This is perhaps the last part (or maybe not) in what has been an ongoing series of regular check ins on the evolving Carolina Hurricanes roster situation.
In the span of a less than a week we had Matt Tennyson sent to Charlotte, Ryan Murphy go down for 3-4 weeks with an injury, Roland McKeown at least temporarily step into that slot and then 2 defensemen added in the span of 3 days leading up to the roster deadline, and that was just on defense.
At forward, we saw the team carrying 18 forwards trying to get down to 12-13, a shuffling within the top 9, Lucas Wallmark getting a look in Jay McClement’s slot and another roster addition.
But with the official NHL deadline at 5pm today, Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis had to get to 23 by 5pm on Tuesday and of course he did.
Today saw the top 3 lines return to what Peters has used most in training camp. Forward lines are never permanent, but I think it is a reasonably good bet that the Hurricanes will open the season with Skinner/Rask/Stempniak, Nordstrom/JStaal/Nestrasil and Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen.
After that things are a little less clear. Today’s practice saw Viktor Stalberg out taking a personal day for maintenance. The fourth line in practice without him was Bickell/McClement/Frk. If you have been away from Canes hockey for a few days Frk is in fact correct spelling, and he was claimed off of waivers from the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. Also still on the NHL roster is Phil Di Giuseppe who skated with Lucas Wallmark and Sergey Tolchinsky who are en route to the AHL.
Though I would rather see Phil Di Giuseppe, whom I am high on per yesterday’s daily post, in the lineup if I had to bet on Thursday’s lineup, I would say Bickell/McClement/Stalberg by virtue of the fact that those are the players who have spent the most time and the most time recently in those slots and with Jay McClement who seems to have won the C4 slot for now.
The extras and the cuts
Especially with the fourth line, I do not view the current situation as set in stone. In fact, I think there is a very good chance that we could see Coach Bill Peters shuffle the fourth line quickly if it does not look good early in the season. I think Peters’/Francis’ thought process go like this…The fourth line centered by Jay McClement was a liability in 2015-16. But Francis completely turned over any and all players who manned the wing on that line and replaced them with new options in Bryan Bickell, Viktor Stalberg and possibly Martin Frk. Even Di Giuseppe who is not new to the roster spent minimal time on that line, instead playing primarily with Skinner/Rask before his season was cut short with a concussion.
Phil Di Giuseppe (Still on NHL roster)
I like him at least as well as any option for the fourth line wing position, but it looks like he might start the season as ready depth with enough skill and well-rounded play to step into any of the wing positions on the roster. I think Di Giuseppe’s core as a skill player who has since rounded into a decent power forward is underrated, and I think over the course of the 2016-17 season, he will play his way up the roster.
Lucas Wallmark (Headed to AHL)
As noted above, Ron Francis revamped the book ends for Jay McClement’s line. At least to start the season, McClement will get a chance to show that he is still a working centerpiece for a good fourth line and importantly 1 of the 2 sets of upfront penalty killers. The fact that Lucas Wallmark lasted as long as he did in training camp and the fact that he played in McClement’s slot for the last preseason game is not at all uncalculated randomness. Instead, I think the new McClement-centered fourth line gets a very short leash. If things do not go well even for 4-5 games, I think Peters knows what he has in Wallmark and will shake things up.
Martin Frk (Still on NHL roster)
In claiming Frk off of waivers, Francis basically took on a free trial. I think it is important to categorize this as ‘a free trial’ not a commitment (like the 2 defenders added under difference rules). It is possible that Frk gets a quick look in the lineup or just more run time in practice for Ron Francis and the coaching staff to see him up close. With Bickell having a solid training camp and Di Giuseppe still in the mix, my bet is that Frk ultimately gets put back out on waivers to be claimed by another team or possibly fall the the Charlotte Checkers if unclaimed on his second trip over the waiver wire.
Sergey Tolchinsky (Headed to AHL)
Though I think Tolchinsky was always on the outside looking in for making the opening day roster, just like with Wallmark, I think his extended stay in Raleigh was calculated and purposeful. In 2015-16, one of the Hurricanes biggest challenges was scoring goals. Though Tolchinsky did not blow the doors off and steal a roster spot in preseason, scoring and creating goals is his calling card. I think the last week was spent getting Tolchinsky more up to speed on the Hurricanes system with the expectation that he is 1 of if not the first call up if the Hurricanes either have an injury to a scoring/playmaking wing or just find themselves challenged again scoring-wise and looking for a spark.
I think Phil Di Giuseppe will find a place in the lineup by the beginning of November if not sooner. Jay McClement will not survive the the 2016-17 still in the fourth line center slot. He made more sense when the Hurricanes seemed to lack the depth necessary to build a scoring-capable fourth line, but if healthy I do not think that is the case anymore. At some point, I think Peters pushes forward more aggressively to a future that is younger, faster and more capable of providing depth scoring.
Just like at forward, the top part of the roster for defensemen has been reasonably set for awhile. The Hurricanes should open the season with Slavin/Faulk, Hainsey/Pesce and Hanifin/_____.
The past couple days that have seen the seen the best guess for who fills the blank next to Hanifin change roughly daily. The Hurricanes addition of 2 depth defensemen on 1-way NHL contracts is a pretty strong statement about what direction Ron Francis has decided to go with the young defensemen. Roland McKeown is still on the roster and might have even won an opening night start, but he is just holding a place until travel, work visas and getting quickly acclimated to the team and system can happen for both Jakup Nakladal and Klas Dahlbeck.
Best guess is that once Nakladal gets his paperwork sorted out that he (as a right shot) fills the slot next to Noah Hanifin and that Klas Dahlbeck fills the #7 slot with Roland McKeown continuing his development playing 20+ minutes per night in all situations in the AHL.
The extras, the cuts and the other interesting impacts
Ryan Murphy is expected to be sidelined for 3-4 weeks with a shoulder injury. I still think the spot next to Noah Hanifin is ultimately his to lose once he is healthy. Even if the Hurricanes decide it is not, there is some incentive for Ron Francis to try to quickly showcase him before then trading him and moving on.
He has had an incredibly solid training camp and preseason, but I think the Washington Capitals game on Friday did spotlight the fact that he still has work to do to be truly NHL-ready. He makes up for it by being incredibly mature for his age in terms of positioning and with a great stick, but he has room to grow in terms of mobility especially in terms of adding a bit more jump/acceleration. After Friday saw him too regularly throw the puck to a safe place but not a team mate’s stick in the neutral zone, the other area of improvement that jumped out was his ability to quickly get going forward and create shorter passing lanes and skating options when trying to move the puck out of his own end. Again, he had a tremendous preseason especially making the jump straight from junior hockey, but he does have a work list to take back to Charlotte.
Like McKeown, Haydn Fleury had a pretty solid preseason and continues to progress toward becoming an NHL defensemen, but the best place for him to work on that is on the ice for 20+ minutes in the AHL which is where he will start and likely spend much of the 2016-17 season.
On Saturday, Trevor Carrick was really close to at least winning a #7 slot and a stay at the NHL level. With the other competition being younger players who would be better-served in Charlotte than in an NHL press box on game days, I thought Carrick was the most logical bet to be #7. Then in the span of 3 days, the Hurricanes added 2 players on 1-way NHL contracts who leapfrogged Carrick and pushed him back to the AHL. On a human level, I feel horrible for Trevor Carrick. He went from maybe being #7 on the depth chart to probably at best #9 with Fleury and McKeown also nipping at his heels. If Dahlbeck and/or Nakladal work out, this could make Carrick expendable as part of a trade just like Ryan Murphy.
Could another shoe be ready to drop?
In my post after the Nakladal addition, I viewed him as being a replacement for Matt Tennyson who did not work out in preseason. So with Fleury and McKeown destined for Charlotte, Nakladal pushed the Hurricanes back up the needed 7 defensemen once Murphy returns from injury. But now Klas Dahlbeck sets the Hurricanes to have 8 NHL defensemen on 1-way contracts in 3-4 weeks time when Murphy returns which is 1 more than ideal. Is it possible that Ron Francis is considering trading a defensemen (Murphy being obvious candidate) and wants to have depth already on hand to back fill the blue line after such a deal? It is 1 possible explanation for adding an eighth defenseman. It is also feasible that Francis just figures he can try out 2 since there was no trade cost to obtain either and that he can later put whichever does not work out back on waivers hopefully for someone else to claim.
The expansion draft thing again
At some point, the Hurricanes need to add a defenseman who meets certain experience requirements (either 40 games in 2016-17 alone or 70 games in 2015-16 plus 2016-17) to assure that Justin Faulk is not the only option available to meet those requirements. With 71 games in the NHL last season, all Dahlbeck would need to do to qualify would be to sign a contract extension through the 2017-18 season. Nakladal is similar to Ryan Murphy in that he could qualify but would need to play 40 games this season to qualify experience-wise, and Nakladal would also need to sign a contract extension.
I think Francis made the right decision to have Fleury and McKeown spend time in Charlotte. As for the NHL roster, I think Nakladal gets the first and longest look next to Hanifin but that Murphy also gets ice time in that slot when he is ready. Whether that ice time sees him rise up and seize the opportunity or just be showcased briefly to possibly be traded will be interesting to watch.
With the roster finally set, I will post a multi-part 2016-17 Carolina Hurricanes season preview starting on Wednesday.