On Tuesday, Canes and Coffee will start into a short series of articles previewing the Carolina Hurricanes NHL season. Before that, here is a short collection of random thoughts mostly from preseason that have piled up.
Phil Di Giuseppe
Di Giuseppe is a great model for how to develop as a player. For version 1.0 of Phil Di Giuseppe coming out of the college ranks, I pictured him as being the skilled/scorer type who might/might not score enough to make to the NHL and maybe even more importantly might/might not do enough otherwise to stick at the NHL level. If you fast forward to today, he is a completely different player with many more dimensions to his game. He is actually starting to remind me of Tuomo Ruutu and Erik Cole as a physical forechecker that bangs bodies but also brings enough skill to play on a scoring line. Di Giuseppe was a very good complement for Jeff Skinner during his best stretch of hockey in the second half of the 2015-16 season. He plays with pace. He plays with a physical edge. And he plays with enough skill to contribute to the offense. It is unclear where he will start the 2016-17 season, but I think he will carve out a role in the top 9 at some point.
At times last season, I clamored for a bit more Joni Pitkanen from Noah Hanifin. He is showing signs of bringing just that in 2016-17. As much as he deserves credit for his smooth skating, the freelancing and puck carrying part of the Hanifin’s game that was on full display in the prospect camp in July of 2015 was very buttoned down once he stepped into the NHL and started to make that adjustment. In the long run, I think the greatest strength of Hanifin’s game is his ability to carry and create with the puck on his stick, so it is encouraging to see that element of his game starting to open up a bit.
Ron Hainsey with Brett Pesce
We have seen only a couple games of it in preseason and very little before that, but at a conceptual and early viewpoint level, I really like this pairing. A significant part of Pesce’s 2015-16 success despite rapid NHL immersion as a top 4 defenseman was his mature understanding of how to play defense as a 2-man unit and support the puck both offensively and defensively. John-Michael Liles heady veteran play was a bit part of this. I think Ron Hainsey could be a decent proxy for Liles and create a solid even if not spectacular second pairing.
Eddie Lack and Cam Ward
It is no secret that the Hurricanes need to improve in net from a 2016-17 season that saw the team near the bottom of the NHL for the 2015-16 by many statistical measures. I think it is even more important for the goaltending tandem to get off to a much better start to help a team with a significant volume of changes in terms of new players and also returning players in new/bigger roles get off to at decent start. There is significant reason for optimism. Cam Ward did have a long stretch of hockey in 2015-16 in which he seemed to regain his game. And I think a summer off to reset mentally and maybe even in terms of his style of play might be just what the doctor ordered for Eddie Lack. Having the all-important goalie position as a weakness in 2015-16 and then bringing back the same duo could be considered a risky move for Francis. When the 2016-17 season is over, I think Francis either gets credit for thinking outside the box and being prudent cost-wise if things go well, or he looks a bit foolish for just completely ignoring the obvious coming out of the 2015-16 season. Which will it be?
2 more days until real hockey!