Yes I realize that the graphic on front page is inaccurate, but I spent something like 8 minutes of my high-end graphic design skills creating that in PowerPoint, so I am using it twice. : -)
Also for those looking for a practice report, please check Twitter for a few quick thoughts. I will post a more detailed recap once I get to the weekend. (The blog below was mostly written Thursday night to be posted today.)
On Thursday night, I posted Part 1 of “What I’m watching” as a training camp preview. That covered the forwards. You can read that HERE.
With part 2 focusing on the defense, here is “What I’m watching” out of the gate and through the 1st 3-6 days of training camp:
1) Justin Faulk. Maybe not so much in the 1st few days but in preseason play especially closer to the start of camp, does he look sharp? As fast as he has developed and as good as he has been already in his young career, the start of the season has been hit or miss for him. In his rookie season of 2011-12, he was lights out in training camp and seized a roster spot ahead of schedule. But he struggled out of the gate in the regular season and ultimately had to use a bit of a restart in Charlotte before returning to the NHL and finishing strong. The Canes immediate collapse to start the 2014-15 season had many causes, but Justin Faulk struggled and was an accomplice, not a victim. Especially as camp wears on, I will be watching to see if Justin Faulk is rounding into form on time to start the season.
2) Bill Peters’ pairing approach – mentor/apprentice or sink or swim. The Canes have 4 veteran defensemen in Justin Faulk, Ron Hainsey, John-Michael Liles and James Wisniewski. A number of other players have some NHL experience with Michal Jordan and Ryan Murphy topping the list, but I would not consider any past the 1st 4 to be proven veterans. Will Coach Bill Peters build a top 4 from the veterans and go with an inexperienced 3rd pair? Or will he pair youth with experience on both of the bottom 2 pairs?
3) Noah Hanifin. Noah Hanifin enters training camp as a big, smooth-skating kid with an absolute ton of NHL potential. He also enters this season with exactly zero hockey experience at any level higher than college. I am anxious to get a 1st read on where he stands right now. It is not so much that exactly where he is now impacts his ultimate potential, but it will provide a read on where on the spectrum of “still just learning” versus “ready to help in 2015-16” he is.
4) Haydn Fleury. The measuring stick is a bit hazy until he gets on the ice against NHL players in preseason games, but early indications are that he is much closer to being NHL ready. He looked more confident and assertive with the puck in prospect camp in July. And last week in Traverse City, he led the Canes prospects with 6 assists and a plus 5. All indications are that he enters the 2015 training camp improved from 2014. The question is how much and if it is enough to push for an NHL roster spot.
5) Ryan Murphy. I think right now is his time, and with the pack of young defensemen on his heels that he needs to capitalize. He has a good mix of NHL and AHL experience over 2 years and enough back-and-forths to work on rounding out his game. If he does not seem pretty close into playing his way into a regular roster spot (good offensive #5/#6 defenseman who is adequate defensively would be enough), he could become a trade asset to help the Canes balance its prospect pool across forwards and defense.
6) How do they react to NHL speed? The Canes have a bigger group of highly touted young blue liners in Noah Hanifin, Haydn Fleury, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin and Trevor Carrick. All of these players come with high ratings and seem to project as someday NHL players, but of the group only Trevor Carrick has even played at the AHL level (not counting handful of late season games). The biggest thing for me in terms of evaluating whether a player is ready to make the jump is seeing how they react to the NHL speed and pressure and if they can maintain their poise when they are in something faster than they are used to. From this group, I think whoever can handle and play at NHL speed will jump up the depth chart.
7) James Wisniewski. One of my themes this summer is repeatedly saying that I think more offense from the forwards comes not just from the forwards themselves but also significantly from having a blue line that can better move and distribute the puck to create more chances off the rush and just more chances overall. James Wisniewski is a big part of this as a veteran puck-moving defenseman, so I am eager to get a 1st look at him in a Canes uniform and see what impact he has offensively.
What will you be watching on the blue line at the start of training camp?