With the Canes loss on Thursday in Pittsburgh, the team is now 6 points behind Detroit who is in the final playoff spot and also needs to jump Philadelphia who is 5 points and actually in an even better position because of the 2 games in hand that they have. With only 11 games remaining, the odds are quickly becoming longer.
Even if the Canes are unable to find a big winning streak and claw back into the hunt, the remaining games are still important for their contribution to figuring out what the team has/does not have heading into the off season.
In that vein of evaluating players for 2016-17, here is what I will be watching for Saturday’s game in Minnesota:
Trevor Carrick/Ryan Murphy
Trevor Carrick was recalled from Charlotte today because Ryan Murphy is questionable for Saturday’s game with an upper body injury. Regardless of which of the 2 plays, these are important games to play onto the depth chart for 2016-17 and/or the projected lineup past that. Upon being recalled, I thought Ryan Murphy’s game was solid. He had a good run of game in which he stayed out of trouble defensively and had some success moving the puck. But he has struggled in the past couple games especially in Thursday’s game that saw him regress in terms of being able to sort out positioning and who/what to defend in his own end when pressured. Trevor Carrick was not flashy, but he did not look out of place in his NHL debut. If Carrick gets into the lineup, I would be watching to see if he can build upon his first start.
He continues to separate himself from the other older depth forwards who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer and are vying for a new contract. I wrote in some detail why I like him for the 2016-17 team in a recent post HERE. He now has 4 goals and 7 assists in 19 games since the beginning of January. These last 11 games with a bigger role could be all he needs to earn a new contract.
After a decent debut, he was part of a fourth line that was not quick enough and had trouble getting the puck out of its own end against Pittsburgh. When the Pens had them matched up against higher lines, they struggled and were on the ice for 2 of Pittsburgh’s 4 goals. If he has a big game in him after settling in at the NHL level, now would be a good time to spend it.
Both players have had good 2015-16 seasons overall. Both players are ahead of schedule in their development. But as a duo recently, they have struggled and not meshed as a unit yet. This is significant in terms of putting together the 2016-17 team because I think there is a good chance that the team starts the season with a top 4 of Faulk, Hainsey, Slavin and Wisniewski if he is at 100% physically entering training camp. That could leave Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin to be reunited. If they stay together, the next 11 games are important for them finding a second win to close out the 2015-16 season strong and develop chemistry playing together.
Chris Terry, Brad Malone, Nathan Gerbe and Michal Jordan
My current cut line has also of these pending free agents either replaced or possibly re-signed to 2-way deals to provide AHL leadership/NHL depth in the cases of Michal Jordan and Chris Terry. With the current roster, all of these players should continue to see significant ice time for the remaining 11 games. This ice time could be their last chance to play their way into the mix for the 2016-17 season.
The puck drops at 2pm on Fox Sports with John, Tripp and Michelle.