The hockey gods had a cruel sense of humor when they laid out the next bit of schedule for the Carolina Hurricanes. At a time of year, when Hurricanes fans are letting go of playoff hopes for the current year, they get to watch 2 games of almost no significance when the Hurricanes face off against the NHL’s second worst team in consecutive games. And for the players, they get saddled with a strange home and home series that sees the 2 teams play in Raleigh on Friday and then all the way across the country in Arizona on Sunday.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Arizona Coyotes
The schedule chugs on, and as long as the games need to be played, the Hurricanes might as well use them productively. Against that backdrop, today’s watch points follow a familiar theme of looking forward to building a 2017-18 roster that can break the playoff drought that looks destined to become the longest in the entire NHL when the Edmonton Oilers push into the playoffs this spring.1
1) Noah Hanifin
If I could pick 1 trend that most encourages me when I look forward to next season, I think it would be Noah Hanifin’s play in 3 games since the departure of Ron Hainsey. He did have a rough game against Calgary but otherwise has been pretty solid in 2 other games elevated into the top 4. The sample size is still too small to make any kind of final declaration, but so far wish #5 from my wish list for March/April hockey is trending in the right direction. If I think through the Hurricanes roster, Hanifin arguably has the most to gain in the final quarter of the 2016-17 season being given a bigger challenge that has the potential to boost him to a higher level for next year. Will his solid play continue on Friday night? Or is he destined to regress as is often the case with young players?
2) Continuation of strong compete level
Despite mediocre results, one really cannot fault the Hurricanes for their effort level in the past 2 games. The team outplayed Tampa Bay for nearly the entirety of Wednesday’s game and also put forward a reasonably strong effort the night before against Florida. With pride still on the line, depth players competing to stake a claim to a roster spot and the home fans in attendance, I will be watching for and expecting the a continuation of the team’s strong compete level.
3) Depth players making a statement
With Viktor Stalberg gone to Ottawa via trade and Jeff Skinner out of the lineup, a number of depth players are getting the chance to make a statement with NHL ice time. My projections have all of Derek Ryan, Brock McGinn, Phil Di Giuseppe, Andrej Nestrasil, Patrick Brown and maybe even Joakim Nordstrom as players who might/might not make the 2017-18 opening day NHL roster. With so many of these players in the lineup, Friday’s game represents a chance for them to stand out and make a statement. For anyone who has read by recent game recaps, it should come as no surprise that right now I put Phil Di Giuseppe at the top of this list, but I will be watching on Friday night to see who rises up the depth player rankings.
The puck drops at about 7:37pm at PNC Arena.