On Wednesday, it was announced that Victor Rask and Brett Pesce were being shut down for the remainder of the 2017-18 season with shoulder injuries. The team recalled Roland McKeown to replace Pesce. An extra forward was already in tow, so for now Rask’s departure will just pull Joakim Nordstrom back into the lineup.
The game marks the third straight against another non-playoff opponent that is also looking forward to 2018-19. The Arizona Coyotes come into the game with the third fewest points in the NHL and actually playing well in March with a 7-3-1 mark.
But the opponent is irrelevant. Coming off another abysmal loss, the Hurricanes are at a point where they need to look inward and find something. The timing could not be better to add McKeown to the mix after adding Zykov for the previous game. With the team sputtering right now, I think mixing in a couple players with something to play for and a different mindset could help right now.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Arizona Coyotes
1) Roland McKeown
McKeown has always been an interesting prospect for me. In terms of raw physical skill set, I think he is a notch below thoroughbreds who pushed up to the NHL before him. McKeown is not a bad skater; he just is not in say Hanifin’s category. And at 6 feet 1 inch tall and 195 pounds, McKeown is not undersized, but he does not quite have the ideal NHL size as the other defensemen already at the NHL level. But while physical attributes are definitely part of it, they are not the only thing. There are players with below average everything physically who are phenomenal NHL players.
What jumps out about McKeown for me in scouting him in NHL games (primarily preseason) is that he always seem to play a notch or two above what I expect from him in NHL action. He leap-frogged two or three players in training camp before the 2016-17 season to win the try out for the final slot in the opening day lineup before Francis decided it best to add waiver wire help and give McKeown time to develop in the AHL. Also significant is that his ability to play up to NHL level when given the chance to do so is not a 1-2 game thing but rather something he has done repeatedly. So with his return to the NHL, I continue to watch with intrigue to see if McKeown has that it factor that just makes him a better game player than scouting for raw talent level might suggest.
My watch points for McKeown are as follows:
1) Gap control –McKeown is good and safe positionally such that he does not generally risk being beaten cleanly. But like Haydn Fleury, his biggest weakness is his sometimes tendency to keep backing up to stay safe and in the process leaving too much of a gap therefore granting time, space and ability to go any direction to forwards. That is a recipe for trouble against skilled NHL forwards especially top 6 types.
2) His ability to read and react and play the game of sound stay-home defenseman — If McKeown makes it at the NHL level, McKeown projects to be a sound, stay-home type who complements at more offensive partner. Looking a couple years into the future, that could fit well on the right side. If Hanifin stays as a #5, a stay-home partner could work. And if Hanifin moves up as hoped, McKeown could fit well with Jake Bean who leans offense. Regardless of how it all sorts out, adding another capable right shot defenseman to the mix would be a positive.
2) Valentin Zykov
A fairly detailed analysis of Zykov’s game and watch points can be found HERE (from when he was originally called up about a week ago). Valentin Zykov did not register a point in his 2017-18 debut on Tuesday nor did he blow the doors off, but he played a decent game and did what he does which is go to the front of the net. As reported by Cory Lavalette from the North State Journal after Wednesday’s practice, Zykov is expected to get a marquee chance playing on a line with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. Watching Zykov is incredibly interesting in two respects. The obvious one is seeing if he can capitalize on playing with a couple of skilled line mates who are playing well right now. Less obvious but maybe just as interesting is getting a read on how a ‘crash the net’ type power forward meshes with Aho and Teravainen. It might be that Zykov is not NHL-ready yet, but that the trial sheds some light on how such a line mate might fit with Aho/Teravainen which could be useful information heading into the summer.
3) Sebastian Aho at center
The game is also expected to see a return to center for Sebastian Aho. His ability to transition to this somewhat different role without missing a stride offensively is obviously important input for building the 2018-19 lineup.
4) A pulse!
Aside from some of the fun futures stuff, I will also be watching intently to see if the Hurricanes can pull it together. At last check, the NHL is still bound and determined to make the Hurricanes go out on the ice for 60 minutes for each of the last 9 games regardless of how embarrassing it is for the players and organization and how frustrating it is for the fan base. Might as well show up and play decent at least in front of of the faithful who are still showing up at PNC Arena when it is NCAA basketball or professional baseball season for many.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena.