Coming off a 2-1 overtime win on Monday that started the NHL preseason off with a ‘W’ and ran the Carolina Hurricanes winning streak to 5 games counting the prospects’ impressive work in Traverse City, the Canes are right back on the ice tonight against Tampa Bay. As is common in the early stages of preseason, the lineup is actually completely different.
Carolina Hurricanes lineup for Tuesday night
In his preview on the team site, Michael Smith noted the following line combinations and defensive pairings:
At forward: Skinner/Lindholm/Stempniak, McGinn/Ryan/Di Giuseppe, Woods/Foegele/Sutter, Kuokkanen/Wallmark/Karlsson.
On defense: Hanifin/Murphy, Bean/Tennyson, Carrick/Pesce.
In net: Ward, Altshuller with the expectation that Ward will start but Altshuller will also play.
‘What I’m watching’
1) Jeff Skinner with Lee Stempniak
The first line on Tuesday is partly a result of who is available. Over the summer, Coach Bill Peters’ ‘before training camp’ inclination was to go with Victor Rask centering Jeff Skinner and Lee Stempniak and with Elias Lindholm and Teuvo Teravainen sharing center duties on a line that also included Sebastian Aho. Rask is practicing but being held back a little bit because of offseason surgery, and Teravainen and Aho are in town as of this weekend and practicing after returning from the World Cup but apparently are pushing to the weekend to see game action.
So Lindholm who is minus his 2 Finnish line mates joins Skinner and Stempniak who are minus their center. I would expect things to revert back to the original plan this weekend, but tonight’s combination is still worth a watch for 2 reasons. First, I am anxious to get a first impression of Skinner and Stempniak together and if they seem to find any early chemistry. Phil Di Giuseppe’s ability to match Skinner’s pace on the rush and bring enough offensive skill boosted Skinner’s play at the midway point of the 2015-16 season, but I think you could make a case that other than that Skinner has not really had line mates that significantly boosted his level of play since Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu. Skinner had a solid 28-goal season in 2015-16, but he clearly has another gear. I think it takes chemistry/complementary line mates to boost his and his line’s scoring chances to reach that higher level. Tonight will offer the first small indication of whether Lee Stempniak could foot the bill. Second, I think watching how Lindholm looks with the duo could be significant down the road. Again, I think things revert to plan A for the Friday and Saturday back to back, but last season Bill Peters was not even remotely hesitant to shuffle lines early and often seeking combinations that worked. If Lindholm looks good with Skinner and Stempniak tonight, it definitely gets noted and filed away for later.
2) Noah Hanifin/Ryan Murphy
Prior to training camp, I offered my best guess for who would play with whom at least to start training camp. Not surprisingly, that was mostly correct simply because the information had come straight from what Coach Bill Peters said over the course of the summer. The one thing that did not come to fruition is Hanifin being paired with Murphy instead of Pesce (who is with Carrick tonight). I really like the idea of pairing Hanifin and Murphy to start the season. They have familiarity from the early part of the 2015-16 and actually looked pretty good together despite their inexperience last fall ,and both are another season older, wiser and more experienced. The biggest thing for me is having patience with Noah Hanifin’s development and having him move up the lineup because he has proven ready not forced out of roster necessity regardless of readiness. When this duo was paired early last season, I was generally okay with their play but was still prone to grumble that I wanted them to play to their strengths and attack more. Noah Hanifin was making the jump as an 18-year old from NCAA hockey straight to the NHL, so some time to acclimate was reasonable. But while I do think it is important to monitor their play on the defensive side of the puck which maybe is not as much of a natural strength, I will also be watching closely to see if the duo uses its elite skating ability to push pace, pressure the opponents and generate offensive zone time and chances off the rush.
3) Try out time – Brock McGinn, Phil Di Giuseppe, Trevor Carrick, Warren Foegele and others
A significant collection of players in Tuesday’s game will be looking to make an impression in try outs of different varieties.
Warren Foegele: He would be an extreme dark horse to make the 2016-17 Hurricanes roster, but is very much playing for an entry-level NHL contract. He is expected to return to Kingston as an overage player, but I believe is also of age to jump to the AHL if it made more sense. Regardless, he is very much playing to become a more permanent part of the Hurricanes organization. In addition, he will be playing center after seeing more time at wing in Traverse City, so that is also worth watching.
Phil Di Giuseppe: I have taken to calling him “the forgotten man.” After a solid half season at the NHL level in 2015-16 and significantly fitting well with Jeff Skinner during his scoring outburst, he takes a back seat in many Hurricanes discussions to newcomer Teuvo Teravainen, still aiming to bust loose Elias Lindholm, newer prospects and just about everything else. My hunch is that he rates a bit higher in the coaches’ eyes based on his 2015-16 campaign, but he is still very much a player who must win a spot in the top 12-13 in training camp.
Brock McGinn: I gave him the first star in Sunday’s scrimmage that was primarily filled with AHL and lower level prospects. He easily earned an A for the introductory quiz, but the bigger test starts tonight. Can he carry momentum from Sunday, play well tonight and boost his standing in the competition for the last couple roster spots?
Trevor Carrick: He played with a noticeable physical edge on Sunday which is a positive. He is also in a tough spot in terms of winning NHL ice time. He was a mainstay on the top pairing for the Checkers last season, a regular leader in terms of ice time and even scoring despite being a defenseman and was an AHL all-star. On a Hurricanes team that is deep on defense, that basically puts him entering training camp slotted somewhere in the neighborhood of eighth through tenth on the Hurricanes blue line depth chart depending on how much credit you want to give Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown for potential despite just reaching the professional level. Barring injury, I think it would be very hard for Carrick to make the NHL roster even if he beats out Fleury, McKeown and other veteran AHL defensemen, but at a minimum the best thing he can do in terms of pushing up to the NHL level is to play well in preseason and clearly establish himself as an NHL-ready #8 who is ready for the call when injuries inevitably require depth on defense.
My lack of mention of other AHL-level players suggests that it is even more important for them to seize the limited opportunities that they will receive in preseason and make a strong impression.
4) First NHL-level impression of Jake Bean
For the blue depth reasons noted in Carrick’s assessment above and also because he needs to develop physically, it would be a true shocker if Jake Bean won an NHL roster spot this season. But it is still interesting to watch him tonight to see where he excels and maybe where he still needs work playing against competition that is at least in the neighborhood of the NHL.
5) Other tidbits
It looks as if Janne Kuokkanen might get a look at wing after a solid run of play in Traverse City and also in the scrimmage Sunday. I will be watching to see if his impressive play translates equally well to the wing and also how he stands up against a higher level of competition in his first preseason/NHL of any kind action. I will also be watching to see if Cam Ward can get off to the same sharp start that Eddie Lack did yesterday. I think that translation of preseason to regular season play for goalies is almost completely random, but because of how important I think goaltending will be this season, I will welcome even potentially false hope that both Lack and Ward are going to be ready to go out of the gate after not being ready last season and being a key contributor to the slow start.
The puck drops at 7:30pm. Early indications are that there will be no streaming video option tonight which means the only way to catch the game is through WRAL/ESPN radio (importantly) online only NOT actually on the radio.