On the one hand, the preseason schedule is only half over. On the other hand, a quick burst of three games in five days starting on Wednesday will finish things up pretty quickly.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe makes a list of work items to be completed in the remaining games.
1) Roster decisions
With improved depth and a few younger players trying to push above the NHL cut line, Rod Brind’Amour has some decisions to make in the coming week in terms of the opening day lineup. With van Riemsdyk seemingly still on the shelf, the team has room for one or even two more players past the five sure NHLers (Slavin, Pesce, Faulk, Hamilton, Gardiner). Though he could slide out of the lineup to #7, I think Fleury is a certainty to stick at the NHL level. The only way he leaves is via trade which is unlikely.
With Roland McKeown put on waivers on Monday hopefully to return to the AHL along with the group of AHL veterans, I think the players competing for the last spot that could slot at #6 or #7 is Jake Bean and Gustav Forsling. Best bet is that Forsling starts the season at the NHL level and Bean starts in the AHL to avoid having to send Forsling across waivers. But as long as Bean is in training camp, he has a chance to force the Canes brain trust to consider otherwise.
Probably the most interesting roster battle right now is for the final one or two forward slots. The Canes figure to have 11 certain NHL forwards (Aho, Niederreiter, Svechnikov, Teravainen, Staal, Dzingel, Haula, Foegele, McGinn, Wallmark, Martinook). That leaves room for one more in the lineup and possibly another as an extra. Heading into training camp, Martin Necas was the odds on favorite to win the last slot, but as of right now Julien Gauthier has played his way ahead of Necas. Clark Bishop does not have the scoring upside of the Necas or Gauthier, but he fits what Brind’Amour wants in a wing and has had a strong training camp too. If Necas comes on in the final three games, is it possible that both young guns stick at the NHL level and push a veteran into the #13 slot? Regardless, the battle for the last one or two forward slots is definitely worth watching over the final burst of three preseason games.
The goalie situation is interesting. I believe that the team mostly entered training camp with it being a foregone conclusion that James Reimer would enter the regular season as the NHL backup but with hopes that Nedeljkovic would garner some NHL starts down the road. Reimer playing well in preseason has helped that original plan, but at the same time Anton Forsberg and Alex Nedeljkovic have both played well in training camp too. I would still be surprised to see someone other than Reimer win the #2 slot at least for the start of the season. If that proves to be true, the big question is whether anyone claim sn
2) Special teams
This latter half of training camp is the time to tighten up special teams play heading into the regular season. The penalty kill work could be challenging simply because the team is not taking many penalties to offer up work. But I think there are enough key players still in tow to build out a capable penalty kill.
The bigger issue is the power play that struggled in 2018-19 but added a good number of new options including Jake Gardiner to man the point and capable scorers Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel. Rookies Martin Necas and/or Julien Gauthier could also add different elements if they stick at the NHL level. The power play is one thing that I think Brind’Amour will dedicate significant time to in practice and also put together specific groups for the preseason games.
3) Line combinations
Unless a young gun with higher scoring upside pushes someone out, I think the fourth line of Martinook/Wallmark/McGinn is likely to stick heading into the regular season. Who knows with the other three lines. Brind’Amour is incredibly patient with line combinations as far as NHL bench bosses go, so the current combinations could push forward into October. But if he has other options that he wants to see, he has three games to try them. As such, I will be watching the line combinations closely over the final three preseason games.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you have any other work items for the remaining preseason games?
2) Who do you think ultimately wins the open roster slots at forward and on defense?
3) Is there any chance we see a surprise on the opening day roster? (I would count Nedeljkovic, Forsberg, Bean or lower and any bubble forward not named Necas, Gauthier or Bishop as surprises.)