If you missed it yesterday, I recommend checking out the interesting collection of comments in the Monday Coffee Shop. The open forum offers an interesting collection of comments spanning a number of Hurricanes comments from the Canes and Coffee Community.
I will undoubtedly dig into this and other similar topics in more detail as we get closer to the start of training camp and then again after we see preseason action, but in a fit of missing hockey, I took to scribbling out the Hurricanes forward situation over the weekend.
Things can change, but I view nine slots as pretty fixed. Barring an injury, I would be very surprised not to see all of Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal, Victor Rask, Marcus Kruger, Elias Lindholm, Justin Williams and Lee Stempniak in the opening day lineup. That makes nine forwards and at least based on what position the nine played in 2016-17, it leaves one opening for each forward position. In addition, the lineup has a few players with positional flexibility such that they could move to make things work.
The assumed starting point
Despite being the third center nearly assured of a roster spot, I actually view Kruger as being the anchor of a checking-focused line that is one of the bottom two lines (a 3A and 3B if you will) that is used somewhat situationally. So my starting point is that there is a hole at center on a 3A scoring-focused line and that the two openings at wing are on Kruger’s 3B checking-focused line.
So math has the openings as a scoring-capable C3 and defensively sound LW4 and RW4.
Penciled in right now
Entering training camp, I see Derek Ryan as penciled into the C3 slot and Joakim Nordstrom and Josh Jooris penciled into the LW4 and RW4 slots. Ryan had a good 2016-17 season and has enough of an offensive tool bag to be a contributing player on a third line that can provide good depth scoring. Nordstrom and Jooris meet the minimum baseline of being defensively sound and penalty kill capable which I think is the table stakes to be considered for Kruger’s line.
Who is on the outside looking in?
If one tallies up the players in the lineup and players penciled in, it makes a full lineup of 12 forwards.
On the outside looking in right now are Brock McGinn, Phil Di Giuseppe and a list of rookie dark horses with scoring upside that includes Julien Gauthier, Janne Kuokkanen, Aleksi Saarela, Lucas Wallmark, Warren Foegele, Nicolas Roy, Valentin Zykov, Martin Necas and anyone else who can ‘wow’ with scoring upside in training camp.
What does it take for one of the kids to push into the lineup?
The surest path to pushing up the depth chart ahead of schedule and making the 2017-18 NHL roster is to show the potential to provide significant scoring. The Hurricanes finished 20th overall in scoring in 2016-17 and added only Justin Williams in terms of higher-end scoring fire power. If one of the kids can show that he could be ready to post 20+ goals at the NHL level, Coach Bill Peters will take notice, watch closely and consider deviating from the base plan to boost the offense.
In addition to seeking out higher-end scoring, there are a couple players who have the potential to seize a fourth-line roster slot by replacing the defense currently on the wings and adding even a modest scoring boost.
So where are the battles?
I see two different battle grounds for roster slots.
Derek Ryan’s offensively-leaning C3 slot.
Right now, Ryan has a slot because the Hurricanes did not add a scoring center this summer, and he was the best in that role in 2016-17. Two prospects potentially have the skill set to steal this slot with a strong training camp. First is Janne Kuokkanen (Ranked #3 among forward prospects) who I have pegged as a dark horse and rapid riser. (See my article last week that had the gall to compare him to Sebastian Aho.) Another is Nicolas Roy (Ranked #5 among forward prospects) who I think is farther away from NHL-ready but is intriguing because of how he has rounded his game out over the past two seasons in Canadian juniors. Finally, Lucas Wallmark (Ranked #4 among forward prospects) is another player who is rising after a strong second half of 2016-17 in Charlotte. He brings the advantage of a full season of AHL experience and a few NHL games to boot. Similar to Kuokkanen and Roy, the task for him is to show in training camp that he is a better pivot for a third line that will be asked to score.
If either of these players looks capable enough defensively and in transition and can show offensive upside along the way, he immediately garners consideration. If neither looks ready or looks to be an offensive upgrade over Ryan, Ryan keeps the slot as the default and Kuokkanen and Roy take a more step-wise development path up into the AHL to start the 2017-18-season.
Joakim Nordstrom’s fourth-line checking role penalty kill duty
Nordstrom starts as the default at left wing on the fourth line because he is a proven and solid part of the penalty and is reliable and sound defensively in all three zones at even strength. That is a fancy way of saying he has a special teams role and will not kill you otherwise.
But with a ceiling in the neighborhood of 20 points on a team that needs more scoring, I think Nordstrom is the most vulnerable of the three players I have penciled into the last three forward slots. Important to note is that Nordstrom is not so much vulnerable to players who can just provide more raw offense. Rather, to unseat him from the LW4 slot, someone would need to first replace what he brings as a sound checking line forward and penalty killer and THEN add some offense. So I do not see a higher-end offensive player like Gauthier or Saarela being considered here. Rather, I think a player who can match Nordstrom defensively and take his penalty kill time could win out.
The slot is a natural place for what could be the most hotly contested roster slot in training camp with Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe throwing their hats into the ring and Warren Foegele (Ranked #7 among forward prospects) also entering as a rookie dark horse who has exactly the skill set required to replace what Nordstrom does.
Josh Jooris’ fourth-line checking role and penalty kill duty
Jooris’ situation is somewhat similar to Nordstrom’s. He is penciled in as a safe and sound defensive player who is also expected to be a regular on the penalty kill. He maybe rates a tad higher than Nordstrom because he can also take draws and play center which makes him more flexible in terms of piecing together penalty kill units. In addition, the most-ready competition for fourth line slots leans left wing which puts Nordstrom more in the cross hairs.
That said, Jooris is another player who has modest upside which makes him vulnerable if someone else can fill his role and offer more scoring to boot.
What about the other young guns?
Martin Necas (Ranked #2 among forward prospects): All accounts thus far suggest that he is a talented young player with huge upside but will need time to develop before reaching the NHL. To win a roster spot, he would need to blow the doors off in training camp and make Francis and Peters completely reconsider what they thought of him entering training camp.
Julien Gauthier (Ranked #1 among forward prospects): The path to an NHL roster slot for Gauthier is having a preseason that suggests he could be a 20-25 goal scorer without being a defensive liability. Based on his skill set, that is not that far-fetched. The disadvantage that he has is that the natural opening for a scoring in the top 9 is Ryan’s slot at center. But an injury to a top 9 wing would change the math, and a scoring strong preseason could push Peters to consider shuffling things around to make room for another wing.
Aleksi Saarela (Ranked #6 among forward prospects): His situation is similar to Gauthier’s. The path to the NHL in 2017-18 could be helped by a preseason injury to a top 9 wing; otherwise, it is paved with high-end offense in preseason.
Valentin Zykov (Ranked #9 among forward prospects): Zykov is the third of three that I would consider a possibility for a top 9 wing slot. His skill set as a player who lives in/around the crease is needed in the Hurricanes lineup, but I think it takes a huge preseason to make Peters consider shaking up what he already has on the wings in the top 9.
If you count them up, I just pulled in 10 players with at least a dark horse chance of pushing onto the opening day roster and also set up a couple slots that could see three or more players in the mix. The situation is a huge testament to the growing depth and the future ahead at the forward position.
My 2 cents
I think Peters and Francis voted strongly in favor of safe and sound for the fourth line when they added Josh Jooris and Marcus Kruger. In the process, they used up a couple roster slots that might otherwise have been available for the kids. In addition, the forward ranks are pretty full with 13 players on one-way contracts and another with NHL experience and the need to clear waivers to go to the AHL in Phil Di Giuseppe.
But the team needs more scoring relative to the 2016-17 season…
If Kuokkanen can do what he has been doing all summer (prospect camp and World Junior Summer Showcase) at the NHL level, I think he has a reasonable chance of stealing Derek Ryan’s slot.
I also really like Warren Foegele as a deep dark horse largely because I think he can replace what Nordstrom does but possibly bring more offense to boot. The checkpoint for Foegele will be watching to see if he is sound defensively especially in transition and also if he receives and looks well playing shorthanded in preseason. If he does those two things, he mostly replicates Nordstrom’s positives but also brings a bit more size, rugged play and scoring upside too.
I really think its takes a HUGE training camp for any of the other inexperienced wings with high scoring ceilings to push onto the opening day lineup, but I do think they could see NHL ice time if/when top 9 slots open up because of injuries.
What say you Caniacs?
Do you think acquiring Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris signifies that Peters and Francis prioritize safe and sound over scoring upside for the fourth line such that the kids will be deemed too risky?
Of the slots that I called “penciled in” (or others if you think they are in play), which players do you think are most vulnerable?
Who do you like, if anyone, to surprise from off the depth chart currently?