The last preseason game should look a bit more like the opening day lineup and also offer clues on where the Brind’Amour stands with regard to keeping one of the younger players around.
Below is a set of watch points for Saturday’s preseason finale that are split equally between level of play and where Brind’Amour’s head is at nearing the time to decide on the opening day lineup.
On the lineup card
Who plays with Jaccob Slavin
Skjei/Pesce seem destined to remain together as makes sense. The burning question is who will play alongside Slavin trying to fill the hole left by Hamilton’s departure and round out the top four. Early in training camp, Ethan Bear seemed to get first look. More recently, Tony DeAngelo has logged some ice time next to Slavin. DeAngelo is interesting is that he maybe stylistically and skill set-wise is a bit more like Hamilton leaning offense at times. From track record prior and limited runtime in Raleigh, Bear seems more likely to provide some steady. To start the season, I would lean toward safer and give Bear a first try in that slot, but if Slavin is in Saturday’s lineup, who plays with him might offer a good idea of which direction Brind’Amour is leaning.
Kids next to NHL centers
If Brind’Amour is thinking of bumping down a veteran and giving one of the young guns a spot in the opening day lineup, I would expect him to be looking at that in Saturday’s game by playing one of those players at wing on a line centered by an NHL regular. I think it would be especially meaningful if Drury or Suzuki moved to wing because they have been centering prospect/AHL lines almost all of camp. Per an article earlier this week, my expectation is that despite making a favorable impression that Drury, Rees and Suzuki will be headed to the AHL shortly after the last preseason game and that Jarvis will be on the opening day roster simply because he cannot be sent to the AHL and once he returns to juniors, he is gone for the season. So whether he plays or does not play in regular season games, I would expect him to stick around a little bit longer to give him a bit more exposure before spending a season mostly playing against competition that is below him. But if Brind’Amour is thinking differently for any of these young players, he likely tips his hat on Saturday.
The forward lines in general
As fluid as things can be early in the season, I will not get too bogged down with what the first line combinations are, but it is still interesting to gauge how things likely start. Depending on if anyone is dinged up and also if Brind’Amour wants a last look at any of the players trying to break the original expectations, we should see some line combinations on Saturday that carry over to next Thursday.
On the ice
Per my article yesterday, of the players still on the roster, the one who stands out both in terms of maybe playing his way up the depth chart a bit and not really expected to be in training camp at this point is C.J. Smith. When one does the math, he still figures to be on the last bus to the AHL probably with a bit better ranking in the pecking order for AHL call-ups when injuries occur. But if he gets into the lineup it likely means that Brind’Amour is a bit intrigued, and it also provides a last chance to push Brind’Amour to do something different than expected.
He has generally looked sharp, so he does not need the ‘get right’ game to close out preseason that veterans sometimes do after a struggle shaking the rust off. But if he plays, it would still be nice to see him continue his solid play and carry momentum into the regular season.
The power play
With Dougie Hamilton gone and Jesperi Kotkaniemi added at forward, the power play will look a bit different. I doubt it will start there and it might be a reach, but the hockey creative part of me wonders if the Hurricanes could be best off trying a configuration or two with five forwards. In players like Aho and Teravainen, the team has a couple forwards who are generally very heady with read/react decision-making and are skilled at distributing the puck. I am not sure that too much is actually given up defensively. Could putting five forwards on the ice for the first unit work? While I would be surprised to see that on Saturday, I am still curious to see what the last trial run offers for the two groups and how they look.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What, if any, lineup surprises do you expect or hope for on Saturday?
2) What are your watch points for the final preseason game?