After road games on Monday and Tuesday, the Hurricanes will make their 2017-18 PNC Arena debut in their third preseason game. With the game being at home and a fairly heavy mix of prospects used in the first two contests, Wednesday will feature a greater number of NHL players.
My watch list hones in on a few key players who will be making their first appearances on Wednesday.
Here is ‘what I’m watching’ for Wednesday’s rematch against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In his preview, Michael Smith from CarolinaHurricanes.com has Aho/Staal/Lindholm, Skinner/Ryan/Miller, Di Giuseppe/Necas/Brown, Hofmann/Wallmark/Smallman, Hanifin/Pesce, Fleury/Slavin, Bean/Robertson with Ward in net.
The lineup itself has a few interesting things that jump out:
Justin Faulk will not be playing as expected. He has yet to see action in three games which suggests he must have some kind of (hopefully) minor ailment – something to keep an eye on.
Jaccob Slavin will play on the right side. Slavin actually played on his off side in college and early in his Hurricanes time stated that he liked playing on his off side. He has played almost exclusively on his natural left side at the NHL level, but the flexibility is a nice thing to have and something worth watching today.
Here is ‘what I’m watching’
1) A continuation of where he left off from Elias Lindholm
After only modest progress development-wise for Lindholm after three years at the NHL level, he seemed to suddenly find a higher gear at about the midway point of the 2016-17 season. The uptick in his play did not generate significantly more on the score sheet initially, but the higher intensity and boosted level of play were unmistakable to those who watched him game by game both before and after the pivot point. Lindholm did eventually find a decent uptick in scoring in March but more significant than the numbers was the fact that we was suddenly difficult to play against. He had a physical edge and a bit of sand paper to his game, and for the first time one could see at least a hint of Peter Forsberg (whom we was compared to prior to being drafted) in his game.
The burning question entering the 2017-18 season is whether the uptick in Lindholm’s play was the beginning of an ongoing trend or it was just the better part of another up and down season. From the start of preseason, I will be watching Lindholm closely, checking to see if the higher level of engagement, physical play and intensity is still there.
2) Early signs of the next step for Noah Hanifin
In maybe a different chapter from the same book, through two thirds of Noah Hanifin’s 2016-17 season I would have said that it leaned heavily toward learning on the job. Patience was in order for a player who was only 19 years old, but in a season that saw fellow defensemen 2016 draftees Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov jump from Canadian juniors to the top 4 in the NHL with seemingly instant success, it was hard not wonder when things would click for Hanifin.
And just when it felt like it was time to write off Hanifin’s 2016-17 season, things did click. After playing the first two-thirds of the season i the third pair with a revolving door of defense partners, Hanifin was lifted into the top 4 when Ron Hainsey was dealt at the trade deadline. The challenge seemed to spark a higher level of play, and Hanifin finished the 2016-17 season on a stronger note playing in the second pairing primarily next to Justin Faulk but also with a mix of Brett Pesce when Coach Bill Peters shuffled the deck intermittently in March.
Hanifin is slated to remain in the top 4 in 2017-18. I will be watching him early to measure his level of play relative to his 2016-17 finish. At a minimum, he needs to match that level of play, but ideally he continues his growth and takes a step up from there even.
3) Martin Necas
He is easily one of the most exciting developments right now in the Hurricanes hockey world. Wednesday represents the first chance to see him in NHL-ish game action at PNC Arena.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena.