With game 5 of 6 on the preseason slate completed and only 5 days until final rosters must be submitted, the Hurricanes coaching staff should be in the final stages of figuring out who makes the team and who plays with whom. Head Coach Bill Peters said as much after Wednesday’s 4-3 win on Wednesday.
So here is my shot at guessing how it all shakes out:
At forward, Eric Staal, Kris Versteeg, Elias Lindholm, Jordan Staal, Nathan Gerbe, Riley Nash, Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask and Jay McClement have always been near certainties to be in the opening night lineup if healthy. That makes 9.
By virtue of the their 1-way contracts and NHL experience, I think Andrej Nestrasil, Brad Malone and Chris Terry are also certain to be on the roster, but I think there is a decent chance that 1 or less likely even 2 of these players could fall to the #13 and #14 slots on the roster but not in the lineup.
That leaves Derek Ryan, Brock McGinn and Joakim Nordstrom fighting for a lone roster spot. I handicap it like this:
–Derek Ryan. He is a historically a center and has not moved from that position during preseason. But along the way, he has a track record as a playmaker (which I continue to think the Canes need more of) and has shown offensive ability thus far in training camp. But the Canes are at least 4 if not 5 deep at center, so I think he is an odd man out despite impressing simply because of position.
=>It seems unlikely, but if by chance Bill Peters tries him at right win in Friday’s preseason finale, I definitely move to the edge of my seat to watch it.
–Joakim Nordstrom. He is the frontrunner to stick with the big club. He fits nicely as a speedier winger to play next to Jay McClement, is solid all-around and can also kill penalties. If you think back to the second half of 2014-15, the Malone/McClement/Dwyer line was a very solid fourth line that filled 2 penalty kill slots and also produced decent secondary scoring in limited minutes. The more I watch Nordstrom, the more I think he is a younger clone of Patrick Dwyer who plays a safe and sound game, skates real well and is limited offensively.
=>I think the last forward roster spot is his to lose, and I also think that if he wins it he actually pushes into the lineup pushing 1 of Chris Terry, Brad Malone or Andrej Nestrasil out.
–Brock McGinn. But Brock McGinn is the wild card. The Canes would love to add some sandpaper and difficulty to play against. The bigger bodies from Charlotte who were capable of providing this (Brody Sutter and Brendan Woods) got an extra look, but ultimately did not make it. McGinn does not bring as much size, but he does have that rough and tumble style with a side of sandpaper and playing like his hair is on fire. And importantly, he actually brings scoring upside.
=>McGinn has likely played his way to a 1-game trial on Friday. “A decent game” will lead to a default to Nordstrom, but if McGinn can post a game where he clearly stands out and offers a physical/intensity level option that the Canes want in their lineup, then maybe he rises up.
Projecting lines is still very difficult. After a very good 2-game trip to Canada last weekend resulted in a complete reshuffling on Monday, it instantly became real difficult to project a logical path from there.
On defense, I think we are only a solid Friday outing from Ryan Murphy away from nailing down the defense. After a phenomenal summer, Haydn Fleury was outed as a good young player who still has a way to go. The same thing happened to Jaccob Slavin last night versus the Capitals. Brett Pesce emerges somewhat unscathed which could make him the first call up from Charlotte, but I think ultimately it takes an injury even to make room for him.
If the team gets healthy, I feel pretty confident projecting:
Ron Hainsey / Justin Faulk
John-Michael Liles / James Wisniewski
Noah Hanifin / Ryan Murphy or Michal Jordan
In goal, a strong outing by Cam Ward on Friday would end camp with Lack with a modest edge in preseason play by virtue of Ward’s rough first start, but I am not sure the margin is big enough that it means much. More likely I think the two goalies split the first 2 starts with performance deciding what happens next.
If Cam Ward does open the season as the starter, it will be the 10-year anniversary of him being the #1 entering the season. (He started the home opener and was #1 for part of the year in 2005-06 but only after Martin Gerber was injured in the first game of the season on the road.) With huge uncertainty for next year, I am torn on whether I would rather see him get the first start or lead the team out onto the ice for the home opener which is the only way my 10-year old sons think this happens.
=>Longer-term, I think Peters will very much go with the best chance to win in net once things get going without much regard to history.
With that, who wants to take a shot at line combinations? 🙂
Is there any chance that we see a surprise position shift to try to make it work? Derek Ryan to right wing would surprise me a bit but makes some sense?
After working his way right up to the edge of an NHL roster spot, will Brock McGinn make a statement that cannot be ignored on Friday?
Will Ryan Murphy seize a defense slot or leave the door open to go safer with Michal Jordan or even crazier going full future and pairing Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce to how it goes?
The questions are still many, but the resolution is coming real soon. We are not inside of a week until real Hurricanes hockey!