In the first home game of the preseason at PNC Arena in Raleigh tonight, the Hurricanes will look to push to 3-0 and 7-0 if you count the prospects tournament in Traverse City. But while they still feel good and build optimism, wins count for virtually nothing this time of year. Instead, it is about players getting up to speed and coaching staffs solidifying systems, line combinations and all of the other details that lead to wins.
Carolina Hurricanes lineup for preseason game #3
On Friday, the Hurricanes will ice a lineup that is very heavy on NHL-level players. Per Michael Smith from Hurricanes web site on Twitter, the morning skate lineup looked like:
Carrick/Tennyson (Note: Lineup sheet suggests that Slavin might actually be in Tennyson’s slot which could also affect pairings.)
What jumps out first is the volume of NHL-level players in the lineup tonight. About 75 percent of the lineup were NHL regulars in the second half of 2015-16 and Sebastian Aho who is a rookie is highly likely to make the NHL roster to start the 2016-17 season. The lineup is only Joakim Nordstrom and a little bit of line juggling away from being what could be considered the team’s top 3 lines right now.
‘What I’m watching
The middle stretch of the preseason schedule is the time with the greatest number of roster cuts and also the time when players below the cut line will get 1-2 chances to show that they should be further considered for the NHL roster. I wrote about the expected schedule for roster cuts earlier this week. And for my Daily Cup of Joe post today, I named 5 players who most need to make an impression this weekend. Only 1 of those 5 players is in the lineup tonight.
If Jordan Staal’s line can become the steady minute-eating line that it was for a stretch in 2015-16, I think this set set of 3 forwards (or whoever might swap places with them) is the most critical up front for the Hurricanes success. The Hurricanes need to score more. Lee Stempniak was arguably the greatest external offensive boost added to the lineup (could also make a case for wild card rookie Sebastian Aho), and Jeff Skinner is arguably the returning roster player with the greatest potential to find a higher gear and drive the team’s scoring upward.
The early returns were good on Tuesday when Lee Stempniak found Jeff Skinner in close to provide a bang-bang goal. Rask enters the mix today after sitting out with Lindholm in his place on Tuesday. Most significant for me is watching if Skinner and Stempniak seem to have early chemistry and if it looks like Stempniak might be part of the equation for increasing the number of good scoring chances that Jeff Skinner sees per game.
2) Brett Pesce partner search
Out of all of the moving parts and various options on the Hurricanes blue line right now, I really think Brett Pesce could be the one to watch. He settled nicely into a top 4 slot last season, but at least a part of that was out of the box chemistry and cohesiveness with defense partner and mentor John-Michael Liles. The 2015-16 showed that least in 1 scenario, Pesce was capable of being a solid if not spectacular top 4 defenseman. Important to note is that was an ‘actually happened’ not a ‘someday’ or ‘in a couple years’ projection. Liles is obviously gone which leaves Pesce looking for a new partner. Could another steady veteran like Hainsey provide the same predictability and steadiness as Liles allowing Pesce to pick up right where he left off? Might it make sense to go with the familiar in Hainsey/Faulk and pair Pesce with Slavin? Or could Noah Hanifin be ready after a full season in the NHL and an offseason to digest it to step up from the bottom pairing to the top 4.
I am not sure how this ultimately works out, but I vote strongly for 2 things throughout preseason:
1) Invest Pesce’s ice time exploring potential partners NOT ushering AHL players around.
2) Get him some ice time with Ron Hainsey who is probably the closest to a John-Michael Liles proxy on the current roster. (This was part of my ‘If I was Bill Peters…’ post.) I am not certain that the combination will click, but it is worth considering.
So tonight, Ron Hainsey will be in the lineup. Rather than spending Hainsey’s ice time with Faulk who he has already played with a bunch, I would rather see at least some Hainsey with Pesce. Also, it is unclear if perhaps Jaccob Slavin will be in the lineup. (Michael Smith’s Twitter post did not have him in the lineup, but I have seen a paper copy of the lineup that does.) Slavin/Pesce is another combination possibly worth exploring.
3) First look at Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen with Elias Lindholm
Friday’s tilt against Tampa Bay also presents the first chance to see 2 new Hurricanes in NHL action. Rookie Sebastian Aho is easily the most heralded young gun with the potential (and high likelihood) to enter the NHL lineup this season. Teuvo Teravainen brings another young but already experienced skill player to the Hurricanes lineup. The average age of this line is less than 21 years old. The average draft position of the line is #19 overall. There is a plenty of potential and skill. But are the 2 experienced NHLers (Lindholm and Teravainen) ready to find a higher gear? Is Sebastian Aho so talented that he can seamlessly step into the NHL without losing a beat from his solid 2015-16 season? Can the trio find chemistry and lift each other up? Those questions will not be answered in finality in a single preseason game, tonight’s game does offer the first read on the situation.
The puck drops at 7:30pm at PNC Arena. Who is tailgating already?