After a long wait and 4 preseason games on the road, Hurricanes fans FINALLY get a taste of NHL hockey at home in PNC Arena.  With the roster trimmed to 27 for the Canes, the Capitals bringing a reasonably NHL-looking lineup for the game and the regular season now only 1 week away, these games are starting to become measuring sticks for how ready the teams are.

Per Hurricanes web producer Michael Smith, the team will be without James Wisniewski (minor groin injury, seems like he would be day-to-day and possibly in lineup if it was a real game) and Ron Hainsey who was dinged up yesterday.

On defense, Peters has decided to just fill those slots with appropriate L/R shots from the group of kids still competing for spots.  This makes for a real good tryout/impress opportunity for Jaccob Slavin who will slot into a top pair next to Justin Faulk and for Brett Pesce who will slot into a second pair next to John-Michael Liles (basically the spots vacated by Hainsey and Wisniewski.  The third pair features Noah Hanifin alongside Michal Jordan which is definitely one of the options to start the season.  Ryan Murphy is the other player most likely to start on the right side of Hanifin in the lineup if none of the surging group of Slavin, Pesce or Fleury fight their way into the mix.

So the D looks like:

Slavin / Faulk

Liles / Pesce

Hanifin / Jordan

At forward, I already voiced my displeasure with breaking up a Skinner/Nash/Versteeg line that was good last weekend and saw Jeff Skinner bust out on the score sheet.  You can read that HERE if you missed it.

Again per Michael Smith with the team, the forward lines are expected to be:

Versteeg /EStaal / Lindholm

Gerbe / JStaal / Nash

Skinner / Rask / Terry

Malone / McClement / Nordstrom

Except possibly the fourth line, I think I am correct in calling this “all new” as far as training camp goes so far.

My quick thoughts by line:

–Versteeg/EStaal/Lindholm: I think this could work.  I actually like Eric Staal better at center.  I also like putting some playmaking and skill on his wings.  For me, the downside comes when their is a lack of playmaking left for other lines.

–Gerbe/JStaal/Nash: My fear with this line is that it builds a line that cannot really be asked to do much more than be a good checking line.  All 3 of the forwards have some finishing ability in close, but minus anyone who can distribute the puck, I just do not see how they consistently generate enough scoring chances for each other.

–Skinner/Rask/Terry: Aside from grumbling about the fact that Peters already seemed to find and then immediately discard a potentially good fit for Skinner, I am ‘meh’ on this line.  As much as I liked Rask’s emergence in 2014-15, he was NOT a playmaking type center.  I think that pushes the burden of generating offense either to Chris Terry (could work I guess) or otherwise it relegates Skinner back to completely playing with the puck on his stick trying to create his own which was a no-go last season.

–Malone/McClement/Nordstrom: I think McClement/Malone is very likely to be 2/3 of the fourth line.  Malone will either slot on the left side or possibly as #13 with Brock McGinn in the hunt for that #12 slot.


What I’m watching:

1) Like a broken record, can the Canes find chemistry and a spark for Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner?  Both of those players need to look more like 40-goal scorers than 20-goal scorers for this team to have any chance at scoring enough to win.  Skinner has been red hot, so hopefully despite the shuffling line mates he just forges forward.  Eric Staal has not been bad in training camp, but he has yet to catch fire.  I continue to look for both of these players to look like players who will lead the team offensively on a nightly basis.

2) Jaccob Slavin.  He just continues to play his way higher up the depth chart and into the mix for NHL ice time in October.  His game-winning goal on Sunday and solid all-around play has him right in the mix of young players that Coach Bill Peters most likes to rave about these days.  When your coach is excited about your play, that is obviously a good thing.  Tonight will represent a whole other level of challenge.  He will play on a top pair with Justin Faulk against most of the NHL lineup of a good Caps team.  He does not not need to be the star of the game.  He has clearly risen to at or near the top of the teams strong blue line prospect pool, but tonight is his tryout to push to the next level and stake a claim to a roster spot for October 8.  Does he look like he is in over his head a bit?  Or does he just keep upgrading to the next challenge without a kink in his game?

3) Brett Pesce.  Same thing.  I would give him the award for most quietly rising up the depth chart, almost in stealth mode.  He is not cut from the same skating free-wheeling cloth as Hanifin, Slavin and to some degree Fleury, but he has been almost as impressive.  He reminds me very much of Glen Wesley in his prime (obviously a huge compliment) in that he plays a very simple, safe and sound game.  He is efficient and generally just makes good, simple plays.  And he scores incredibly well for probably my favorite measurement of readiness for young defensemen which is when plan A goes to heck in a hand basket what happens then.  He has proven to be incredibly calm and poised under duress.  Again, in Wesley-like fashion, he is able to slow things down and “avoid the big oops” pretty consistently in training camp which is what you want.  As a right shot on a team with a few good left shot defensemen who are more the puck-carrying variety, he projects to be an absolutely perfect complement as a right shot #4 defenseman a couple years down the road.  My hunch is that it takes some injuries for him to see NHL ice time, but he has had a great camp so far, and I guess tonight is his time to make a claim for more/sooner.  For Pesce, I am watching to see if he can continue to just be sound and steady as the level of speed and intensity continues to dial up deeper into training camp.

4) FINALLY HANIFIN!  I feel like I have been watching him play well for 2 weeks, but in reality I have not actually watched him play except practices and scrimmages.  My initial read on him was that he reminded me of Joni Pitkanen as a big, smooth-skating defenseman with a ton of patience carrying the puck.  Despite the fact that we are 4 games deep into training camp, I guess I am just watching to get an NHL-speed first impression of his game to go with the strong reports so far.

5) Chemistry with forward lines.  I already noted the big 2 (Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal) above, but I will be watching the rest of the forward lines in hopes of seeing some things that click.

–Riley Nash at right wing.  I hollered for a look at this last March when the Canes had their early training camp after being knocked out of the playoff chase.  We did not see it then, nor have we (unless I missed it) seen it yet this training camp.  I think Nash’s skill set could translate well.  He easily has the speed to play wing and drive his side of the ice.  He also adds a good right shot faceoff option to a line (Canes are otherwise left shot heavy at center) which could be a nice bonus for a checking line that will take a bunch of defensive zone draws.

–Chris Terry.  After playing a mix of practices and preseason games with either checking line forwards or sometimes AHLers, Terry draws into a decent slot across from Skinner and next to Rask.  As noted above, I really want Peters to make a conscious effort to get Skinner some playmaking help.  At least on this line, Terry might be the player on the spot.

6) Eddie Lack.  He was phenomenal in his first start and ‘meh’ at best in his second start.  This is likely his last tune up before the regular season and also his chance to stake a claim to playing net in the opener and/or the first 2-game set.  He should be playing like this game counts for him personally because it does.

Puck drops at about 7:07 at PNC Arena!

Go Canes!

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