Today’s Daily Cup of Joe is a collection of random Hurricanes player notes.
I do not have time to dig back through all of the recent post-game video, but on multiple occasions, Jaccob Slavin has used terminology along the lines of ‘just trying to be consistent.’ On the surface, it does not sound like anything special, but I actually think saying this and more importantly saying it repeatedly is significant. I think it shows how well Slavin understands his position. Especially for young players, becoming a solid NHL defenseman is hard. A player can log 18-19 solid shifts but have bad mistakes on 2 shifts that find the back of his team’s net, and at that point he has had a bad night. In addition, playing tremendously 1 or 2 games but then following it up with a tough night is bad math on the blue line. With NHL games so close, costing one’s team a game with poor play even once every other week is too much. I think the key to being a solid defenseman in the NHL is less about how spectacular a player can be on some nights and more about how consistently ‘decent or better’ a player can be every night. Slavin’s language suggests that he gets this, and his play this season has him achieving it. Oh, and hat tricks are good too. 🙂
By the same token, Pesce iquickly becoming the forgotten and/or unmentioned man. And this includes me. Slavin is surging right now. Faulk is playing much better defensively which is huge news and also gets more air time because of his scoring. And Noah Hanifin’s solid play in a bigger role since the Hainsey trade is an important story worth tracking on a game by game basis. Like his former partner, Pesce just keeps doing the “consistent” thing. He might not be a regular trotting out for the 3 stars of the game that focus on scoring, but the bad version of Pesce’s game is pretty good, and most nights he is better than that. Also not to be discounted is his role in Hanifin’s strong play.
An important starting point is recognizing that he is only 21 years old and in his first season in North America. What he has accomplished by acclimating quickly in the AHL and becoming 1 of the Checkers best players in the second half of the season should in no way be discounted by 1 game and 10 minutes of ice time at the NHL level. That said, my first read on him Monday night suggests that he needs to improve in terms of mobility to be NHL ready. I think he lacks the acceleration and speed to play the NHL game at its transition points that require very quickly turning and covering a bunch of ice in the other direction. That can be especially challenging for a center who is hanging out between the circles playing offense and suddenly needs to be the first forward back to defend when the puck changes hands. I think Wallmark’s hockey IQ will help, but my gut feeling, again from a small sample size, is that he will need to improve his acceleration and speed to be a regular at the NHL level.
For as hard as I have been on Faulk this season for his defensive play, he really is an incredibly good offensive defenseman. Part of figuring out Faulk’s role might just be recalibrating expectations and role. At the start of the 2016-17, he was deemed to be the leader of the young defense and expected to be the team’s best defenseman. At least in terms of defense, my depth chart has him falling behind both Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. But with those 2 young players rising up to take bigger roles, that is not necessarily catastrophic. Faulk can be incredibly valuable as a solid #4 defensively who kicks in offensively both on the power play and at even strength. His power play scoring is oddly down (maybe just needs a more consistent net front presence to shoot through?) but his even strength offensive production has been incredibly good in 2016-17. In sorting out his 2017-18 blue line, I think a top priority for Francis/Peters is figuring out how to boost Faulk’s defensive play. He has looked better since being paired with Slavin after the Hainsey trade, so perhaps that is the answer. Regardless of how, I think figuring out how to build a better top 4 on defense that includes a better Faulk could be nearly as important as the headline summer work at the goalie and forward positions.
Not sure if I or someone else on the Canes and Coffee writing team will get a chance to research and write it, so let me spout the short version here. At a league level, Aho’s rookie season appears fairly ho-hum compared to Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews, but if you go back 10 years, in how many years might Aho receive Calder Trophy consideration?