After an eventful Tuesday that saw the Carolina Hurricanes trade Justin Faulk to the St. Louis Blues for defenseman Joel Edmundson and forward prospect Dominik Bokk (article on trade is HERE), the Hurricanes are back on the ice Wednesday in Nashville for preseason game four out of six.
I would expect a lineup much closer to the opening night group for Friday and Sunday’s preseason ending, but Wednesday’s lineup for the last preseason road game is still heavy on a tryout theme. The lineup features only five players that I would consider certain to start the season at the NHL level in Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel, Nino Niederreiter, Warren Foegele and Haydn Fleury and probably an equal contingent that has a chance but not a certainty to be on the opening day roster.
That try out element features heavily in ‘what I am watching for Wednesday’s game.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Nashville Predators
1) The battle royal — Martin Necas and Julien Gauthier
Training camp started with Martin Necas slotted in the Canes lineup and with high hopes that he would become one of the young guns to boost the team in 2019-20. It took only a couple games for Julien Gauthier to aggressively assert a strong claim to the spot originally expected to be Necas’. While there could be room for both theoretically, I think if the team is healthy it is likely that only one of the two sticks at the NHL level to start the season. The team has 11 players who are pretty much certain to start the season at the NHL level. While it is possible that the team slots both Gauthier and Necas into the lineup and bumps one of the 11 to the healthy scratch/#13 slot, I think more likely is that one of Necas or Gauthier sticks and that the #13 slot goes to more of a veteran fringe player who will not benefit much from more ice time at the AHL level — so someone like Clark Bishop or Brian Gibbons.
As such, these remaining three games are huge for Julien Gauthier and Martin Necas. If the season started tomorrow, I think that Gauthier would be in the NHL lineup and Necas sent to the AHL to start the season. But that is based largely on a mere three games of preseason action, so just as quickly as things changed, a strong game or two by Necas could quickly flip things back.
On Wednesday, Necas looks to slot on an NHL line with Dzingel and Haula (which is my predicted third line from before camp started). Gauthier looks to start with Foegele and Geekie who as more quietly boosted his stock in preseason.
2) Sorting out the blue line
One might have figured that Justin Faulk’s eventual departure would have made more room on the blue line, but with Joel Edmundson coming back in that trade, the blue line is as crowded as ever. And with Edmundson filling key needs with physicality and toughness and also the ability to kill penalties, the blue line is a full as ever.
Trevor van Riemsdyk is now participating in the regular practices but with a yellow jersey, so that could make at least a short-term opening if he is not ready for opening night. But once van Riemsdyk enters the mix, I think the default lineup becomes Slavin/Hamilton, Gardiner/Pesce, Edmundson/van Riemsdyk. That leaves Fleury, Bean, Forslund and McKeown (who already cleared waivers) seemingly battling for stepping into van Riemsdyk’s slot, trying to supplant van Riemsdyk or Edmundson or waiting patiently in the #7 slot.
I also think the addition of Edmundson puts a spotlight on specific aspects of Fleury’s game. With Hamilton and Gardiner not really penalty kill types, the key to trying to compete with Edmundson for the #6 slot would be filling the same needs he does. That means killing penalties and also bringing some element of physicality to a lineup that could be light on that.
Because he would certainly be claimed, I would be shocked to see Fleury sent across waivers. I think that puts Bean and Forsling in a tough spot but maybe also makes it even more important for each to make an impression now to be recalled from the AHL later.
So player by player…With Edmundson’s arrival, Fleury even more so needs to dial up his level of play to be considered for the slot currently occupied by Edmundson once van Riemsdyk arrives. Bean really just needs to show he is defensively capable and ideally that he can boost the offense, such that he gets considered later if Hamilton or Gardiner is injured. Forsling really just needs to play well such that he does not become expendable in a deep lineup.
3) Dzingel-Haula-Necas…or Gauthier?
Once the team’s forward group came together over the summer, my initial vision for a lineup was to build a third line that was essentially a second scoring line predicated on speed and aggressive play. Theoretically, a group with speed and skill would be a nightmare for some of the lesser defenders that they might see as a third line. My initial iteration of that line from before training camp was Dzingel-Haula-Necas which is what we are slated to see tonight. Gauthier could easily slot in the same place as Necas, so it will be interesting to see if he gets a look on that line tonight too. Regardless of how the right wing is, I will be watching see how Dzingel and Haula look together as a duo that can skate, push pace, attack and finish.
Which of these watch points is most interesting to you?
What else will you be watching for on Wednesday night?
The puck drops just after 8pm on Fox Sports Carolinas (Yay! John, Tripp and Mike!)