At this juncture of preseason in years past, the Carolina Hurricanes regularly had multiple roster spots still in play. Unfortunately, for too many of those years, that was not so much because young players were rising up but rather because the team was really only 15-16 players deep in terms of legitimate NHLers. That has changed over the past couple years. Barring injuries, this training camp might not offer a single slot to a prospect or rookie. The team has two veteran goalies, is eight deep on the blue line and probably has a full house at forward too.
So while the team’s group of young forwards including Jack Drury, Jamieson Rees, Ryan Suzuki and Seth Jarvis have received a heavy helping of preseason ice time and generally taken advantage of it, there is a very good chance that none of those players stick around (long-term).
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a quick look at the possibility of the Canes’ young forwards cracking the opening day roster and/or reappearing later when a slot or two opens up because of injuries.
Of the group, I think Drury could be top of the list if a spot were to open. His upside offensively might be a notch lower than a couple of the other players, but his game is the most mature at this juncture of their development. That makes him a bit safer but still with the potential to score. The wild card with him is that he is a natural center who projects to play that position at the NHL level versus moving to wing like so many young center prospects do. But again barring injuries, the center position is where team is most set. None of Aho, Trocheck or Staal would logically move from center, and the addition of Stepan makes the team intentionally four deep with veteran centers. An interesting move for me would be if Brind’Amour were to give Drury some shifts at wing on a line centered by one of the NHL centers in the preseason finale. Otherwise, it would be interesting to see if the team trusted him enough as a callup at center if an injury occurred or if the team would instead prefer to shuffle someone like Martinook or Kotkaniemi to the middle. Regardless of what happens in 2021-22, Drury projects well as a middle of the roster center who is solid in terms of two-way play but not without the ability to contribute offensively.
Rees maybe gains an advantage over the group by virtue of being a natural wing which is where the team has some possibility of seeking a bit more upside even without an opening caused by an injury. Rees reminds me a bit of Brock McGinn in the sense that he played an in your face style of game at lower levels like a power forward with an edge, but the question is whether that will translate to the NHL for a player who is 5 foot 11 inches tall and 172 pounds. McGinn made it work at 6 foot 0 inches tall and 187 pounds (currently though he was a bit lighter when he broke in if I remember correctly) by sticking to the every second tenacity as a core. Rees likely has a little bit on McGinn in terms of raw speed and also skill which makes him interesting as a player who can bring that level of tenacity but arguably a higher ceiling offensively.
Ryan Suzuki has matured since his first time in training camp. Whereas he seemed to have some good flashes but too much invisible as an 18-year old. He has been more consistently noticeable in preseason games and scrimmage type scenarios. But in terms of slotting him into the NHL lineup, he reminds me a bit of v1.0 or Martin Necas. He skates well enough to play at the NHL level and would be capable of making some plays with the puck on his stick, but his game is not as mature on the defensive side of the puck which is a challenging adjustment to the NHL level. Necas’ blossomed when he was freed of the read/react/sort things out responsibility of the center position such that he could just use his speed to to forecheck aggressively with someone else sorting things out behind him. While that route is possible for Suzuki, my hunch is that the team will at least initially let him develop as an offensive center at the AHL level.
From what I have seen, Jarvis probably has the highest ceiling of the group, and with his skill set I could see him shifting to wing to fill the need for more scoring there. The issue with him is that per NHL contract rules, he must either stay at the NHL level or be returned to his Canadian junior team, and once we returns to juniors, he cannot be recalled except for limited emergency situations (basically a ton of injuries). Further, if he does return to juniors after playing nine or fewer games at the NHL level, his entry-level contract will slide forward one more year giving the Hurricanes three more years on his entry-level deal. The value of having players like him mature to the point where he can be a productive NHLer versus ‘just learning’ has significant value in a salary cap world. Because of that there will be a strong bias toward letting him spend his last year in juniors to roll the contract forward. So the question is whether he can do something to make it impossible to send him back down. Best bet is that the Hurricanes do use the free trial to start the season, but send him back to juniors before burning a year of his contract. If that proves to be correct, the question will be if/how much NHL ice time he receives in the regular season games versus just getting a couple more weeks of practice and seeing how it works at the NHL level as a healthy extra.
How does it end?
Barring injury, I expect the Hurricanes to start the regular season with a veteran group. I think Seth Jarvis stays short-term simply because it is the only way to get him some amount of time above the junior level which is not the best challenge for his next steps development-wise. Per above, the question is if/how much ice time he gets in that stint and if he can ‘wow’ enough to make the team reconsider the nearly certain plan of sending him back to juniors.
Especially Drury and Rees made good enough impressions that the team should be fairly quick to give them a chance if an injury opens up a slot or if the team needs a spark. A sign that I might be wrong could be if either or both see ice time in the team’s preseason finale on Saturday playing wing on a line centered by an NHLer. But more likely one or both do see NHL ice time later after starting the season in the AHL.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you think any of the four young guns at forward have a chance to crack the opening day NHL lineup?
2) What, if any, impact do you think any of these players will have at the NHL level as the season progresses?
3) Which (can choose all :-)) of these players do you like most longer-term?