Earlier this week, I wrote about 2 Hurricanes preseason developments that were the most intriguing to me. With the lineup for tonight’s Hockeyville USA game, we will get to see exactly neither of those in action. The first featured a power play adjustment that I believe will center on Justin Faulk who is not in the lineup. That situation would actually be even more interesting if it turns out the tweaked power play alignment was not just hitched to Faulk’s ice time. The other situation I am watching featured at least the potential that Bill Peters was looking at other centers to possibly build a fourth line not centered by Jay McClement. Tonight’s lineup moves Joakim Nordstrom back where he is expected to be on a line with Jordan Staal and Andrej Nestrasil. On that front, there is a chance that Derek Ryan could play his way up into consideration with a strong game, but tonight’s lineup does not see Peters tinkering at the center position with players who are more certain to be in the opening night lineup. Both of those things could be on the slate for Wednesday’s rematch against the Sabres in Buffalo.
Per Hurricanes web site producer Michael Smith’s report from the morning skate, the Hurricanes lineup is expected to be as follows:
‘What I’m watching’
1) NHL combinations for readiness
With the Skinner/Rask combination (with Stempniak) playing up into the top 6 and first scoring line after being the third line in 2015-16 and the Nordic kids line inexperienced and probably still figuring it out early, Bill Peters is going to lean on the Nordstrom/JStaal/Nestrasil line heavily for stability. This trio really needs to play its strong December-February brand of top-end hockey right out of the gate without time to work up to it for the Hurricanes to get off to a strong start. We are 9 days from the season opener in Winnipeg, so now would be as good of a time as any to show some crispness and play like they are very close to regular season speed.
Tuesday’s lineup also features 2 defense pairings that could see the ice together in the regular season. Hanifin/Murphy logged a good number of games together at the start of the 2015-16 season and looked respectable especially when you consider Murphy’s relative inexperience and the fact that Hanifin was making the big leap straight from NCAA hockey to the NHL. The duo does need to hold its own defensively, but hopefully with an increasing comfort level, I would also hope to see this pairing play to its strength which is skating and pushing the puck up the ice with pace. Hainsey/Pesce will also be paired. Despite being in the lineup together most of the 2015-16 season, they saw minimal ice time together. Pesce was paired almost exclusively with Liles before he was traded and then spent most of the rest of the season with Hanifin. Hainsey played with Faulk early, with Slavin some after that and also had a short run with Murphy. Conceptually, I like this pairing’s potential to look similar to the Liles/Pesce pairing from last year. Hainsey brings the same veteran presence in the form of a sound defensive player. I will be watching closely to see how this pairing looks tonight.
2) Pre-cut try outs
The lineup also features groups of players who started training camp below the NHL cut line and could be playing to stay above it at least for the next round of cuts certain to happen during the transition from 2 road games to a return home to Raleigh. While I think they are all on the outside looking in, I think all of Brock McGinn, Derek Ryan, Valentin Zykov and Patrick Brown are likely to survive the next round of cuts along with Matt Tennyson and Phil Di Giuseppe who is the only other high probability opening day forward in tonight’s lineup. I think players including Andrew Poturalski, Brendan Woods, Brody Sutter and Keegan Lowe could be playing decide if they get a longer look in Raleigh or instead are on the next bus to Charlotte.
As an aside, I think it is both interesting and curious that Phil Di Giuseppe has seen the vast majority of his ice time with players likely to fall below the NHL cut line. I would have expected him to see shifts with McClement/Stalberg or possibly even put into the mix with the Nordic kids.
3) Julien Gauthier
Coming into training camp, I had him as a wild card whose unique skill set could help propel him into the lineup mix for 2016-17 at least for the 9-game NHL try that does not burn the first year of his entry-level contract. Important to note is that he has played in only 1 preseason game which was his first at the NHL level, so it is possible that he takes a big step up after shaking off any jitters. But based on that lone game to evaluate him, I would say that Gauthier is in fact physically ready but probably still has work to do to ready his all-around game for the NHL. In his debut, he had a couple of the strong power forward type moves with the puck on his stick that made him a first round draft pick. But he also had stretches of quiet. It was not so much that Gauthier played poorly or made mistakes. Rather, it was that he was not regularly enough engaged and making the volume of small plays that one would hope for. Tonight represents a chance to push his game up to another level after gaining some comfort in the first game and making the statement that he should be considered for the NHL now.
The puck drops at 7pm on NBCSN giving Canes fans a reprieve from fighting the challenges of streaming video hockey viewing.