If you missed it yesterday and want a break from the bits, bites and hockey analysis minutiae, make sure you check out Thursday’s Daily Cup of Joe which included a list of 32 John Forslund-isms. A bunch more have poured in through the comments on the article, Twitter and a few emails. My hope is to tally things up and update the list sometime this weekend.
A full 2 weeks have now passed since the Hurricanes opened the NHL trade deadline season by trading Ron Hainsey to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a second round pick and AHL forward Danny Kristo. The Viktor Stalberg trade happened shortly thereafter and has now been almost 2 weeks as well.
Since the Hainsey trade, the Hurricanes are 3-3-2 which is not abysmal but especially considering the team’s place in the standings just is not good enough to make up ground on the pack of teams near the playoff cut line.
But the time since the 2 trades has been fairly productive in terms of building for the 2017-18 season.
Here is a quick list of evaluation points and progress that we have seen in just a short 2 weeks.
Hurricanes moving up
Phil Di Giuseppe recall and strong play – Of the depth forwards on the NHL/AHL fringe who have played multiple games since the trades occurred, I think Di Giuseppe has made the strongest case for being considered for the 2017-18 roster. After a slow start production-wise this season at the NHL level, Di Giuseppe had an extended run in the AHL to rebuild his game. He has not collected a goal (which is somewhat significant), but he scores well in terms of intensity, consistency, winning/competing for pucks and more such that from the currently available players, I would project him as an NHLer to start next season.
Noah Hanifin making the most of more minutes and a bigger role – The single greatest positive since the Hainsey trade has been the play of Noah Hanifin. The lesser of his games recently have been quiet but not bad which is exactly what one wants from a defenseman. He has even shown more flashes of letting loose a little more of his inner Pitkanen carrying the puck. For a promising young player with an incredibly high ceiling and a ‘meh’ first two-thirds of 2016-17, Hanifin’s play now in 8 games post-Hainsey has been very encouraging.
Justin Faulk playing sounder hockey defensively – Now playing mostly with Jaccob Slavin (though Peters seems to like flip-flopping the defense pairings midway through games lately), Justin Faulk has been playing his best defensive hockey of the season for a season that has been challenging in that regard at times. Faulk has become a good offensive defenseman, but that is not enough. He needs to be a legitimate top 4 defensively.
Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce becoming the stabilizing veterans – This might sound funny, but incredibly rapidly, I think Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce have gone from being the kids who could use some veteran stability around them to being the stability provided to others. I do not mean to discount Faulk or Hanifin’s individual play, but I think a huge factor has been Pesce being a significant upgrade to Hanifin’s other 2016-17 defense partners. And I think Slavin’s ability to react and move quickly to defend lapses has quietly been a significant factor in Faulk looking better.
Valentin Zykov making a strong first impression – His 1-game sample size is not enough to draw conclusions, but it was still a solid starting for the rookie from St. Petersburg, Russia. The big test will continue to be his ability to play at NHL pace across the full 200 feet of the NHL rink, but his consistent and offensive approach of just spending as much time as possible fighting for space and pucks at the top of the crease in his debut was eye-opening and a breath of fresh air.
Hurricanes mixed reviews
Ryan Murphy playing the right style but still making a few too many mistakes – As I said in my recap for the Hurricanes 4-3 win over the New York Rangers on Thursday night, I actually like Ryan Murphy’s general approach and style of play right now. He is still making a couple too many mistakes often of the costly variety, but he has at least reverted back to trying to use his strengths skating and carrying the puck. And he has garnered some results from it even. Fresh in my memory is Murphy’s end to end rush in the Rangers game that saw him navigate the neutral zone himself, enter the offensive zone but not find any options and ultimately carry the puck all the way around the net and then set up Klas Dahlbeck for a good scoring chance. As I also said in the recap, Murphy showing off his strengths is a positive no matter what. Either he puts it all together and plays his way back into consideration for a 2017-18 roster spot. If not that, showing off his upside should also have the effect of modestly boosting his desirability and value for a team that sees his tantalizing upside.
The goaltenders are back to intermittent mode – Based on Bill Peters’ tirade on Eddie Lack and the fact that Lack has still been playing more, one might figure that the goaltending has been abysmal since the trades. That is not actually correct. The goaltending has been a bit hot and cold. Eddie Lack has 2 strong outings in 2 wins including a shutout and then a couple bad ones to offset those. Ward has similarly been up and down. Part of me thinks that the worst thing that could happen would be for the goalies to be slightly better down the stretch and create a false impression (just like this time last season) that just maybe they could finally work out next season.
Patrick Brown proving to be serviceable but not showing a dynamic element yet – Patrick Brown is another AHLer receiving a chance to make an impression at the NHL level. He has not been bad by any means, but I think he lacks the offensive upside of other options like Di Giuseppe and possibly Zykov.
The penalty kill is struggling to retool and adjust – Minus 2 regulars on the penalty kill in Ron Hainsey and Viktor Stalberg, the penalty kill which was rated first in the entire NHL has now fallen to third in the league. Since the departure of Ron Hainsey, the Hurricanes have killed off only 11 of 17 penalties for a weak 65 percent. I think there is an adjustment from losing both players, but I especially think that the Hurricanes miss Stalberg’s speed. During its peak, the greatest strength of the Canes penalty kill was its ability to prevent opponents from even gaining entry to the offensive zone with control of the puck. There were a number of elements that went into that, but I think a key 1 was having enough forwards with wheels like Nordstrom and Stalberg to take away angles and force play in the neutral zone such that the defensemen could step up at the blue line.
Derek Ryan and Brock McGinn are coming back to the pack – Prior to the trade deadline, Ryan and McGinn had established themselves as front-runners from the current roster for depth forward roles for the 2017-18 season based on being at least serviceable playing in the NHL in the top 9. But more recently, McGinn has been injured and Ryan has mostly been ‘meh’ while newer recalls like Phil Di Giuseppe and Valentin Zykov turn heads and impress with the more rugged element that they can add to the lineup (not that McGinn matches in this regard).
I continue to watch the young blue line and the fringe AHL/forwards closely. How the 2 groups look down the stretch will have a significant impact on what Francis already has and what he needs to add when he builds the 2017-18 roster this summer.