On Sunday, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that Martin Necas was being returned to HC Kometa Brno in the Czech Extraliga.
The move marks the end of a great run of hockey for the Carolina Hurricanes first round draft pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. He looked incredibly promising and is a near certainty to play in Raleigh in the future. The move does mark the end of Necas’ NHL time in 2017-18 except in the odd event that he returns for a game or two at the end of his season in the Czech Republic.
A foregone conclusion after Tuesday’s NHL debut
For me, the move was a foregone conclusion after Martin Necas’ lone regular season appearance against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday. A fairly detailed of Necas’ play was included the game recap which you can find HERE. In short, Necas just is not ready to play center at the NHL level. His game is advanced in terms of playing with the puck on his stick in the middle of the rink, and his speed makes him at least serviceable as a forechecker, but he has work to do in terms of sorting out responsibilities without the puck in the neutral zone and defensive zone.
Credit to Coach Bill Peters for making his (albeit short) try out at his natural center position with two capable wings at his side. And credit to Ron Francis for recognizing that Necas belongs at center and not trying to patch a short-term hole at right wing and also for correctly assessing that Necas is not enough of a difference-maker for 2017-18 to forego a year of development playing 18 minutes per game in all situations and also burn the first year of his three-year entry-level contract.
I spelled out the more detailed case for Necas ultimately playing below the NHL level in 2017-18 in my article from September 28 which also discussed his work list for development during the 2017-18 season.
So why did he stay at the NHL level (and mostly not play) then?
It is possible that Necas spending a couple weeks at the NHL level before departing for the Czech Extraliga could be interpreted as indecision or possibly an incorrect initial decision.
I do not view that as being the case. Rather, I view Necas short stint at the NHL level even though most of it was on the bench was a calculated decision by Ron Francis with multiple reasons.
First, it was a reward for Martin Necas having a strong training camp. If my understanding is correct, he should still be paid for his short time in the NHL. (Someone holler if they know otherwise.) By NHL standards, the few $10,000s that Necas earned are a pittance, but an 18-year old who just signed his first NHL contract, it is a massive windfall to the tune of a nice car.
Second, I think the NHL exposure is valuable. From staying a few weeks, Necas received the opportunity to see firsthand what it means to be an NHL player in terms of routine and commitment. In addition, he should have spent significant time with the strength and conditioning coaches learning what he needs to do to maximize his physical development over the next year.
Third, I think Francis and Peters recognized that there was a chance that he just seized the opportunity and never looked back. That did not happen, but I still think it was a reasonable possibility coming out of training camp.
Finally, I think the ice time lost and the development time that was lost was minimal. He played the 2016-17 season in the Czech Extraliga, so he should be able to hit stride quickly upon returning and giving up about two weeks of games is minimal loss.
When one adds it up, there were significant reasons for keeping Martin Necas at the NHL level short-term and minimal downside.
Martin Necas’ future is incredibly bright
Important to note is that Necas’ stock rose significantly over the course of the summer and also training camp. He looks every bit of being worth his #12 selection and probably a bit more. Also significant is that he projects to fill one of the Hurricanes’ greatest needs which is to add more of a pure playmaking center who can be a catalyst for a scoring line and boost the production of his wings.
What is Martin Necas’ target list for improvements?
Martin Necas clearly projects to be an NHL player and a very good one even, but that happens not just because it is possible but rather because he works hard to round out his game.
I see the following as his priorities for development:
1) Gain a better understanding of the defensive role and positioning, decision-making and angles defending in the neutral zone and defensive zone. He is fine in an F1 role on the forecheck with straightforward responsibilities to pressure the puck. But the one area where he clearly was not ready was the details of defense without the puck in the neutral zone and his own end.
2) Become stronger and more explosive. Necas is already a great skater, but at his age there is still usually a higher gear to be had in terms of acceleration and burst speed. More significantly, he must continue to add good weight to fill out his frame which projects to be at leave average NHL size.
3) Work to strike the shooting/scoring versus passing/playmaking balance necessary to keep NHL defensemen honest. That includes improving his shot and also working to use his quickness to make shooting chances for himself by forging toward the net, making space and shooting.
Finally, I will close with one other piece of additional reading for those who were away from Canes hockey over the summer. Our ‘Back to School’ series kicked off with a great interview about Martin Necas with Robert Kron who is the Head European Scout for the Carolina Hurricanes.