If you are in the process of getting your digital Hurricanes hockey coverage in order leading up the start of the 2016-17 NHL season and want to have a source for midday game day lineup updates, @MSmithCanes is a must follow. He is the web producer for the Hurricanes and the best source for who is in the lineup and what the line/defense combinations were at the morning skate on game days.
Carolina Hurricanes lineup for Sunday night
Per Michael Smith, here is how the Hurricanes are expected to line up for tonight’s game in Minnesota (not in any kind of line order):
Leighton/Nedeljkovic (with both expected to see action)
What jumps out at first glance is that the lineup has less surefire NHL level players than Friday’s lineup. 5 of the 6 players (Di Giuseppe being the exception) players from Zykov/Poturalski/Tolchinsky and McGinn/Ryan/Di Giuseppe start below the NHL cut line but are trying to play their way up to the big club. The NHL-level part of the lineup is more from the bottom half of the roster.
‘What I’m watching’
Tonight’s lineup has a significant volume of players likely to play in the bottom half of the Hurricanes opening day roster and also few players who are trying to make an impression and be considered to displace someone currently slotted in the lineup. Individual players and some interesting combinations will be the greatest focus of my viewing (looks like video should be available on FOXSportsGo with a service provider log in) tonight.
1) AHL players trying push up into NHL mix
The lineup features 2 lines almost completely comprised (Di Giuseppe being the exeption) of players likely to start the season in the AHL but currently trying to push up into the NHL mix.
Sergey Tolchinsky played his way to the top of the younger prospect group in Traverse City and the Red-White scrimmage, but he has yet to have a statement game against NHL competition. I continue to like the well-rounded play of Valentin Zykov and think he could be a dark horse to sneak onto the bottom part of the roster especially if an injury or 2 opens up a spot. Thus far, he has shown a good mix of 2-way play, offensive upside and physical readiness but probably needs a statement game to earn some ice time with other players likely to play in the NHL this season. Playing together, Brock McGinn and Derek Ryan are 2 other players who have played their way to the top of the AHL group but need to do something to play their way up above that level.
Even Phil Di Giuseppe who spent the second half of the 2015-16 season at the NHL level and played pretty well is a player who must impress to seize a roster spot.
With the preseason slate half over after this game and Bill Peters likely to shrink the roster and work quickly toward building his opening day lineup as this week pushes forward, it is go time for the AHLers trying to become NHLers.
2) Figuring out the fourth line
Entering training camp, my best guess for the opening night fourth line (assuming everyone was healthy) would have been Bickell or Di Giuseppe/McClement/Stalberg.
Raffi Torres big try out night: Tonight we will see McClement with Stalberg but with Torres on the wing. I continue to think that it is extremely unlikely that Torres will be able to match NHL speed and make the team, but this is exactly the slot in the lineup that would make sense if the Hurricanes were keeping him. Tonight’s game is probably the greatest chance that Torres will get to show that he should be considered for the NHL lineup. If he plays well and seems to fit well with this combination, his evaluation process probably gets extended. If he is ‘meh’ individually and/or does not look like a good fit for McClement/Stalberg, his try out could come quickly to an end.
McClement/Stalberg: Stalberg is likely to start on McClement’s line, so seeing how they look together is significant. Theoretically, I think Stalberg was added to provide speed and defensive acumen to solidify a fourth line that struggled in 2015-16. Tonight’s game is a test for that theory.
Bryan Bickell: He is also in the lineup though playing with Nordstrom and Nestrasil. Might he also see some shifts with McClement and Stalberg? Regardless, my preseason game 1 recap indicated that I thought he played well and made a positive impression in his first game in a Hurricanes uniform. Building on that game would be an early indication that he is on the path to a rebound with his new team.
Regardless, the majority of the players who are likely candidates to fill out the fourth line are in the lineup tonight and worth watching.
3) The blue line
On the defensive side of the roster, tonight’s lineup also presents some watch points. All of Noah Hanfin, Ryan Murphy and Matt Tennyson are likely to slot somewhere in the top 7 that stay for the start of the NHL season. Tonight’s morning skate has Hanifin and Tennyson playing together and Murphy expected to start the game next to Jaccob Slavin. Noah Hanifin is a near certainty to be in the opening day lineup, so watching how he looks playing with Tennyson (or Murphy if things change), how Murphy and Tennyson look individually and even who Peters/Smith choose to play with Hanifin could provide an indication of who is currently winning the try out for the #6 defense slot.
The puck drops at 6pm, and with a little bit of work it looks like live video will be available.