As is standard for early preseason road games, the Hurricanes roster that takes the ice on Tuesday night in Tampa, Florida will be light on NHL talent. More of the NHL group will play the turnaround home game on Wednesday in Raleigh. But that is not to say that games like this are not important. Instead, these games are absolutely critical for depth players who will have limited opportunities to make an impression on Rod Brind’Amour and the coaching staff. In 2018-19, Warren Foegele used a strong preseason start to move up the depth chart and get preseason ice time with NHLers. And Greg McKegg had a strong preseason that no doubt put him near the top of the list for future call ups. He later returned to Raleigh and played the second half of the year at the NHL level.
Similar opportunities exist this preseason which begins tonight.
Adam Gold from 99.9 The Fan posted the expected line combinations from the morning skate in Raleigh:
So…here’s how the @CanesNHL will line up in Tampa tonight…
Should be seeing McElhinney for the Bolts
— Adam Gold (@AGoldFan) September 17, 2019
So parsing through that lineup and considering what I said above, here is ‘what I’m watching’ for Tuesday’s game:
1) Prospects standing out — Janne Kuokkanen, Julien Gauthier, Morgan Geekie and Jake Bean
Kuokkanen, Gauthier and Bean represent three of the four players that I identified in Monday’s Daily Cup of Joe article that identified potential dark horses. As noted in that article, there is not much room for players to win slots right now, but injuries could change that, and now is the time to make an impression for later when opportunities arise.
Though he is a bit of a forgotten player after missing the second half of the 2018-19 season, I like Kuokkanen for his hockey sense and potential to be at least capable in an NHL role. Gauthier has ‘wow’ type upside, but it is not clear if he can/will round out his game enough. And Bean has the highest ceiling of the blue line prospects.
So playing together, Tuesday’s game offers a chance for Janne Kuokkanen and/or Julien Gauthier to make a claim for NHL ice time. Morgan Geekie who is probably a notch or two further down the depth chart gets the same chance.
Even more interesting to me is Jake Bean. The Lightning lineup is similarly light on NHL fire power, but playing alongside Brett Pesce, Bean will get a chance to show how he looks as the puck-moving half of a pairing with a steady, stay-home defenseman by his side. The Lightning lineup is similarly light on NHL fire power, but Bean maybe gets tested a bit with time against Stamkos’ (who is in the lineup) line.
2) AHL veterans making a case for the NHL — Brian Gibbons, Max McCormick
As noted above, the preseason was absolutely instrumental in Greg McKegg’s 2018-19 season. He was noticeably good in preseason action and carved out a place in Brind’Amour’s mind even though he did not make the opening day roster. But he was recalled later and stuck at the NHL after that.
In a similar category are Brian Gibbons and Max McCormick who are newcomers like McKegg. (McKegg actually arrived to Charlotte the previous trade deadline, but last fall was his first time with the Hurricanes and in in training camp to make an impression.) Both Gibbons and McCormick are older players well past the ‘prospect’ age, and both have NHL experience. As such, each has the potential to rise to the top of the AHL depth chart in terms of being safe and experienced depth for Rod Brind’Amour when injuries make openings.
For both players, these ho-hum preseason games are of critical importance for making an impression.
3) First impressions in net — James Reimer, Anton Forsberg
After watching many past Canes netminders look find in preseason only to stumble immediately once the regular season began, I do not put too much stock in level of play for goalies in preseason. But with two new players like to make Canes debuts on Tuesday, I am interested to get a first impression of both Reimer and Forsberg in terms of style of play.
4) Jesper Sellgren
I was notably (and fairly in my opinion) critical of Jesper Sellgren’s play in the prospects tourney. He was on the ice for 7 of the 8 goals I was able to track (could not figure out defensemen for 2 of 10) in that lopsided 10-3 loss and was more so a culprit than a victim in the process. Sellgren received high marks from the organization for his play in the AHL playoffs after joining the Checkers late. So for me preseason represents a chance to reconcile the wide gap that I have for data points for him right now. Was his play in the prospects tournament an anomaly from being rusty coming out of the off-season or maybe his defense partner? Or was his play in the AHL playoffs possibly overstated or just a short hot streak? Though it is only a preseason game, Tuesday represents a next data point in terms of evaluating Sellgren as part of the next wave of Canes blue line prospects.
The puck drops at 7pm streaming on the team website.