Today’s Daily Cup of Joe is another catch up round of random notes/thoughts that did not make it into other posts:
Is Jaccob Slavin’s ceiling the highest of the young Canes defensemen?
I am starting to think that Slavin’s ultimate ceiling could be the highest of any Hurricanes defenseman and that includes Justin Faulk. To be clear, Justin Faulk is much farther along in his development, so the risk of him falling short or just maxing out at a lower level is much less. And with Noah Hanifin being 3 draft years behind Slavin, I think it is still really difficult to guess just where Hanifin will ultimately peak. And I continue to think that Brett Pesce mostly already is just a pretty sound defensive defenseman still with room to grow. Finally, in the end it is not about how is best but rather having 4-5 who are great and work well in complementary sets of 2.
But watching Jaccob Slavin in a bigger role and playing with Ron Hainsey has been a revelation. I think his stint with Hainsey is similar to Pesce’s with Liles at which time Pesce seemed to grow in comfort and level of play in each and every game.
As I watch Slavin more and in a bigger role, I think he could have the highest potential of the bunch. He continues to improve defensively, but that is not actually why I think this. My judgment is based primarily on his combination of skating and instincts/reaction time which are through the roof. Slavin’s ability to react and then quickly close a gap to a puck, a player or a defensive position on the ice is as good as anyone I can remember in a Hurricanes uniform. Only Joni Pitkanen jumps out as a player who could react and then get to a different place on the ice in a hurry. With his increased ice time and tougher assignments, he actually is making a mistakes here and there, but very many go unnoticed because his margin for error is so big. His ability to recover in an instant even when he does get out of position or the puck takes a strange bounce is his greatest strength right now. If he continues to reduce his number of mistakes, he ultimately becomes incredibly hard to beat. The best example on Tuesday was actually a play in which the puck got behind his partner Ron Hainsey who was a little bit farther back than Slavin. Slavin was able to make up the head start and come all the way across so fast that he was able to push the shot attempt to the outside almost as if he was playing that side of the ice.
His skating ability is what projects him to grow into a very good shutdown defender. But then he also has incredibly soft hands for a defenseman and an ability to carry the puck. When you put it all together, the potential is there for him to become a shutdown-capable defender who can also help generate offense.
Could Jeff Skinner and Phil Di Giuseppe be growing into the Skinner/Ruutu combination of years past?
Early in Phil Di Giuseppe’s NHL time this season, he was on a line with Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask right in the middle of the hottest goal-scoring streak of Jeff Skinner’s scoring rich career. Di Giuseppe played well during that stretch too and was a contributor not just a passenger or onlooker for Skinner’s run. The 2 were separated and then stayed apart when the Canes went on a winning streak that saw Coach Bill Peters maintain the same lines. But with the shakeup after the trade deadline the duo has been reunited and with good results. Jeff Skinner has 4 goals and 2 assists in his last 4 games, and Phil Di Giuseppe has 3 assists over the same time frame.
The more I watch Skinner and Di Giuseppe play together the more I like the combination. Most significantly, I think Di Giuseppe more than any other player on the Hurricanes right now adds a player who can match Skinner’s pace. In terms of attacking off the rush, it means entering the offensive zone 2-wide which spreads the defense and also forces them to sort things out which often creates the tiny amount of time and space that Skinner needs to make something happen. Inside the offensive zone and on the forecheck, it means 2 players flying around creating and winning loose pucks.
In my game recap from the win against the Senators, I compared the Skinner/Rask/Di Giuseppe line to the dynamic Skinner/Jokinen/Ruutu line from years past. That line featured Ruutu and Skinner buzzing around and Jokinen reading and reacting off of the constantly changing situation. If Ruutu and Skinner got puck pressure on the forecheck, Jokinen would step into holes, intercept passes and then quickly convert it to a scoring chance. If the forecheck was unsuccessful, Jokinen was incredibly good about figuring out where he needed to be to slow the opponent’s speed through the neutral zone without much help to give the defensemen the support they needed. The Skinner/Rask/Di Giuseppe line works similarly in that Skinner and Di Giuseppe pin their ears back a bit, buzz around and pursue the puck like mad while Rask gets the Jokinen role of astutely figuring out what it all means for what he should be doing and where he should be positionally to support offense and then sometimes a half of a second later defense.
The future continues to look brighter by the day!