Yesterday the Carolina Hurricanes announced that the team had returned Rasmus Rissanen to Charlotte. Today the Hurricanes announced that the team had recalled Brett Pesce from Charlotte.
I will spare everyone another rant on why I am so amped up about Brett Pesce and his potential to be ready for an NHL role.
For anyone who is checking in late…
Since James Wisniewski was injured in the season opener on October 8, we have seen Danny Biega, Brett Pesce and Rasmus Rissanen recalled from and then returned to Charlotte before this latest recall of Brett Pesce. None have actually played for the Hurricanes.
So what is going on?
Pecking order entering the regular season
The Hurricanes entered the season with 6 regular defensemen and Michal Jordan as the seventh and substitute to travel with the team. Jordan was more or less assured an NHL roster spot when Ron Francis committed by signing him to a 1-way (only NHL salary) contract this summer. Jordan could still be sent to Charlotte, but the Canes would still have to pay his full NHL salary (and he would need to clear waivers). This is different from players on 2-way contracts who have a separate NHL salary (usually $600,000 range) and AHL salary (usually $60,000-$180,000 range). In addition to that, I think you can make a strong case that Michal Jordan legitimately earned his #7 slot based on his play at the end of preseason including a game when he stepped into the top pairing role next to Justin Faulk and had a pretty solid game doing so.
Wisniewski injury creates a need for another defensemen
Then when Wisniewski was injured, Jordan jumped up into the top 6. This also created the need to add #7 defenseman from Charlotte. Normally only 6 defensemen play, so this role puts a player on the NHL roster and traveling with the team in case of emergency (someone comes up sick with the flu, gets injured in warm ups, etc.) but this #7 defenseman is mostly targeted to sit in the press box and watch the game except in the case of emergency.
Two categories of Canes prospects
At a very basic level, the Carolina Hurricanes have 2 kinds of defense prospects. The first is a group of older, veteran prospects who have logged significant time in the AHL. This group includes Danny Biega, Keegan Lowe and Rasmus Rissanen. While any player could benefit from more playing time at the AHL as compared to sitting in the press box watching a game, it is not as big of a deal with these players. Of the group, Lowe is the low man with 121 games of AHL experience, so with this group playing versus missing an AHL game or 2 is not a big deal.
The second group of Canes prospects are younger players, most of whom are just starting to collect experience at the AHL level. This group includes Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Tyler Ganly and to a lesser degree Trevor Carrick. These players should benefit from getting as much AHL ice time as possible. As such, it is not ideal to have any of the recalled to the NHL level if they are not going to actually play. If the call up is most likely destined for the press box, it is better to recall 1 of the older prospects.
So how does this explain the Hurricanes call ups so far?
When James Wisniewski was initially injured, it made sense that Michal Jordan would be the first player to get a shot filling in for Wisniewski. He was next in line, signed to a contract for exactly this role and also earned his chance in preseason. So when the Canes went for the first call up, it was reasonably certain that this first call up was going to warm up and be ready in case of last minute emergency but in all probability was destined for the press box.
Danny Biega was called up (10/9) in time for the Canes second game and then immediately returned to Charlotte after the game (10/10). Why not just keep him longer term? The reason was because Charlotte actually had a game the next day (10/11) while the Canes were off for a few days. So returning Biega to Charlotte got him back into a game there.
The Hurricanes then risked it in not recalling a defenseman for the third game against Florida on 10/13. With the Checkers home in Charlotte and this game in Raleigh, I think the thinking was that if something happened Tuesday morning, the Canes could quickly get a player on the way to arrive in time for the game.
Next the Hurricanes went on the road for 2 games and recalled Brett Pesce. Going against what I said above, Pesce did not play in either game. As 1 of the players lacking AHL experience, it would seemingly have made more sense to recall 1 of the older D prospects to just sit in the press box.
Though I will never get confirmation, what I am pretty sure happened is that Pesce was recalled with a reasonable chance of playing at least 1 of the 2 back-to-back games. When the Canes won the first game in convincing fashion, I think Coach Bill Peters took the default and just kept the lineup the same.
Pesce was then returned to Charlotte.
In time for Wednesday’s game, the Hurricanes next recalled Rasmus Rissanen who was another from the group of older prospects who would not benefit as much from AHL ice time. Rissanen sat in the press box as a healthy extra/#7 defenseman.
Why is this second Brett Pesce recall any different?
Then Rissanen was returned to Charlotte and Pesce recalled for the second time. Though it looks like a random revolving door of AHL defensemen recalled to the NHL only to take turns sitting in the press box, my hunch is that this time is different. Michal Jordan is now 5 games into trying to fill Wisniewski’s slot. In general, he has struggled, and in my opinion, his play in Wednesday’s 1-0 win was his worst of the 5 games. I said on Twitter during the game that this could be the game that forced Ron Francis’ hand in terms of the blue line.
My strong hunch is that Brett Pesce was recalled with the plan to play him at least 1 of the 2 games this weekend.
Why is this a pivotal moment for Ron Francis and the Canes 2015-16 season?
Unless things turn suddenly, I do not see Michal Jordan as a capable replacement for Wisniewski. I am not sure that right shot Ryan Murphy who is playing in the third defense pair with Noah Hanifin is a good option either. Enter Brett Pesce. He finished preseason by playing in the same Wisniewski slot next to Liles that he could step into on Friday. And against an NHL roster, he actually looked pretty solid and comfortable in that role. So I think Francis gives Pesce a game-by-game look in this role, and if that does not work he will need to look outside of the players currently available in the Hurricanes system.
So if nothing else, this weekend’s back-to-back games could bring a bit of drama in terms of sorting out the roster for the 2015-16 season and even beyond.