In the past 24 hours 3 things have occurred with the end result being the finalization of the Canes opening night roster barring any strange practice injuries. First, the Canes got out of Friday’s preseason finale without any new injuries, so no new roster spots were opened. Second, Ron Hainsey took the ice for practice today in his regular slot alongside Justin Faulk which would suggest he was on track to play next Wednesday in Nashville. And the those two things sorted out, the Canes made a final round of cuts sending Brock McGinn, Derek Ryan, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin to Charlotte and sending Haydn Fleury to his Canadian junior team, the Red Deer Rebels (as a 19-year old Canadian junior player he is not eligible to go to Charlotte per NHL/CBA rules).
The result is a final roster of 20 plus 1 extra on defense and at forward. Per Friday’s lineup and what we have seen thus far, the current version of the team lines up like this:
Kris Versteeg – Eric Staal – Elias Lindholm
Nathan Gerbe – Jordan Staal – Riley Nash
Jeff Skinner – Victor Rask – Chris Terry
Andrej Nestrasil – Jay McClement – Joakim Nordstrom
I think Malone will see games when an old school policeman is called for and will get the chance to keep that ice time based on his play and offensive contribution. Joakim Nordstrom has the chance to cement his role in the lineup by being 1 of the team’s best penalty killers at forward, otherwise he also gets thrown into the rotation. Players like Chris Terry and Andrej Nestrasil could also swap in/out of the lineup based on who is playing well and what type of skill set is most needed.
The 7 players are set on defense, but who exactly is in the lineup at the bottom is also up in the air and could see a mix. The blue line sets up as:
Ron Hainsey – Justin Faulk
John-Michael Liles – James Wisniewski
Noah Hanifin – Ryan Murphy or Michal Jordan
It is hard to say which way Peters will go with Jordan and Murphy, as both have different claims to ice time. Michal Jordan was pretty solid filling in next to Justin Faulk in a top pair role against a powerful Penguins offense. He is probably the safer, sounder option to give Hanifin a bit more of a backstop as he plays his first real NHL games. Murphy has had a pretty good training camp, shown some chemistry with Hanifin and probably seen the most ice time with him. The duo was good together last weekend and represents a push to build a third pair that can push pace and create offense. It will be interesting to see who wins this slot for opening night, but more out of curiosity than finality. I would expect both players to get ice time and possibly even for Hanifin to get a night off here and there with the goal of managing his minutes a bit in his first round of the long NHL season.
In net, Peters announced last night that Cam Ward would get the opening night start in Nashville and was non-commital past that using the word “competition.” I would expect Eddie Lack to draw into the season fairly quickly and that ice time after that will be awarded based on performance.
About the cuts:
When neither Derek Ryan nor Brock McGinn were in Friday’s lineup after also sitting out Wednesday the writing was on the wall as to the final forward cuts. If they were going to stay, it was going to take a big outing on Friday, so when they did not get the chance, it was clear that Bill Peters had already pushed forward without them.
But both players boosted their chances for the future.
–Derek Ryan simply lost out to a numbers game at his position. With Eric Staal back at center (for now), the Canes are actually 5 deep with centers who are all assured to be at the NHL level if healthy. In my most recent blog about the roster finalization, I said that it would take a Friday start at right wing to convince me that he was still truly in the mix. But he did establish himself as a decent option as an offense-oriented center who seemed capable of adapting from the European game to the NHL. This sets him up to be called up if the Canes have injuries at center, and there is an outside chance that it sets him up to play some minutes at wing to see if he could make that move.
–Brock McGinn. He played his way to the top of the forward depth chart in the system which is logically where he should be based on his age, draft pedigree and ranking in the system. Ultimately, he did not make the cut, but he too seems positioned pretty well to see NHL games this season if injuries or the desire to add a bit more sand paper to the lineup make room.
–Jaccob Slavin. He had a great training camp. If at the beginning of camp someone had written his 3-week script to be what it is, I think everyone in the Canes organization would have been thrilled. He came into camp with promise but no experience past US college hockey. Even with a rough last outing trying to be a first pairing NHL defenseman (a REAL tall task for anyone) against the Washington Capitals, his stock has risen from a pretty high level to start the summer. As a 20-year old, he projects real nicely to require time in Charlotte to tighten up his game and work on some things, but he projects to be an NHL defenseman in 1-3 years.
–Haydn Fleury. He too had a good summer despite ultimately being destined to spend another season in juniors. Last summer, my impression of him was that of a big kid who could skate but was nowhere near polished enough to play NHL hockey yet. He looked good against players his age but not dominant. This summer in the Canes prospect camp and Traverse City tournament, he was head and shoulders above similar age competition. He was significantly improved in terms of moving and distributing the puck. He was still a big kid who could skate but added a significant layer of hockey ability and skill. Ultimately, his preseason ended a bit like Jaccob Slavin’s when he was exposed an inexperienced young player who needed some work by John Tavares and the Isles’ best. But this did not diminish the progress that he has made since last summer. In some ways, this might be the best thing for the Hurricanes organization. It pushes at least 1 contract out 4 years until renewal (Hanifin, Slavin and Pesce are all 3 years out), helps make the numbers work in terms of number of slots versus number of players for the NHL and AHL and gives him another season to mature.
–Brett Pesce. Of all of the young defenseman, I think he is the one who moved up the most relative to his expectations coming into training camp. Part of that was because the expectations were incredibly high for Noah Hanifin and to some degree Haydn Fleury, but part of it was simply that he had a phenomenal training camp. Of the defensemen who were part of the last cut, I think he is the only 1 who lost out to a numbers game not the results of his last game being up to the NHL level. Playing with John-Michael Liles against the Caps, I thought he looked pretty good early and just got better as he settled into the game. My comments after the game were that I would not feel that uncomfortable playing him in that slot if James Wisniewski (out with a groin injury at the time) was ready for the season opener. He was that good. What stands out about his game is how good he is at keeping things simple and his poise under pressure when plan A did not work out. Out of all of the young defensemen, including Noah Hanifin and Ryan Murphy who made the team, I think he is the farthest around right now in terms of playing tight, sound hockey with the lowest volume of miscues. Based on this, I would right now call him the frontrunner to someday win a #3 or #4 defense slot on the right side of the second pairing sitting right behind Justin Faulk.
With today’s cuts, things turn to trying to work out any kinks (power play being one) and get ready for real hockey in only 4 days.