On Friday, Canes coach Bill Peters cut the roster to 33 players, and the team packed up for a 2-game road trip to Canada. You can find my thoughts on the roster cuts HERE.
If you are into details for the lineup, it probably makes sense to check in with the Carolina Hurricanes web site late afternoon to see if anything changed at the morning skate.
At a basic level, the Canes would like to rebound from the clunker on Tuesday that saw the Pens whoop the Canes 7-3. Peters expressed displeasure with Tuesday’s effort by skating the team into the ice at the end of Wednesday’s practice, and he clearly wants better this weekend. The other thing would be to find some chemistry that seems to work for the top players. Other than Rask/Lindholm and some defense pairings from times past, the lineup looks more like ‘still trying to figure it out’ than ‘set and continuing to build chemistry. And of course there still is very much a tryout going on for 3-4 open roster spots.
Here is what I am watching for Saturday night against the Islanders:
1) Eddie Lack. He was a big bright spot in Monday’s 2-0 loss to Washington. It would be comforting to see him follow that up with another good effort. He does not need to be the game’s first star. He just needs to look like he is continuing to track toward regular season form, especially since Ward is 0 for 1 in doing similar.
2) Skinner with Versteeg. One of the things I have beaten like a dead horse all summer is the need to add some playmaking help for goal scorers Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner so that they do not need to create everything themselves. For Skinner especially, this requires a fairly significant adjustment to his game but one that needs to happen. The Hurricanes blog that I wrote about this very recently can be found HERE. The short version is that IF the roster can afford him a playmaker on his line, Skinner needs to adjust his game to play much more without the puck and step into the role of a pure finisher. Some people will grumble about Riley Nash on this line, but given that the Canes do not really have a true playmaking center, I think he could actually work. He is sound defensively, good in the faceoff circle and can help drive possession. From there his role is to use his speed to drive the middle lane to push back defenders and open space behind him for Versteeg and Skinner to work. There are no guarantees obviously, but I like the idea of this line. Its success could be a factor of how quickly Jeff Skinner can adjust to a somewhat different style of play.
3) The tryout line. The line of Brendan Woods/Derek Ryan/Joakim Nordstrom features 3 players who are very much part of the tryout process. I had Woods nowhere on my radar of players who would challenge for a roster spot, but the more I watch him this camp the more I think he could challenge for a third or fourth line role especially if an injury or 2 make more room. The biggest thing for him is being able to match the pace necessary to be physically engaged inside of the play versus chasing checks too late. If Peters leans skill for 1 of the last roster spots, I think Derek Ryan is the frontrunner ahead of Phil Di Giuseppe and Sergey Tolchinsky right now. Despite being an NHL rookie, he has many more years of hockey experience as a 28-year old. But in my Daily Cup of Joe for Saturday, I noted that either he needed to move to wing or a center needed to move to wing to make room for him in the Canes lineup as currently constructed.
If Peters truly wants to audition Ryan, he needs to get him ice time with Canes scorers. Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal who could both be candidates are in the lineup. I will be watching closely on Saturday to see if Peters gets Ryan some ice time with players certain to be on the opening night roster or if he is content to continue letting Ryan show his stuff for now.
4) Ryan Murphy. From the first 2 preseason games, I think he and Cam Ward were the 2 players who most stood out to the negative. Murphy has a history as a slow starter, and Bill Peters actually recognizes this. So I think the fact that Murphy is the only defenseman scheduled to play both Saturday and Sunday is a vote of confidence and an early commitment in him. Here is hoping that he can shake off the summer rust and rebound quickly.
5) The ongoing tryout on defense. Friday saw each and every older Canes prospect on defense take the bus to Charlotte in favor of keeping the lot of younger defensemen. Fleury and Hanifin both see action, and Michal Jordan also plays which is significant because he almost certainly has an NHL spot because of his 1-way contract but is very much fighting for ice time. Fleury and Hanifin have both made their share of mistakes, but they also seem to be physically able at the NHL level and trending quickly in the right direction.
6) A new (trial) home for Eric Staal. After a very ‘meh’ game from the heralded EStaal/JStaal/Versteeg line on Monday, Eric Staal quickly found himself on the left side of the Rask/Lindholm combination. Again, I think the goal is to get some playmaking for Eric Staal, so from a roster limited in this regard perhaps Lindholm is the best option for this. I actually like the idea of auditioning Terry for this role. He is also in the lineup, so just maybe some tinkering sees Terry with Eric Staal. Regardless, the current EStaal/Rask/Lindholm line features 3 players who are certain to play in the top 9. Sooner or later Peters needs to figure out who goes with who and hopefully find some chemistry. This is the latest attempt at that.
7) Real auditions with NHL skill. Sort of already mentioned above, I think any upward surprise by the 2015-16 Carolina Hurricanes requires that the team get more scoring from underperforming past offensive leaders and also find 1-2 more top 9 forwards who can also produce offensively. When I try to do this with the current roster, I immediately focus on young players with playmaking histories and see if they can find chemistry with the the underperforming scorers from last year. Those combinations accomplish both the need to jump start the veterans and also add more offensive depth.
If I had to rate trials in this vein, I rank Chris Terry and Derek Ryan first and second. Both of these players have been pretty good playmakers at lower levels. If I was Bill Peters I would get these 2 players ice time with players like Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner sooner rather than later. Both are in the lineup but at least per the lineup card, Terry is slotted on a checking line and Ryan is slotted on a tryout/kid line. I will be curious to see if this changes as the game rolls on.
The puck drops at 5pm today. I have no idea if we will be able to get a stream on the internet to watch live, but Twitter should know at about game time.