Just when it seemed that the last 8-10 games of the Carolina Hurricanes 2017-18 season was going to be a completely miserable grind filled only with more brutal losses, the Charlotte Checkers breathed some goodness into what was left of the season. The chance just to watch something interesting with call ups auditioning for 2018-19 roster spots would have been something in itself but the group from Charlotte has done much, much more.
Valentin Zykov has proven more than capable of being a strong complement to Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen on a top scoring line. Zykvo now has three goals and five total points in only four games.
Warren Foegele wowed in his NHL debut on Monday with a goal and an assist.
And quietly playing strong hockey in the background behind the scorers is defenseman Roland McKeown.
And the team has suddenly won three straight games.
But worth noting is that the Hurricanes happened upon a soft stretch of schedule with the last four games against teams who are out of the playoff chase and also with sub-par defenses.
The New Jersey Devils on Tuesday will present a varsity-level challenge. The Devils currently sit right at the playoff cut line and are scratching and clawing for every point they can get. The Devils are also playing well having just completed a six-game road trip against high-end competition with a 4-2 mark and then returning home to defeat the Lightning.
The question is whether the Hurricanes can continue on their current positive path or if the tougher opponent will see the Hurricanes crash back to Earth with another of the abysmal losses that have popped up intermittently of late.
‘What I’m watching for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New Jersey Devils
1) Defending Taylor Hall
On the road, the Devils will have some ability to dictate match ups which will likely see young defenders like Noah Hanifin, Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown trying to shut down an elite scorer. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see how the kids on the blue line hold up against Taylor Hall and company.
This trio continues to be worth watching to see if the group just managed a couple good games against weak opponents or if it truly has legs that could carry it into 2018-19. Conceptually, the set continues to make a ton of sense. As a power forward with good receive/finish skills and a nose for the front of the net, Zykov fits with Aho and Teravainen who have great chemistry and manage the puck well together. But only time will tell if Zykov is truly NHL-ready or if he just benefited from an initial adrenaline rush and burst on the score sheet.
3) Warren Foegele
Of all of the Hurricanes AHL-level players, Warren Foegele is arguably the one who is most competing for an open slot. With forwards like Zykov, Saarela and to some degree Wallmark, they are competing for slots on scoring lines with another option being to add proven veteran talent. By virtue of his 26 goals at the AHL level, Foegele also fits in this open competition, but as a penalty killer and player with a track record in shut down roles, Foegele also fits well toward the bottom of the roster. With veterans Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris jettisoned, the 2018-19 roster could have room for a fourth line penalty killer with scoring upside, especially if the team tries to build a fourth line that is capable of more offensively. As such, I will again be watching Warren Foegele closely to see how he plays in his second NHL game on Tuesday.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.