The Carolina Hurricanes will take to the ice at PNC Arena in Raleigh on Friday night for their third preseason game against the Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals.
The game is the last before the Charlotte Checkers camp opens on Monday and historically one that stills sees a heavy dose of AHL players getting their chance to make an impression for later.
So what jumps out about this game is the roster that looks pretty close to what the Hurricanes will ice on opening night.
Adam Gold from 99.9 The Fan had the following from the morning skate:
Never mind on the line up change…this is the group with Kuokkanen out. Foegele starts https://t.co/Bpk4VvP64j
— Adam Gold (@AGoldFan) September 21, 2018
Micheal Ferland who was on the original lineup sheet, as is Trevor van Riemsdyk and Scott Darling who is just rotating turns as would be expected in preseason. I think you could make a reasonable case that barring injuries this group of 20 with Darling swapped in for Nedeljkovic plus the three I mentioned will be the opening day roster of 23.
As such, my preview shifts to evaluating this group for building the opening night lineup.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Washington Capitals
1) Sebastian Aho with skill and scoring on his wings
Of all of the positives for Wednesday’s 6-1 win, Sebastian Aho was not one of them. He did not so much make bad plays, but he really did not do much in the way of good. As a player who strength is not so much making space for himself with speed and size, I think Aho’s game is best when he has a puck-moving partner like Teuvo Teravainen to interchange with. On Wednesday, Aho was flanked by two players who are more power forward/forge to the net types in Ferland and Maenalanen. The result was Aho running into dead ends with the puck too often without much for an option other than playing it to space.
Friday will see him with Svechnikov on the right side. Like Teravainen Svechnikov is a great receive/shoot option on his off side, but more significantly, he should help in terms of moving the puck.
So on Friday, I will be watching a few things with regard to Aho. First and most simply, does he have a better game that suggests he is on track for opening night? How does he look with Svechnikov on his wing, and am I right that more skill on the wing will boost Aho? Finally, how does a configuration with skill/puck handling on the right side and a crease crasher on the left look? This is the configuration that probably makes the most sense if/when he is reunited with Teravainen.
2) Lucas Wallmark as C4
Wallmark had a strong game on Tuesday with skill on his wings, but Friday might be a better read on how he is able to impact the fourth line. Flanked by two depth forwards with modest offensive ability in Martinook and Di Giuseppe, can Wallmark still help generate some offense? One of the Hurricanes Achilles’ heels for 2017-18 was a complete lack of scoring from the fourth line. Including today’s Daily Cup of Joe, I have been beating the drum for about a week now about NOT building another fourth line around a player like Martinook who is light on playmaking ability.
So I will be watching for another strong game from Wallmark but especially signs that he can boost modest line mates on a fourth line up to a reasonable level of depth scoring.
3) The blue line combinations
Brett Pesce is slated to make his preseason debut which is encouraging. The group also features six of the top seven on the depth chart and therefore a chance to see who meshes with whom. My starting point for building the blue line was my common refrain — “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So my leaning was to go with tried and true Slavin/Pesce and then de Haan/Hamilton. The team could still end up there, but Wednesday did offer a positive first impression on Slavin/Hamilton and de Haan/Faulk. It is only preseason, but Slavin/Hamilton had the look of a true first pairing defensive unit, and I think de Haan’s style that sits behind the play a little could be a decent complement for Faulk’s up ice play. Pesce entering into the mix on Friday also offers another option to be considered.
With Brind’Amour clearly shifting to regular season preparation, I think who plays with whom is more meaningful, so that is worth watching. I will also be watching to see which partners mesh or do not mesh well together.
4) Martin Necas
Largely because of the additional responsibilities of the center position, my early guess is that Martin Necas will face the most growing pains adjusting to the NHL level early on. Specifically, Necas tendency at transition points is to forecheck aggressively and deep into the offensive. There are times when he is legitimately the F1 on the puck, but he also has a tendency to do similar in situations where his responsibility should be to defend the neutral zone. He also just looks ‘loose’ in terms what he is doing/defending when is F3 in the neutral zone.
Important to note is that his start point is not abnormal. Also important is that from hearing Brind’Amour talk about Necas, he gets that his transition and development is a process. I also lean toward thinking that Necas development is such that he is okay learning on the job at the NHL level, but at the same time I think that is something to continually reassess.
So getting to the point, I continue to watch how quickly Necas can learn and adjust at the NHL level in terms of play defending the puck.
The puck drops at 7:30pm at PNC Arena!