I written in some detail about the players trying out right now for slots on the 2016-17 season roster. In addition, to figuring out the who, there is also the what. The stretch run with 8 games remaining presents a great opportunity to try difference combinations in real game situations which are better for evaluation than preseason games that feature a high mix of AHL level players.
Here is a quick list of things that I would like to see Coach Bill Peters look at down the stretch:
Elias Lindholm at center
With the Canes light at right wing and with Jordan Staal and Victor Rask locked in at center, it could make sense to just keep Lindholm at right wing. But in trying to figure out where he can find his highest level of play and with Peters mentioning the desire to audition Lindholm at center, I think the time is now. Preseason is short, mostly sees regulars playing only every other game and is against lesser competition. If the Canes want to see Lindholm at center, I think now is the time.
Jaccob Slavin/Justin Faulk
The 2 were paired together on Thursday night. I thought the 2 looked a bit disjointed at times in terms of defensive zone coverage and also in terms of moving the puck as a 2-man D unit. With Faulk’s long lay off and the limited time that the 2 have played together, this is not surprising. I would give them a run of games together to build chemistry. There is a reasonable chance that the 2 could be paired together as a top unit to start the 2016-17 season.
Ron Hainsey/Brett Pesce
For all of the combinations that we have seen this season, this 1 that has seen little, if any, run time. In the vein of figuring out what works well/what does not, I would give Ron Hainsey and Brett Pesce some ice time together to see how the duo looks. If had to guess right now, I would peg the Canes opening day 2016-17 blue line as Slavin/Faulk, then Hainsey with either Wisniewski or Pesce and then Hanifin with whoever is left from Pesce and Wisniewski. Might as well look at as many of those combinations as possible in March/April.
Phil Di Giuseppe with Jordan Staal/Nordstrom
Jordan Staal’s line had a noticeable drop when Andrej Nestrasil was lost to injury. It is impossible to say if Jordan Staal just finally slowed down a bit or if the chemistry/roles were disrupted by the absence of Nestrasil. What I think Nestrasil did very well on that line was add another big body for cycling the puck with Jordan Staal who equally importantly seemed to always be on the same page as him with regard to puck transitions in the cycling mix. Di Giuseppe does not bring quite as much size as Nestrasil, but he has proven to be pretty strong winning/keeping pucks on the walls. He could also be an upgrade in terms of raw scoring skill. Finally, I think it would be interesting to see Di Giuseppe get a longer stretch on his natural left side now that he has settled in at the NHL level. The majority of his ice time has been playing on his off side at right wing. Might he have a higher gear offensively in a more familiar position? I have no idea what the result would, but I think it would be interesting to evaluate. If Lindholm moves to center, that would reopen a slot on the line for Di Giuseppe on the left side.
_____/Jay McClement/Riley Nash
I am on record as really liking Riley Nash’s game and thinking the Canes should re-sign him. The key caveat is that I view him as being a depth/fourth line forward. For the Canes to get both better and deeper at forward, they need to push a couple players down the depth chart to the 10-13 slots. With Jay McClement already signed and expected to maintain the fourth line center slot, the logical places for Riley Nash are either at right wing on the fourth line or otherwise waiting in the #13 slot to step in at center or right wing in the event of an injury. I would take a look at Nash next to McClement. With a right and left shot face-off option and Nash’s speed to make up for McClement’s lack of it, the duo could be a solid start to building a defensively trustworthy fourth line. They could also be an interesting forward set for penalty kill again because of the left and right face-off options.
Logically, I am skeptical it would work, but I would also plug Chris Terry in to see if/how that works. He is suddenly the hottest hand of the depth forwards right now. Might as well see if they trio could work together. My skepticism is that I think McClement needs more speed on his wings and also wings who are good in the middle of the rink. McClement’s toughest stretch this season by far was when he was paired with Brock McGinn whose hit or miss forechecking left McClement too often trying to defend speed and numbers through the neutral zone which is not his greatest strength. Terry’s lack of mobility could too often create the same scenario with McClement too often trying to defend the neutral zone without enough help, but just maybe Nash and his skating ability and 2-way play is the complementary skill set needed to make this work.
What did I miss? What other combinations should Coach Bill Peters have a look at in the final 8 games of the season?