Alex Nedeljkovic and Hurricanes goalie storybook for 2016-17
First we had journeyman 35-year old AHL/NHL goalie Michael Leighton making a surprise return to the NHL. His 2 starts are the most for him since a magical 2009-10 season that saw him help the Flyers all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Then Canes fans witnessed a truly special story with equipment manager stepping into the lineup as an emergency backup and even into the game for 7 seconds to realize an everyman’s dream. And along the way Cam Ward is having his best season in years.
The latest chapter was written last night courtesy of Alex Nedeljkovic. Nedeljkovic was recalled to back up Ward while Michael Leighton had a tune up with the Checkers and not expected to play. But when things did not go well for Ward, the 19-year old from Parma, Ohio made his NHL debut way ahead of schedule and made a perfect 17 saves on 17 shots. Nedeljkovic’s debut and performance offered a fun silver lining on an otherwise tough night.
Nedeljkovic at the NHL level, receiving ice time and playing well will inevitably trigger conversations about his readiness to become a Canes starter.
On a positive note, I do think there is something for a 19-year old hopping into NHL action and battling his way to a good outing. I think it says something about his moxy and also ability to handle and absorb pressure and still slow things down and play his game. It makes sense. Nedeljkovic’s experience includes a heavy helping of big games including world junior tourneys and OHL playoff games. He has generally played at or above his normal level of play when the lights get bright. He did the same on Tuesday night in Columbus.
But I think it is also important to point out that he is still early in his development and readiness for a regular role at the NHL level. Jordan Futrell who covers the Charlotte Checkers at Canes and Coffee offered this first assessment of Nedeljkovic about 2 months into the 2016-17 and Nedeljkovic’s professional career. He struggled out of the gate making the transition from Canadian junior hockey to the AHL level and recently did a short stint at the next level lower in the ECHL to get his feet under him. It seemed to work. He played well, scored a goal to boot and and most significantly played probably his best game of the season in his next AHL start winning in a shoot out after facing a ton of shots. After a challenging first half of the 2016-17 season, Nedeljkovic has strung together a run of nice positives. When he returns to Charlotte probably this weekend, I will be checking in regularly with Jordan Futrell who covers the Charlotte Checkers for Canes and Coffee to see if Nedeljkovic can use the positive vibe to get his feet underneath him, dial up his level of play and finish with a strong second half of the 2016-17.
A strong second half would be a significant positive step in his development after trouble finding his footing upon stepping up to the AHL level. That said, it is important to note that even if things go well for Nedeljkovic a normal development schedule from where he is right now would project to regular play at the NHL level no early than next season and reasonably likely farther out than that. Right now, more important than schedule and time frame is simply taking next steps at the AHL level ideally with an extended run of strong play to finish his first professional season strong.
Bullet points: Nedeljkovic’s debut was good, but he still has a ways to go to become an NHL regular.
Matt Duchene versus Gabriel Landeskog
With rumors flying every which direction about possible Colorado Avalanche players available for trade, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are often lumped together. They are similar in age, have played on a top line together and have somewhat similar statistics and scoring totals at the NHL level. But for me, the 2 are completely different players in terms of style of play, skill set and to some degree expected role.
I view Matt Duchene as a high-end offensive player who drives offense and scoring for his line and himself in a somewhat similar mold as Jeff Skinner. He is fast. He is highly-skilled. And his greatest strength is making offense happen. I view Gabriel Landeskog as a good player but more of the complementary variety somewhat akin to a higher-end (or maybe just further developed) Elias Lindholm. Landeskog can score and he is a legitimate top 6 forward, but he is not as dynamic and not as much of a pure driver of offense as Duchene. Their scoring numbers bear this out to some degree. Entering the 2016-17 season, Duchene has averaged 62.5 points per 82 games and Landeskog 56.7 points per 82 games. The gap is even wider this season with Duchene playing at 58.3 points per 82 games pace despite the Avalanche’s struggles and Landeskog only at 38.4.
But more than scoring totals, it is more natural scoring ability. I just see Duchene as a clear notch higher in terms of being able to drive offensive chances.
Bullet points: I see Duchene and Landeskog as very different players and not interchangeable/equal top 6 forwards. I would be willing to a reasonable premium for Duchene who I view as a dynamic scorer, and while I think Landeskog is a legitimate top 6 forward in his own right, he is not as enticing to me.
What would I pay in trade value for Matt Duchene?
I wrote about Matt Duchene and how I thought the trade discussion could play out and what I would ultimately offer for Duchene back on January 4 in this article. I stand by my original assessment of the situation and also my proposed trade, but things have changed slightly since then both in terms of the Hurricanes and also the volume and variety of rumors and trade debates.
Here are some quick hitters on the situation:
Gabriel Landeskog: I actually would not be much of a bidder for him. He is a legitimate top 6 forward, so sure I would take him if the price is low enough, but would not bid nearly as aggressively as I would for Duchene.
Noah Hanifin: I would not trade him for Duchene. I am actually not as high on Hanifin’s development thus far as some, but his ceiling is too high to part with at this early juncture of his NHL career even for Duchene.
Jaccob Slavin or Brett Pesce: As reasonably proven top 4 (or top 2 even) NHL defensemen who will make less than $1 million each next season and should be sign-able to a reasonable second contract that is below unrestricted free agent market value for the position, they are similarly as close as possible to untouchable. I would not trade either of Pesce or Slavin for Duchene either.
Justin Faulk: I would not trade him for Duchene either. At a basic level, I just think that top 4 defenseman are rarer than top 6 forwards, and you really need 4 of them to be a good hockey team. Looking forward, the Hurricanes have a tremendous pipeline with the potential to generate more, but as of right now and for projecting the start of the 2017-18 season, I count only 3 (Slavin, Pesce, Faulk). If forced to part with a roster NHL defenseman in a trade for equal value, I would begrudgingly choose Faulk primarily because of the finances. Faulk’s actual salary (not cap hit) is $5.8 million for the next 3 years, and as of right now he is playing a notch below Slavin and Pesce who are much less expensive next season and likely to remain somewhat cheaper after that.
Probability of a deal with the Canes: These are always low probability bets. I do think that the Hurricanes would rate among the top couple teams to obtain Duchene before the trade deadline because they have blue line assets that would be of interest to Colorado and also importantly because they have plenty of cap space which would be a complication to be resolved for many other possible suitors. But even still the Hurricanes probability is something less than 10 percent with a number of other teams with various single digit probabilities too.
The best bet of all?: …is summer. Duchene is signed for 2 more years, so there is no move him or get nothing situation like with Eric Staal last season. The smartest thing for Avs’ general manager Joe Sakic to do is to wait until summer when most teams have at least some players come off of contract and therefore have more salary cap room to fit Duchene. I hope that Sakic gets frustrated with the situation and because of it impatient, but if he does not, best guess for a deal is June or July.
Why all the fuss about Duchene? Aren’t there other options? Not really. I view Duchene as being an elite offensive forward not in the top tier with the Crosby’s McDavid’s, Tarasenko’s of the NHL but in that next tier maybe a bit below Taylor Hall and in a group with players like Jeff Skinner. Those players at the age of 26. Those players rarely become available at that age, and when they become available a bit later unrestricted free agent bidding wars drive their prices up above fair value at age farther past their prime.
Bullet points: Per my blog from the front part of January, I would bid heavily for Duchene with futures, but I would not include any of the Hurricanes 4 NHL roster young defensemen in a trade for him. I also think it makes most sense for Sakic to wait for summer, so February could come and go with a big fuss about nothing.