As we trot closer to Labor Day weekend which means training camp is right around the corner, I have been spending my Canes hockey thinking cycles thinking about individual players and where they might fit in the scheme of things for this year.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe considers a small group of players that I seem to be higher on than the general consensus.
No doubt he had a tough 2017-18 season and needs to score at a much higher pace to justify his $4 million salary that is on the high side even for a third line role. But aside from the scoring struggles especially early in the year, one thing that stood out to me about Rask is how remained pretty steady defensively. That is to say the rest of his game did not collapse under the weight of pressure to score more. For the 2018-19 season, I think Rask at a minimum offers a steady veteran center to backstop what will certainly be a young lineup. My best guess is that the team’s centers on opening night will be Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Martin Necas and Victor Rask. In such a scenario, Rask maybe slots as the fourth center, but I think it is an important role. If the lineup shakes out like that, Jordan Staal takes as many of the tough match up minutes as possible, but especially on the road, the team needs a line to slot behind his for when teams steer their scorers away from Staal. The inability of Kruger and company to do exactly that in 2017-18 was one of a few Achilles’ heels that the team had. Rather than a fourth line that sees limited ice time, I think Brind’Amour could deploy a Rask-centered fourth line more as a defensive 2B behind Staal. That would leave Necas’ line very likely with Svechnikov to be sheltered a bit and used opportunistically for scoring. So getting back to the point, I think Rask is pretty well-suited for such a role. Ideally, his scoring rebounds to mid-40s but even if it does not, I still think he serves a useful purpose with how the Hurricanes lineup is likely to be constructed.
Some are down on Fleury because he has yet to meet higher-end expectations the come with being drafted #7 overall. Fleury has taken a step-wise path to reaching the NHL and played a modest role in 2017-18. So the negative side of the coin for Fleury is that at least so far he does not project to be the type of player who drives wins. In addition, his 0 goals and 8 assists in 67 games scream depth defenseman as well. But lost in wishing that Fleury was farther along in his development than he is four years after being drafted #7 overall is the fact that he jumped straight into the NHL with no experience and was at least serviceable in a fairly big role. He spent more time in the top 4 than out of it and maybe did not have the greatest support playing quite a bit next to Justin Faulk whose 2017-18 season was not great defensively. If I skip expectations based on draft pedigree and also do not consider future projections, I would say that Fleury enters the 2018-19 as a player who is physically capable at the NHL level in terms of size and skating ability and who is capable as a third pairing defenseman and even capable of filling in in the top 4 without being a significant liability. Again, that is maybe not what was hoped for, but Fleury is a useful player in terms of filling out the last pairing and even providing capable depth in the event of injuries. On top of that, it is not unreasonable to think that Fleury could improve in only his second season at the NHL level.
With a strong 10-game NHL audition by Valentin Zykov after a season in which he led the AHL in scoring and also a short but also impressive NHL audition by Warren Foegele, optimism is legitimately running high on multiple rookies cracking the opening day lineup. The draft lottery luck that landed Andrei Svechnikov and also the strong 2017-18 season by Martin Necas make for two more highly-touted rookies to watch in September. The result of all of the rapid risers is that Janne Kuokkanen has faded into the background. Competing in the same training camp last fall as all of these players except Svechnikov, Kuokkanen emerged as the best rookie forward and earned October NHL ice time for his efforts. (Though I do think Necas has a higher ceiling than Kuokkanen in the long run, I do think Kuokkanen was the better of the two last fall in training camp.) Kuokkanen started a bit slow in the AHL, but just as one would hope he picked up steam as the season wore on. He could enter training camp ranked fifth or lower in terms of forward prospects likely to make the team, but he ultimately emerged as the best last season and should return another year stronger, faster, etc. I view him as competing for the same slots that Zykov and Foegele will be competing for, and I do not view Kuokkanen as a significant underdog in this roster battle.
Honorable mention goes to Phil Di Giuseppe who I have generally been higher on than the consensus for some time (and generally been wrong so far). If Di Giuseppe continues to produce almost nothing offensively like he did through most of the 2017-18 season, he is correctly pegged as a #13 type depth forward. But I continue to think that Di Giuseppe possesses enough skill that could have a higher gear. I have given up predicting more from Di Giuseppe offensively, but at the same time I do not view it as an impossibility.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you agree or disagree that the Caniac Nation might be discounting these three players a bit too much entering training camp?
2) Do you have other players who fans are maybe down on that you think are better than currently rated? (There’s the opening for someone to pound the gavel for either of the goalies.)