What a wonderful run of a couple days. Yesterday we had the Red-White scrimmage featuring a pretty complete set Hurricanes AHL and Canadian junior level prospects. Next we get a back-to-back set of preseason games on the road on Monday and Tuesday in Washington and then Tampa Bay.
The starting point is the lineup. Michael Smith from the Carolina Hurricanes noted the following in a Twitter post earlier today:
Nordstrom/JStaal/Tolchinsky, Bickell/McClement/Stalberg, Bishop/Roy/Gauthier, Zykov/Poturalski/Brown
Slavin/Faulk, Chelios/McKeown, Lowe/Robertson
Also per Michael Smith, Lack is expected to start and play 2 periods with Nedeljkovic playing the third period.
What I’m watching
1) Players trying to play their way into the NHL mix
Tonight’s lineup features a healthy helping of players that currently do not slot at the NHL level but could play their way into the mix.
Julien Gauthier: Physically, I think Gauthier is NHL ready. Likely he needs a bit more time to round out his game at lower levels, but with the Canes desperate for more scoring and also needing size, he has a unique, desired skill set that makes him one to watch.
Sergey Tolchinsky: He has done all he can do at the prospect level this summer leading the way in Traverse City and then earning my first star in yesterday’s Red-White scrimmage. I think he has placed himself at or near the top of the list of players not expected to start the season at the NHL level and now with momentum build will get a chance this week to push his way into consideration for the next level. He is sitting in a roster spot that probably belongs to Andrej Nestrasil once he rids himself of the yellow injury jersey and steps into the lineup, but for Tolchinsky it is not so much about winning the slot he is in but making a case that he is just too good offensively for scoring-challeneged team not to find a place for him somewhere.
Patrick Brown: He is arguably the least exciting of players who might push for an NHL roster slot. His strengths are not flair or scoring upside but rather pretty sound defensive play. In the very short round robin auditions at the NHL last March, I think he probably would have won the award for “most likely quietly step into a fourth line role and not be noticeable in a bad way.” With a solid camp and maybe an injury to an expected NHL player, he could be in the mix for a fourth-line slot.
Nicolas Roy: Coming off a strong 2015-16 junior season, some consider Roy to be a dark horse to compete or a 2016-17 NHL roster spot. My early read on him is that he is not quite there yet and needs to continue his development on the mobility front. But he will get 1 of possibly 2 chances tonight to show that he is ahead of schedule and NHL-ready.
Valentin Zykov: He had 1 really good power forward move to the net in Sunday’s scrimmage but overall did not stand above the crowd from my viewpoint. But I do think the maturity in his game showed in Traverse City and think he could claw his way into an NHL depth role especially if an additional roster spot or 2 opens up because of injuries.
Roland McKeown: The Hurricanes are deep and reasonably set if healthy on defense, but this is still a chance for Roland McKeown to make an impression, show what he can do at the NHL level and push his way up the depth chart for recall order in the event of an injury.
2) Complementing McClement
By both statistical measures and the eye test, Jay McClement and the fourth line struggled in 2015-16. I voted at the beginning of the summer to re-sign Riley Nash with the idea being that he might seize the C4 slot and push McClement to the press box. That obviously did not happen possibly partly because of the trade that brought another veteran in Bryan Bickell who might need to be pushed to #13.
Instead, Ron Francis chose to let Nash walk and sort of added Viktor Stalberg to replace him. Stalberg brings great mobility and hopefully defensive awareness and positioning. In my opinion, the trouble with McClement’s line was the non-working formula of a ‘switch only on’ heat seeking missile on the left side coupled with McClement’s lack of mobility. Too often an aggressive forecheck that was not fast enough led to a quick pass behind Gerbe, Malone, Gerbe or Terry and McClement struggling to defend speed coming at him through the middle of the ice. Very often the result was a a straight line rush through the middle of the ice to gain speed and force the Canes defensemen to back up. The result was easy entry to the offensive zone with puck possession and oftentimes a good scoring chance right off the bat.
So tonight is a first look at what could become the new fourth line. To be honest, I am not optimistic about the combination of Bickell/McClement/Stalberg. Bickell looks too much like the aggressive but not necessarily speedy or positionally sound forechecker like last year. Is Stalberg the missing piece to solidify a line with 2 players who are below average in terms of mobility in a league that is very much ‘skating above all else?’ We get a first look at that possibility tonight.
3) Jaccob Slavin/Justin Faulk
Justin Faulk was probably the Hurricanes best defenseman in the first half of the 2015-16 season especially on the offensive side of the puck with Faulk’s power play goal scoring surge. Jaccob Slavin made a really strong case for being the Hurricanes best defenseman down the stretch with Faulk out of the lineup due to an injury. At least to start training camp, they are united in what could be the Hurricanes top defense pairing both now and into the future. Despite both being ‘around’ in 2015-16, they logged minimal ice time together, so there is some figuring out and chemistry building to be accomplished in training camp as the duo prepares to take on the elite scorers of the NHL.
4) Early signs that Jordan Staal’s motor is revved up
When the Hurricanes were good in 2015-16, Jordan Staal was the team’s best player. He actually started slow and seemed to struggle through the sluggish October and November and the constantly changing line combinations to start the season. But some combination of a dose of power play time and Nordstrom and Nestrasil on his wings seemed to vault Jordan Staal’s game to a completely different level not seen before in a Hurricanes uniform. From early December until late February, he was incredibly good and the foundation of it was the raw power and speed in his skating stride. More than score sheet tallies, I will be watching Jordan Staal in preseason to see if he has that higher gear that makes him faster, stronger and better than the competition.
The puck drops at 7pm. From what I have seen fly across my computer screen, it looks like we get radio but importantly not actually on the radio. You have to get a PC or use the app. I have not had time to hunt anything down, but there is a chance that Twitter will yield a live video stream of the game. Check Twitter close to game time.