravainen has a propensity to try to do too much with the puck on his stick in high risk/low reward situations. Most notably, he too often tries to do much to make an individual play to beat a forechecker or even 2 trying to exit the defensive zone with the puck on his stick. On too many occasions he has coughed the puck over in places where it automatically leads to an odd man rush or uncontested breakaway. He needs to do a better job of assessing risk/reward in these situations. Even if he beats the forechecker with a nifty skating or puck handling move, the reward is simply advancing to the neutral zone which is not enough to justify the risk sometimes.
What say you Canes fans?
Which of these observations do you agree with? Which do you disagree with? Do you see any other areas for improvement as the Hurricanes young roster continues to develop as players?