With a bunch of games and a personal schedule that has had me chasing it for about two weeks now in terms of just keeping up at Canes and Coffee, I have accumulated another small set of notes that have not found their way into larger articles yet, so today’s Daily Cup of Joe is another round of random notes.
Patrick Brown recalled from the AHL
After the Hurricanes 7-3 win on Tuesday, the team announced that it had recalled Patrick Brown from Charlotte. The move will undoubtedly leave some asking why the Hurricanes did not recall one of the higher scoring Checkers. The reason is simple — Patrick Brown is merely an emergency backup slated to be a healthy scratch in the press box. After three consecutive solid wins, I will be shocked if Peters does not roll with the same 12 forwards on Thursday unless someone becomes ill or gets injured. With both the Checkers and Hurricanes in North Carolina for the past three games, Francis had the option of taking a small risk with only 12 forwards knowing that if someone turned up ill or injured at the morning skate on a game day, he could have someone on I-40 by lunchtime and easily on schedule to be at PNC Arena by game time. With a road game on Thursday, that luxury disappears, so Brown’s role is to be there just in case emergency help is needed.
Yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe did a fairly deep dive on both Francis’ work to get to where the team is now and the path ahead to icing a team that is a pretty balanced 12 forwards deep. The article made mention of the underperforming fourth line at least in terms of scoring. By definition with his two goals and two assists Joakim Nordstrom gets lumped in with that group despite the fact that he was not cut and sent to Charlotte like Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris. But he is still one of the players that many suggest can be replaced by higher scoring AHL talent. In the long run and as part of the transition underway, that should be the case. But that is not to say that Nordstrom cannot claim a role with the team longer term even as it improves.
Nordstrom is a capable even if unspectacular depth forward. He has NHL experience, and because he can skate and defend, he is the kind of player that can be dropped into the lineup without being a liability defensively. He is a capable penalty killer. And he consistently plays in high gear. In short, he is a proven NHLer with a high degree of versatility. The Hurricanes become better when a young player can be at least ‘good enough’ defensively while bringing more to the table offensively. But even when that happens I think Nordstrom is a perfect #13 forward. The majority of the young players who will be competing for roster spots are still early enough in their development that they will benefit from AHL ice time. So the way things could work is that there is an open try out next training camp for the 1-12 forward slots. It would not make sense to put a young player in the #13 slot which more or less means time in the press box instead of on the ice. So as a veteran who is pretty versatile and with a modest salary, Nordstrom could be perfect for that role.
Sebastian Aho at center
Since not everyone reads game recaps especially when they go up late, here are my comments on Aho’s play at the center position on Tuesday:
Sebastian Aho’s time at center lasted about two periods before Peters went back to a few tried and true combinations in the third period in an attempt to halt the Kings’ push. Aho did not look bad at center by any means, but in watching his game closely, the move really is a transition at this point despite center being his natural position before being drafted. Aho very much reminded me of Martin Necas in preseason. Aho looked comfortable with the puck on his stick and without the puck in the offensive zone or crossing the blue line on the rush. And the few times he had the puck on his stick with room to skate and wind up the wheels from within the defensive zone, he took off in turbo mode up the ice. But without the puck in the defensive zone and neutral zone when not the forechecker on the puck, he looked very ‘squishy’ in terms of understanding angles, assignments and positioning. I coined the term ‘squishy’ awhile back to describe the way Necas had a general idea of where to be and what to do like a natural center would but lacked the skill set that Jordan Staal and Victor Rask have in terms of understanding exactly where they needed to be to take away skating and passing lanes and force the opposition to go sideways instead of north-south to advance the puck. To be clear, I would not consider this a surprise or something that cannot be learned with time, as Aho collects more ice time at the center position at the NHL level.
I think it will be interesting to see where Peters goes with this. Long-term, Aho and Necas are the two (and likely only two) internal options to become the offensive catalyst from the center position that the Hurricanes lack. And I think there is a good chance that Aho could learn quickly if he continues to play center. But at the same time, with 25 games remaining in the 2017-18 season and the Hurricanes in the thick of the playoff chase, I could see Peters going back to Lindholm at the center position and tabling the Aho move until 2018-19 in favor of going with safer.
Where I left off was debating what direction Coach Bill Peters would go from here. My wild guess is that we might see more ice time for Aho at the center position but that ultimately if Aho continues to look like a young player still adapting that Peters’ preference for safe and sound will win out for the 2017-18 season. But worth watching are two things. The first is what Aho does offensively. If he scores in bunches and/or helps line mates score, then the rest of his game will become secondary. The second thing to watch is how quickly he adapts. The NHL is a bigger challenge, but Aho is a natural center, and he is also a smart player. It might be that we see noticeable adjustments rapidly on a game by game basis as Aho re-acclimates himself to the different defensive responsibilities of the center position.
Maybe bigger than Justin Faulk’s hat trick…
The headline from Tuesday’s win for Justin Faulk and for the game in general was Justin Faulk’s hat trick. What is crazy is that he completed it by early in the second period and had a few other chances to score. The Hurricanes do need more scoring, and Faulk definitely represents a potentially untapped source. No doubt, the goal scoring is significant. But what might be even more significant is Faulk gets a hop in his step from the good vibes from scoring and it lifts his game defensively. Hidden beneath the scoring headlines was an incredibly strong game for Faulk defensively. He had a play where he tracked down a breakaway and managed to tie up the Kings player without taking a penalty. He had another play where he interrupted a centering pass of the rush that looked like a surefire goal. And in general Faulk was physical, engaged and seemingly more assertive and aggressive defensively. Faulk is not going to score three goals, or even one goal, every game of course, but if he can dial up his defensive game, the team becomes better.
A well-timed break from the pressure
The Hurricanes goalies have now been solid in three straight outings. All three wins were characterized by strong starts and playing with a lead, a sizable one even in the Vancouver and Los Angeles wins. To be clear, the goaltending was a positive in the first two wins, and Ward did a good job of holding the fort when the game opened up in the second period. But perhaps the biggest story is that the goaltending really was not that big of a story. The early leads and goal scoring generated a margin for error that has mostly been non-existent of late, and that created scenarios where the goalies could exhale a bit and just play the game. The psychological break for a few games can in itself be valuable this time of year, but even more significant is the fact that a few easy wins just might boost confidence especially for Scott Darling and pay dividends as the season continues.
What say you Canes fans?
1) It was only one game, but were your impressions of Sebastian Aho at the center position? How far do you think that project continues, and/or do you think it could be tabled until the 2018-19 season?
2) Might Justin Faulk dialing it up defensively provide confidence and hop that also boosts his defensive play?