Last week was like the calm after the storm. After a flurry of activity the previous week that saw the Canes 2015-16 take a big hit with 3 straight losses and also 3 big trades, last week was much slower. An odd schedule saw the Canes play only twice in the middle of the busy season for the NHL and time for the team and fans to pause after the departure of Eric Staal, Kris Versteeg and John-Michael Liles via trade.
The week started a run of games that figured to be heavier on player evaluations for the 2016-17 season than watching the standings, but the team put up a solid 1-0-1 mark in 2 road games and pushed another game above .500. Along the way, management and coaching staff had a quick 2-game look at forwards Derek Ryan and Brock McGinn before returning them to Charlotte. Ryan Murphy also returned and played 2 games and is still with the team. Tuesday’s game sees Derek Ryan and Brock McGinn back in Charlotte and Brendan Woods stepping into the lineup for his turn.
It is that try out theme that defines my ‘what I’m watching’ for the Canes game tonight against Ottawa:
1) Brendan Woods
I wrote up his evaluation points in more detail HERE for today’s Daily Cup of Joe. The short version is that he needs to be a noticeable physical force (the core of his game) but at least equally importantly, he must prove capable of doing it at NHL speed such that he can be a difference-maker on a regular shift basis.
Tuesday is another game to evaluate Noah Hanifin in a top 4 role and also consider Hanifin and Pesce as a unit. It is way too early to declare anything final, but if I had to project the defense for next season right now, my current guess would be Hainsey/Faulk, Slavin/Wisniewski, Hanifin/Pesce.
3) Leadership from Jordan Staal
Jordan Staal was easily the Canes best player as the team was rising up from December through February. The last week or so has been tumultuous for him. First, he lost line mate Andrej Nestrasil to injury. Then he lost brother Eric to trade. He had probably his best game in the past week or so against Tampa Bay. Jordan Staal is 1 of the players expected to lead this team going forward. It would be great to see him carry his recently dominant play strong through the end of the season and pull the team with him. Whatever it costs the team in terms of draft positioning will be made up by having the team ready to go out of the gate with new leadership established for the 2016-17 season.
4) A continuation from Skinner/Rask/Lindholm
It is not a surprise to see the young guns line have a strong game like it did on Saturday in Tampa Bay. But the next level for this group both as a line and also individually is to get to the point where they do it game in and game out. Suddenly a second line, they should be given a chance to show that they can do this in a bigger role. Saturday marks a 1-game run. Can they stretch it to 2 tonight? …then 3…and 4…
The puck drops at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena.