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Our season preview series started on Tuesday by comparing the 2019-20 roster the 2018-19 roster. Look for part 2 in that series hopefully sometime on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that the team had sent Julien Gauthier, Brian Gibbons, Clark Bishop, Anton Forsberg, Gustav Forsling and Roland McKeown to the AHL. Combined with putting Trevor van Riemsdyk and Max McCormick on the injured list, the team now has a roster of 20 players. With some of the weird maneuvering that occurs this time of year, it is not out of the question that we see tinkering before the regular season starts, but the current group of 20 should be very close to what we see on the ice at PNC Arena on Thursday.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a few thoughts on these final cuts and the current roster.
A key disclaimer for all comments is that it is possible that a part or two of the moves could prove to be ‘NHL roster management’ type moves and could be undone before Thursday.
The elephant in the room — Julien Gauthier and Martin Necas
The biggest news from the moves was the decision to return Julien Gauthier to the AHL and keep Martin Necas at the NHL level. Both players are waiver-exempt, so there is no side factor in that regard. And I think it would be pretty unanimous that Julien Gauthier had a stronger training camp than Marin Necas. Necas had some moments but also also had stretches of ‘meh’ level invisibility and still exhibits some of the floating/wandering element in his game without the puck. Gauthier was the most noticeable forward in the first few preseason games and finished reasonably well too. The only knock on Gauthier’s preseason was that he despite a good effort generating shots and scoring chances he did not score and netted only a single assist for his effort. But especially with a small sample size, I think one has to put more weight in his ability make things happen offensively combined with improved intensity and effort on the defensive side of the puck.
Especially after all of the talk about earning ice time, this one was a head-scratcher to me. Both players are high pedigree players as first-round draft picks. Both had strong AHL campaigns in 2018-19. They play the same position. And significantly, both are waiver-exempt. If ever there was a chance to have a true try out that was not encumbered by waiver rules, one-way contracts and other NHL legalese, this was it. And instead the team decided to base its decision on something other than performance in preseason.
I think the tricky balance is deciding how much credit to give to a small quantity of exhibition games versus evaluation of the much longer 2018-19 regular season in the AHL. So I guess the case could be made that Necas won his roster spot by virtue of what he did last season, but in my book, I just do not like the move for the message it sends.
The other forward cuts — Clark Bishop and Brian Gibbons
Brian Gibbons is at the top of the list in terms of age and NHL experience on the forward list. He is similar maybe to Greg McKegg who was similarly a veteran with AHL experience who stuck around deep into training camp before departing but later returned to the NHL level. My best guess was that Gibbons was never likely to crack the NHL lineup for opening night, but that the coaching staff wanted to see as much as possible of the newcomer in an NHL-ish setting, so they know what they have in him as experienced depth.
Often playing with Gauthier, Clark Bishop had a strong preseason. Unlike Gauthier and Necas, he actually scored a goal, and he is as consistent as it gets in terms of bringing aggressive skating and forechecking from the wing. Maybe a bit like Gibbons, Bishop was likely to be passed over for a player with more offensive upside, but I think he did well to position himself for a recall if the kids do not work out or if injuries require the use of deep depth.
I am on record from a ways back as saying that despite the strong play by all four goalies that the position was never really open for consideration. Partly with an aim of boosting his value for future maneuvering at the position, James Reimer was always certain to start the season in Raleigh if he was healthy. That said, I think Forsberg did as much as he could in preseason to make himself a going concern on a deep Hurricanes depth chart in net. I think the team was happy to get him from Chicago to hopefully be capable depth with NHL experience all the way down in the #4 slot. That vision was tainted a bit when he won his arbitration case and now will be paid $775,000 at the AHL level, but he still represents another option to try if injuries or goalie struggles hit.
On defense — Roland McKeown and Gustav Forsling
Starting maybe from maybe #10 or #11 on the depth chart, I think Roland McKeown had a strong preseason and boosted his status in the organization. The team sent him through waivers very early in the process, so he already has safe passage to the AHL. If I had to rank the Canes depth defenseman right now for the ability to step into the third pairing right now (so no futures), I would put Haydn Fleury ahead of him but would actually put McKeown ahead of Forsling, Bean and anyone else. McKeown is not flashy and in my opinion has a modest ceiling, but I think he could bring the kind of steady and uneventful that a team wants when plugging a depth player into the NHL lineup.
On that same note, I was not overly impressed with Forsling. He looks comfortable with the puck on his stick with time to sort things out. But he did often did not handle pressure well and had a horrible habit of losing track of opposing players behind him. That is the opposite of McKeown in terms of just being reasonably sound in a depth role.
My depth chart right now below the six NHL defensemen has: #7 Haydn Fleury, #8 Roland McKeown, #9 Jake Bean, #10 Gustav Forsling, #11 Fredrik Claesson. This does not include Chase Priskie or Jesper Sellgren who I consider prospects. I know people are enamored with Priskie, but after missing most of training camp, he is mostly just an unknown as far as the NHL depth chart at this point. That could change as the AHL season rolls along.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What did you think of Julien Gauthier’s demotion combined with Martin Necas sticking at the NHL level?
2) How would you slot the Hurricanes blue line depth chart below the six NHLers?
3) Which of the players demoted today is likely to return to the NHL level soonest? Which, if any, will make a difference at the NHL level in 2019-20?