Today’s Daily Cup of Joe continues the short series that started yesterday. The aim is to offer small “bites” on the vast majority of players either under contract with the Hurricanes or drafted and still controlled by the Hurricanes. The players will not be in any particular order and the comments will not necessarily follow a certain theme.
Ready to rise?
The Hurricanes have an interesting collection of players with NHL experience, high draft pedigree and high ceilings who have made progress but have yet to truly take off. As we analyze the moves made during the offseason and evaluate whether they will yield enough improvement to make the playoffs, it should also be recognized that there is potential room for improvement from within the 2016-17 roster just from young players continuing to grow.
He unmistakably found a higher gear at about the midway point of the 2016-17 season. Initially, you had to be a Hurricanes regular to see it because the boost in play did not immediately lead to much in terms of scoring production. But the time the season had concluded Lindholm had added some scoring to the mix and more significantly had put forward his most impressive and equally important consistent stretch of hockey in his young career. As a young player at 22 years old but already with 293 games of NHL experience, could he be ready to hit the level hoped for when he was drafted fifth overall in 2013?
His story is a bit similar to Lindholm’s in that he has been learning on the job (only two years for Hanifin versus four for Lindholm) hopefully on the path to finding a higher gear. After a ‘meh’ first two-thirds of the 2016-17 season next to a revolving door for a defense partner, Hanifin stepped up his game when pushed up into the top 4 with Ron Hainsey’s departure. With no top 4 defenseman added to replace Hainsey during the offseason, Hanifin is an incumbent in that slot. Is his third year the one when it all clicks, and he realizes the incredibly high ceiling of his #5 overall selection in 2015?
Teravainen is another young player with high upside. Like Linholm, Teravainen is only 22 years old, and he has amassed nearly 200 games of NHL experience. Both in Chicago and in Raleigh, Teravainen has shown flashes of offensive upside but has yet to develop the every-game consistency that makes him a top-tier offensive player. With a full year under his belt in Peters’ system, could 2017-18 be the season that Teravainen breaks out?
Aho is a bit different from the trio above in that he was not a first round draft pick and also in that he is lighter on NHL experience with only one season under his belt. But yet I include him in this group because I see him as a player potentially ready to find a much higher gear in 2017-18. His offensive ceiling is arguably the highest of the young players. With a full year of experience, could Aho be ready to take off to a higher level and lead the Hurricanes offense higher in the process?
Slow and steady can win the race in net
From its prospect group, the Hurricanes have had some headline-worthy successes of late. Mid-round draft picks Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce rose rapidly to become the team’s top defense pairing. And high draft picks including Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm and Sebastian Aho have jumped quickly to the NHL level. But the norm for prospects is a few years of step-wise development under the radar. From the ‘Back to School’ reports and the side conversations that go with the project, a few under-the-radar players jump out as potentially making more progress than headlines might suggest.
He split time three ways and had basic statistics that do not look overly impressive, but I have talked to two different people who track Michigan hockey closely, and both suggested that LaFontaine’s 2016-17 season was better than first glance. Michigan had a tough year and especially struggled defensively which made for a challenging environment for the netminders, but the report on LaFontaine was that he put forward some pretty good efforts behind an ‘iffy’ defense and made decent progress as a freshman.
He similarly is a bit under the radar. With Alex Nedeljkovic still as the Hurricanes #1 netminding prospect and Callum Booth getting the nod to step up to the AHL level, Jeremy Helvig seems to be #3. But reports out of Kingston suggest that the ‘maturity’ element of his game has made big strides. He gets high marks for logging heavy minutes and being consistent night in and night out which is critical for a goalie. He will get another year in juniors and hopefully arrive in the AHL ‘overripe’ and mature beyond his level of experience next year.
With Francis continuing to add more than his yearly allotment of seven draft picks to the team’s prospect pull, Charlotte is on a path to become crowded. When one considers the need for at least a few AHL veterans and having enough spots for prospects to develop too, ice time will soon be at a premium at the AHL level. That makes it very important for players nearing the end of the entry-level deals to at least seize a role at the AHL level to stay in the mix. The Hurricanes have few players (not counting goalies) who played a decent chunk of time at the ECHL level in 2016-17. The first step for these players is to earn regular ice time in Charlotte as a foundation and then work upward from there.
He had a tough injury-shortened 2016-17 season that was mostly a wash out. He is in a contract year and needs to reestablish his development path and ideally become a regular at the AHL level in 2017-18 to stay relevant.
Kanzig came over in the deal for Ryan Murphy and Eddie Lack presumably just for Calgary to shed a contract. Kanzig spent most of the 2016-17 season at the ECHL level but will get a fresh start and perhaps a chance to carve out a role as a part-time defenseman/part-time policeman with the Checkers. Like Ganly, Kanzig is a restricted free agent this summer and is very much playing for his next contract.
Last but not least on the list of defenseman trying to push up from the ECHL and onto the Checkers’depth chart is Josh Wesley. Unlike the other two, he has two more years remaining on his current deal to impress, but he should still be playing with a sense of urgency.
On the forward side of the slate but in a similar situation is Clark Bishop. He too spent time at the ECHL level in 2016-17 and needs to play up to a higher level in the next two years or otherwise risk not getting a second contract.
What say you Caniacs?
1) Do you see anyone else who should be included in these categories?
2) Does anyone have any other new sets of players to add today?