For yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe, I took a shot at playing Hurricanes coach Bill Peters coming fresh off a 3-day look (including the Red-White scrimmage) at preseason game action. You can read that in full HERE if you missed it.
Today in the first practice following the 2-game road trip, we got the first glimpse at where Bill Peters head is. I attended (most of) both of the practices today and wrote that up HERE.
Mashing the 2 together, you get this (My suggestions followed by what Peters did today in practice):
1-Try Kris Versteeg across from Jeff Skinner. Check. Not sure if it will make it to the preseason games this weekend, that line combination did happen at practice today.
2-Consider building a prototypical Eric Staal line from years past (Staal centering a playmaking LW and power forward RW). No check. Eric Staal was still at left wing on a line with Jordan.
3-Get Derek Ryan a trial with NHL forwards. Check. He was 1 of 2 players on 2-way deals (not counting Rask and Lindholm) who played with the NHL group today. (Brendan Woods was the other.)
4-Get Chris Terry a shot with a scoring line. No check. He was with the NHL group but did not get boosted up for a trial higher up.
5-Give Sergey Tolchinsky a shot. No check. He will likely still be with the big club and see ice time on Friday and/or Saturday, but in terms of practice, he is skating with the AHL group so far.
6-Try Riley Nash at right wing. No check. I think this goes in lockstep with moving Eric Staal back to center. Today Eric Staal was still at wing, and Riley Nash was still at center.
It is still baseball season, so 2 out of 6 for .333 makes me a hall-of-famer. 🙂
Things might actually be more complicated on defense because there are some things that cross the boundaries of Coach Bill Peters and general manager Ron Francis.
For me, it is like this:
1) Above all else, do no harm…to Justin Faulk. As good as Justin Faulk is for a 23-year old defenseman, I think it is incredibly important not to lose track of his development as a player. He has 1 more level yet to be reached, and it is important not to derail that by assuming it as a given and focusing too much on the youngsters coming up behind him. Bill Peters (and Steve Smith) need to decide who to pair Faulk with. My vote is to give him a safe, sound, predictable Ron Hainsey to start the season. If 1 of the young players settles in and is ready at some point to be a decent top 4 defenseman, then he can move up. Until then, I give Justin Faulk the goal of becoming an 82-game consistent #1 NHL defenseman, and I give him the support to do it. I do NOT task him trying to pull a player with no NHL experience in a top pairing role. That was the pairing today, so my hunch is that Peters is on the same page.
2) Get the inexperienced, high-pedigree kids a TON of ice time in preseason to learn quickly and also be able to measure where they are. With 2 games this weekend and then another gap, I would not be surprised to see some of Noah Hanifin, Haydn Fleury, Jaccob Slavin and Ryan Murphy play both games. 1 if not 2 of those players will be opening night starters. Peters needs to figure out which one(s) pretty quickly.
3) (More for Ron Francis) Evaluate and rank the older prospects – Keegan Lowe, Danny Biega, Rasmus Rissanen and to some degree Ryan Murphy. The Hurricanes are a bit crunched for openings on defense between Raleigh and Charlotte. They also have a number of very good defense prospects 18-21 years old. I think Francis needs to assess whether any of these players project to be at least NHL depth defensemen pretty soon. If not, I think we could see 1-2 of these players traded (Dennis Robertson already left in Versteeg deal) by the middle of the season in exchange for a similar age/quality forward.
4) (More for Ron Francis) Assess Ryan Murphy. Because of his high pedigree (first-rounder), elite skating ability and still young age at 21, I think he is at a crossroads. Francis needs to decide if he thinks Murphy can be at least a real good offensive/power play-capable #5/#6 defenseman. If so, he could slot at the NHL this season and ideally start to settle in/excel in this kind of role. If Francis instead decides that he is unlikely to fit, a game undercover GMing likely ensues. If this is the case, it might actually make sense to showcase him in favorable situations (nice matchups, power play time, etc.) at the start of the season to boost his value a bit and then trade him for a comparable age/quality forward. The last thing the team wants to do is see him heading off to Charlotte on a down note and then take on a smaller role there too. It would jettison his trade value. This could be interesting to watch. We could actually see a weird situation where Murphy struggles but seems to almost get rewarded for it.
5) Look for chemistry and comfort level for Noah Hanifin, Haydn Fleury, Jaccob Slavin and whoever else might stick at the NHL level. Especially if Peters goes with veterans for the top 4, it becomes important to find a third pairing of kids (including Michal Jordan) that seem to click.
The Canes are off Thursday, but it will be interesting to see what the team does with ice time in the back-to-back set this weekend.