Finishing out the holiday weekend and anxiously looking forward to the start of training camp and real hockey, today’s Daily Cup of Joe is the sixth and final installment in an impromptu “small bites” series that addressed each and every one of the 66 players with either a Hurricanes’ contract or draft rights. (Someone holler if I missed someone.) If you missed the beginning and want to catch up…
Part 6 today covers an eclectic mix of 12 players in 4 different categories.
The third pairing
I already wrote about the importance of building a solid second defense pairing for the 2017-18. The third pairing takes a back seat to that objective but not by a huge margin. In 2016-17, the third pairing was a weak spot for nearly the entire year with Noah Hanifin and a revolving door partners mostly struggling. Hanifin now seems set to jump up to the second pairing and the majority of the players who filled the slot next to him (Ryan Murphy, Matt Tennyson, Jakub Nakladal) are now gone. The third pairing seems most likely to feature two new players with only Klas Dahlbeck as a potential holdover. Regardless of who fills the open slots, the team needs to be better here in 2017-18.
Though he has yet to play an NHL game, I am on record as thinking that he starts training camp penciled into the left side of the third pairing. He had a strong year in Charlotte as a professional rookie in 2016-17 and built his game throughout the year just as one would hope. He finished strong and projects to be ready for NHL action. But the learning curve, adjustment process and time frame varies from player to player. Reasonable projections for Fleury could legitimately range from NHL-ready and rising rapidly to being due for a tough adjustment period. Here is hoping that the reality proves to be in the high end of the range such that he can at least be serviceable as a third pairing defenseman.
Trevor van Riemsdyk
Trevor van Riemsdyk is part of current offseason’s batch of Chicago Blackhawk imports. With 158 games of NHL experience, he is the gray beard of the group that will comprise the third defense pairing. Van Riemsdyk brings some puck moving ability, but most significant is for him to provide a steady veteran presence to the pairing and in the process boost it above the 2016-17 level. He should be the leader of the third pairing.
Of the players who filled the third pairing slot next to Noah Hanifin in 2016-17, Dahlbeck is the only one that survived the offseason. Matt Tennyson was not re-signed, and Ryan Murphy was traded. Dahlbeck struggled as much as the rest of the group early in the season playing on his off side, but he seemed to adjust and settle in during the second half of the season playing on his natural left side. I have him slotted as the #7 defenseman entering the season, but if Fleury falters, Dahlbeck is next in line on the left side.
McKeown might be a bit of a stretch to be included in this group. Per a couple sources that track the Checkers closely, McKeown had a good, growing 2016-17 season in Charlotte but was not on the same level as fell first-year professional Haydn Fleury. In addition, McKeown is a right shot and therefore further down the depth chart. That said, from the players who started training camp last fall (including Fleury), McKeown won the try out for the last defense slot and instead headed for Charlotte only because Francis thought it better for his development and pursued other options. My read is that it takes injuries on the right side for McKeown to compete for a roster spot, but he will start the season near the top of defensemen not at the NHL level.
Betting on a continued steep development trajectory
There are all kinds of strategies for trying to draft good players in the middle and late rounds of the NHL draft. Arguably the most hit or miss of the bunch are the players whose development path is not a consistent trend line up. For players who took a step backward, the question is whether they can refind positive momentum. For players who were either low on or completely off the draft rankings but then burst onto the scene the question is whether the strong year was an anomaly or the start of a rapid path forward for player for whom things suddenly clicked. Interestingly, I think one could make a case for the Hurricanes taking three players who fit the latter description. Will these players continue their rapid rise started in 2016-17? Or was it just a one-year anomaly that will not be repeated.
He rose from being off or barely on the draft ranking charts headed into the 2016-17 season to being drafted in the front part of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Hurricanes. He seemed to put it all together all of a sudden and looked very capable in making the jump to the men’s professional level in Finland. He also follows a run of three straight Finnish players selected in the second round, and the previous two players (Sebastian Aho and Janne Kuokkanen) have been rapid risers thus far. Did Luostarinen find the springboard last year? Or will his development regress back to a more modest level such that he looks overrated as a second round pick? Check out also the ‘Back to School’ article for Eetu Luostarinen.
The leap that Morgan Geekie made in the 2016-17 season ranks among the most dramatic year over year improvements statistically. He went from 25 points in 66 games in 2015-16 to 90 points in 72 games in 2016-17, nearly quadrupling his point total. In selecting Geekie early in the third round, the team bet that Geekie can continue something close to his trajectory for the 2016-17 season. Will that be the case, or is the Geekie really just an average of the two seasons in which case the Hurricanes may have put too much stock in the most recent season when ranking and drafting Morgan Geekie? Check out also the ‘Back to School’ article for Morgan Geekie. Check out also the ‘Back to School’ article for Morgan Geekie.
Makiniemi is the third player selected in the 2017 NHL draft based on a favorable trend upward especially as the 2016-17 season wore on. Makiniemi rated lower than a decent number of goalies drafted after him at the 2017 NHL draft, but the Hurricanes scouting staff obviously saw something that the liked in Makiniemi and placed a bet on his development continuing at a high pace. Check out also the ‘Back to School’ article for Eetu Makiniemi.
Restocking the blue line prospect pool
Another theme from the 2017 NHL draft was the influx of defense prospects to help refill that part of the prospect pool. With Fleury likely to graduate to the NHL and Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin already there, the Hurricanes have a number of recent draftees who will contribute at the NHL level. But from the ‘good problem to have’ category, the graduation of these young defenseman has left the blue line part of the prospect pool quite thin. The Hurricanes do still have McKeown and Carrick in Charlotte and Jake Bean and Noah Carroll from the 2016 draft class still at the Canadian junior level, but there is need for more options. Francis addressed this need by selecting three defensemen in the 2017 NHL draft.
What jumps to the forefront in my conversations about him with people who have tracked him closely is his character. He gets good reviews for being sound defensively and having enough skill and skating for a big physical defenseman, but he also gets more than his fair share of ratings for things like leadership, maturity, work ethic, etc. That bodes well for the second-rounder as he continues to hone his craft for another year or two at the University of Michigan. Check out also the ‘Back to School’ article for Luke Martin.
Brenden De Jong
De Jong is the second big defenseman selected by the Hurricanes this summer. He must continue to round out his game in terms of skating, puck handling and other aspects, but his 6 foot 5 inch frame is a great starting point for building an NHL player. He meets the high risk, high reward description common to later round draft picks and adds another player to the blue line prospect pool. Check out also the ‘Back to School’ article for Brenden De Jong.
He is arguably the greatest unknown of the 2017 draft class and like De Jong is more of a long-term bet than a sure thing. His high reviews for skating ability and hockey IQ are what give him a chance to defy the odds and make it to the NHL someday. Check out also the ‘Back to School’ article for Ville Rasanen.
The WHL equivalent at forward
In part 4, I wrote about Ron Francis’ penchant for selecting forwards with NHL size when I profiled the group of NCAA forwards in recent Hurricanes’ draft classes. That bias has held true in other leagues too including the OHL and QMJHL players who are mostly moving up to the AHL level in 2017-18. In addition, Francis has selected a couple similarly sizable forwards out of the WHL in the past couple draft.
At 6 feet 5 inches tall and with NHL pedigree in his family, Hudson Elynuik is the patented example of drafting raw players with demonstrated ability and strong physical traits. He jumped from 44 to 73 points between 2015-17 and 2016-17 and will look to continue his development in Spokane in 2017-18.
Stelio Mattheos is another forward who very clearly has good NHL size. At 6 feet 1 inch tall and 194 pounds, Mattheos already plays a rugged style game. He also has an interesting pedigree though a bit different from Elynuik. Mattheos was near the top of the list of players entering the WHL. Though he was not near the top for the 2017 NHL Draft, it seems reasonable to take a chance that he is just developing gradually. Check out also the ‘Back to School’ article on Stelio Mattheos.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Did I miss any players?
2) With the list completed, do any players jump out as also belonging in another category or two?
3) Are there any groups that could also hold a few Hurricanes players?