When the Caniac Nation wakes up on Friday morning, it will be less than a week away from the official start of the 2018-19 season. But before then, the Hurricanes have two more games to prepare.
At the risk of overlapping with the game preview that will follow later, today’s Daily Cup of Joe creates a work list for the last two games of preseason.
Sorting out the combinations
Rod Brind’Amour intentionally went away from the familiar early in training camp to use ice time to explore new and different things. But with the regular season approaching, the focus this weekend will shift strongly toward identifying the lineup that gives the team the best chance of winning in one week. As part of that, we will likely see a return to some familiar combinations.
Here is a quick hitter list of things to watch…
Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. The Finnish duo was reunited in practice earlier this week and figures to play together this weekend. Can Teravainen boost Aho’s comfort level at the center position, and can the duo that was the team’s best offensive force last season pick up where it left off.
Who is the third? Assuming Aho/Teravainen stays together, who is the third. The front runner would figure to be Valentin Zykov who looked good with them last spring and has had a strong preseason. But there are other options.
Building Jordan Staal’s line. It will be interesting to see what Brind’Amour does with Staal’s line. With the team light on experienced centers, I think Brind’Amour will lean massively on Jordan Staal in tight hockey games. He has played largely with Williams in preseason. Is that a pair that Brind’Amour sticks with? And if so, who is the third?
The top 4 on defense. With Pesce back in the mix, the team is suddenly five deep on the blue line. Thus far, Brind’Amour has favored Slavin/Hamilton and Faulk/de Haan. Does he stick with those four to start the season with Brett Pesce playing with Haydn Fleury? Or does he tinker a bit this weekend?
Hitting stride in time for the regular season
With a surging Canes team this preseason, a couple players off to slow starts have been overshadowed by winning and scoring in bunches. And though too much should not be made of a couple preseason games, we are only a week away from games counting and needing all hands on deck. As such, there is a short list of players who it would be great to see find a higher gear this weekend.
Sebastian Aho and Teravainen. Playing apart, both have had slow starts. Again, it is a handful of games that do not count. But nonetheless it would be great to see them get on track.
Martin Necas. He has not had the type of preseason that the team would have hoped for. He is raw defensively and in a number of areas, and he just has not been dynamic with the puck on his stick. It would be nice to see him gap up some to closer NHL-caliber in the last couple preseason games.
Selecting the roster
Brind’Amour still has 31 players in training camp which is a bit high for this time of year. But I think the real roster battle right now is much smaller.
Barring an injury, I think the team is set on defense with Slavin, Hamilton, de Haan, Faulk, Pesce, Fleury and van Riemsdyk. McKeown and Cajkovsky could see ice time to help gauge their readiness as #8-10 on the depth chart in case of injuries.
The goalie position is decided. Nedeljkovic ultimately returns to Charlotte.
But the forward position is more interesting. I was early suggesting that the forward group could include 14, and I still think that is the right number. Aho, Teravainen, Zykov, Staal, Williams, Necas, Svechnikov, Ferland, Martinook, McGinn, Di Giuseppe, Kuokkanen, Foegele and Wallmark.
The Hurricanes do not need to win this weekend to enter the regular season in a good place. But ideal would be to maintain some of the momentum gained during the preseason.
My 2 cents
Valentin Zykov / Sebastian Aho / Teuvo Teravainen
Janne Kuokkanen / Jordan Staal / Justin Williams
Warren Foegele / Martin Necas / Micheal Ferland
Brock McGinn / Lucas Wallmark / Andrei Svechnikov
Extras: Phil Di Giuseppe, Jordan Martinook
I think the third and fourth lines as ordered get roughly equal ice time, so it is not so much that I see Svechnikov on a fourth line as I think Wallmark is a good fit for him starting in a depth role.
Jaccob Slavin / Dougie Hamilton
Calvin de Haan / Justin Faulk
Haydn Fleury / Brett Pesce
Extra: Trevor van Riemsdyk
If he does not dip in the final two games, I think Fleury has earned a spot. I also think the team has a preference to boost Faulk up a bit to see if Faulk can get back on track. That yields dividends whether he stays or goes.
Scott Darling (starter) / Petr Mrazek
Over the course of the season, Brind’Amour will go with whoever is better. As a short-term dice roll, I think the team has a natural bias to give Darling a shot because of his contract. The fact that he has played well in preseason just boosts that bias.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Is there anything else that you would include on this work list?
2) How do you think the blue line combinations shake out? How about the forward lines?
3) With only two preseason games to go, who else thinks they can build out the lines and defense pairings?