Yesterday in a set of polls, readers projected the defense pairings, the last few forward roster slots and dark horses to push up from below the cut line and onto the NHL roster. You can see those polls HERE.
Tuesday night featured the first of a back-to-back set that could have a significant say in the next round of cuts and ultimately finalizing the roster. My recap and notes from a rather pedestrian effort by the Canes is HERE.
As relates to the next round of cuts and the final opening day roster, I think Tuesday’s game can be summarized by saying that none of the potential ‘scoring boost’ type players in the AHL mix really stood out as potentially helping the Hurricanes score more at the NHL level. I think this fact could increase the volume of cuts over the next couple days and expedite the process for building the roster.
Situation for prospect-level forward to make Hurricanes opening day roster
1) The Hurricanes basically have 13 forwards if you count all of the players on 1-way contracts plus the youth (i.e. Sebastian Aho, Phil Di Giuseppe) who are reasonably certain to stay at the NHL level.
2) At forward, the thing the Hurricanes need most is more goal scoring.
3) So any younger player who shows a potential to score or help create scoring should at least raise eyebrows and gain consideration and that seems to be the most direct path to bursting up into the top 13 forwards from below.
4) In a couple tries now, I am not sure any of the forwards who could be labeled as offensive-oriented have really shown an ability to generate offense in the preseason games. Sergey Tolchinsky who has been a flag bearer for ‘oozes offense’ might get 1 of the last chances to do so if he is in the lineup on Wednesday.
5) If there does not seem to be a potential offensive boost to be had, the default is probably to go with the 13 NHL level forwards and identify 1-2 next call ups in the event of injury.
Top of the list
Entering the preseason game part of training camp, I would have labeled some combination of Sergey Tolchinsky, Julien Gauthier, Patrick Brown and maybe Valentin Zykov as front runners. Tolchinsky had shown the most offensively over the summer in the prospect-level competition, so perhaps he was ready to translate that to the NHL level. Julien Gauthier, in terms of style of play, is from the mold of the pure power forward with scoring ability that the Hurricanes could use more of in the lineup. Valentin Zykov showed favorably in the prospect-level play and demonstrated a decent mix of all-around play with some scoring upside. Finally, I would have pegged Patrick Brown as entering training camp as the best ‘safe and sound’ (but with less scoring upside) option if none of the scoring-oriented players worked out. Ironically, in addition to solidifying his ranking in the ‘safe and sound’ category, Brown surprised me a bit by also chipping in offense at a pretty good clip. He had a goal toward the front part of preseason in a strong game that saw him in the middle of a couple other good scoring chances. On Tuesday in a game virtually devoid of any Hurricanes offense, he had a nice play to protect a puck in the offensive and feed a streaking line mate for a blast on net from close range. Right now, one could make a case that Patrick Brown rates highest of the prospects both in terms of ‘safe and sound’ and also in terms of ‘offensive upside.’ Based on that I would rank him as the team’s #14 forward (specifically for the start of the 2016-17 season, not longer-term where higher-end prospects like Gauthier, Kuokkanen and a few others would rank higher).
Short Hurricanes forward prospect rankings for 2016-17 opening game roster
Important to note is that these are rankings only for building the opening day 2016-17 roster NOT long-term rankings.
1 — Patrick Brown: He wins out in terms of being most sound positionally and defensively and even kicked in some preseason scoring to boot.
2 — Brock McGinn: He brings the most experience of the prospect bunch and offensive upside.
3- Valentin Zykov: I would have had Zykov as a top dark horse entering preseason because of the maturity of his game for his young age. He has some offensive ability but also seems to have a good knack for when to make simple straight line plays. He has not been bad in preseason but like most of the prospects just has not stood out enough to push up the depth chart.
4 — Sergey Tolchinsky: Tolchinsky had a strong Traverse City tourney and also excelled in the prospect-level Red-White scrimmage, but with NHL line mates at times and a couple tries, he has not demonstrated an ability to drive offense and scoring opportunities. It probably takes either that or a couple injuries to make room in the top 9 where he could fit.
Derek Ryan has also had a decent preseason, but he is stuck in the same situation as last fall. As a center, it takes either him moving to wing or a shake up that sees him auditioning with likely fourth-line wings to try to steal McClement’s spot. Thus far, we have seen neither of those.
By ranking Tolchinsky fourth, hopefully I just set him up to erupt for a boat load of offense in Wednesday’s game assuming he is in the lineup.
What about Julien Gauthier?
I wrote about Gauthier in some depth in my recap for Tuesday’s game. The short version is that while I am still very high on his long-term upside and potential to grow into a great scoring power forward, I do not think he is there, or close enough to there, yet.
I think there are 2 important questions to ask for junior level players whose entry-level contract can still slide forward. The first question is whether the player will make the current year team significantly better. The second question is whether that player can still develop at the lower level. In the case, despite flashes of offense, he has not made enough of a case that he can make the NHL team significantly better right now. And though I think he could benefit from playing against bigger and stronger players, I still think Gauthier could benefit from another year in juniors working on his every shift consistency and also attention to detail in terms of positioning and decision-making.
So do any of these players actually make the team?
Barring a late preseason surge, I think it takes an injury or 2 for any of these players to push up to the NHL for the opener in Winnipeg. With such an emphasis on getting out to a good start, I think Coach Bill Peters will lean toward the known players and go light on experimenting with more young players. If the team starts slow, then I think a few of these players could come into the picture.
1) Does anyone think that Sergey Tolchinsky still has a preseason break out game in him that we might see on Wednesday?
2) What is everyone else’s early read on Julien Gauthier? Does anyone disagree with my assessment, think he is progressing nicely game by game and believe he could still be at the NHL level at least for the 9-game trial?
3) What are your rankings of 2-4 top-rated depth players so far, and do you also have Patrick Brown topping the list?
4) What else?