How time flies once hockey returns. It seems like yesterday that the Caniac Carnival marked day 3 of training camp and a bunch of preseason evaluation points were on the way. Suddenly today is the last preseason game before a full week of practice to prepare for the regular season opener at PNC Arena on Saturday, October 7.
This last game will feature a mix of sure NHLers trying to round into form, Coach Bill Peters still tinkering with line combinations a bit and a last chance for some of the young players to stake a claim to an NHL roster spot before the last buses leave Raleigh for the start of the 2017-18 in other destinations.
‘What I’m watching’
1) Last chance to stake a claim to a roster spot
He entered training camp as my favorite dark horse rookie capable of stealing an NHL roster slot. In early August, I went so far as to ask if his progression could be similar to Sebastian Aho’s. I thought he could play at his natural center slot and possibly push Derek Ryan for an offense-leaning third center slot. Ryan has been lights out in training camp at least for now has solidified his place in the lineup, but with Lee Stempniak on the shelf with an injury, there is an opening at wing.
Enter Janne Kuokkanen. He had a strong second half of the game on Monday and showed scored on the power play (goal scoring is still a need). Tonight Kuokkanen will see ice time on the left side of Victor Rask and Justin Williams in what figures to be Teuvo Teravainen’s slot, but if you plays lights out just maybe he gets bumped into the open wing slot.
From the category of trying to be a quick study, Necas will start his second straight game on the right side of Jeff Skinner and Derek Ryan. This is significant since this slot is where the actual opening is right now. In my post earlier this week, I rated Necas highly (like everyone else) through the first half of training camp. But per my game recap from Wednesday, I thought Necas’ game lost significant luster playing out of his natural slot and in a role that spent more time on the walls without the puck and less time in the middle of the rink with it where he thrived. Important to remember is that Necas is going to through a number of rapid adjustments right now just jumping up to the NHL level and now sliding over to wing. The talent is there. The big questions is the timing and possibly the position. Regardless, playing in his sixth game out of seven preseason contests, he has obviously gained the attention of Bill Peters and is maybe just a break out game on the score sheet away from seizing at least a 9-game try out roster spot at the NHL level.
McGinn plays tonight in the slot that gives him the best chance of being in the opening day lineup. He is next to center Marcus Kruger who is a sure thing and across from Joakim Nordstrom who is another player competing for fourth line ice time. With Josh Jooris out of the lineup, McGinn gets the last chance to make a statement that he ist he right player for one of the two fourth line wing slots.
2) Shaking off the rust
After a delayed launch into preseason play for Scott Darling due to a minor injury, he finally made his preseason debut in game 5 against Edmonton on Monday. He looked a bit rusty as one might expect jumping into game action for the first time since last spring. Darling was not beaten on a first shot on Monday, but he allowed two goals on rebounds and generally fought off the puck all night with very little for rebound control. Four days later, he will see his final game action tune up. Important to note is that he has a full week of practice still ahead of him, so by no means is Friday’s game make or break. That said, I will be watching to see if Darling can look a bit calmer/more settled in the crease, see the puck a bit earlier and start to make more than reactionary saves just trying to get a piece of the puck.
3) The opening day blue line?
With the somewhat surprising demotion of Trevor Carrick yesterday, the Hurricanes blue line looks to be set. (Jake Bean is still with the team as an eighth defenseman, but per today’s Daily Cup of Joe, I do not see him as competing for a roster slot.) That leaves Klas Dahlbeck in the healthy scratch role today with pairings of Slavin/Faulk, Hanifin/Pesce and Fleury/van Riemsdyk which save for the possibility of shuffling of the top 4 which could happen situationally and regularly, this could be the defense for next Saturday.
I am on record as liking Hanifin’s preseason, what Fleury has done and van Riemsdyk’s ability to bring capable puck-moving to the third pairing. I actually do not think Slavin or Pesce have been great in preseason, but both seem to have the jump the fuels their games, so I am not concerned. Faulk continues to be on my close watch list, as I think him finding a higher gear defensively in 2017-18 is a key component for solidifying the defense four deep.
The puck drops at about 7:37pm at PNC Arena.
What are you watching tonight?