In case you missed it, my preview and watch points for the three-game prospects tourney round robin are HERE.
The Hurricanes played game #1 against the Washington Capitals on Saturday afternoon and were walloped by a score of 10-3. The Capitals won the first period 3-0 and were up 5-0 early in the second period before the Hurricanes woke up and at least pushed back some.
An important starting point for any kind of evaluation of the team or individual players is to make sure context is noted. I do think it is useful to evaluate players in any game situations like this, but at the same time a single exhibition game with odd circumstances in early September does not trump full seasons and the development path that preceded it. Also to be considered is the fact that this tourney has an odd scrimmage/’thrust into action’ element to it with players coming straight out of the off-season break and playing a game and doing so without any real preparation, practice or work on systems. In a nutshell, it is a bit of a random scrimmage. In addition, these games are not particularly meaningful for evaluating one team’s prospects compared to another’s because so many players are missing with all NCAA and many European players not involved. Shorter version is that while these games do represent an opportunity to evaluate players in game-like action, be careful not to put too much weight in a single exhibition game.
As noted above, the Hurricanes exited the first period down 3-0. In simplest terms, the Hurricanes were abysmal in terms of transition defense and admittedly put in a bunch of tough spots Jeremy Helvig did not offer much in terms of holding the fort. All three of the Capitals’ first period goals came when Canes forwards (all three on at least two of the goals) were caught deep in the offensive zone. The result was a jail break that saw the Caps fly through the neutral zone and attack the offensive blue line. Also put in a difficult situation, the Hurricanes defensemen were not great either in terms of minimizing the damage. The results were multiple point blank shot attempts off the rush including the three that found the net.
The Capitals scored twice more early in the second period to sprint to a 5-0 lead after only 25 minutes of action. The Hurricanes did seem to stabilize things a bit after that and even push back, but they were unable to sustain any true momentum from the goals they scored and still lost more than won at trading chances in the second half of the game.
Some player notes follow:
In terms of upgrades/downgrades (again noting that this is a single exhibition game in early September), most notable from Saturday’s action was Jesper Sellgren. He was paired with invitee Kaleb Bulych. Bulych struggled mightily defending some of the unimpeded speed attacking from the center line in, but Sellgren was as much a culprit as a victim. I was only able to get who was on the ice for the Hurricanes for seven of the ten goals against and six of them were Sellgren/Bulych, and I am reasonably certain it was also them on one of the others. The first goal looked like a fairly harmless 1-on-2 turning into a 2-on-2 until Sellgren went to the first player who was already defended and left his side of the ice open. Sure enough a Caps forward filled the opening and sniped a goal. In general Sellgren seemed to be guessing at when to step up at the defensive blue line and when to sit back. He had a rough stretch where he sat back too far 2-on-2 with backchecking help coming and then followed it up by trying to step up when Bulych was caught up ice, and there was no help behind him. What concerned me about Sellgren’s game was that he looked to be lost and/or guessing on when he could step up and challenge and when he needed to play passing lanes and/or multiple players. As noted above, my impression was that Bulych was in a bit over his head with the speed. Toward the end of the game Sellgren played with Priskie. My hope is to see Sellgren after a reset and with a better defensive partner on Sunday to try to get a read on whether it was just a bad game to flush or was truly an indication of where he is in terms of defensive ability right now.
Despite the Hurricanes struggles, Jake Bean played mostly as one would hope. He was not on the ice for any of the seven goals that I for certain identified the defenseman though I do think he was on the ice for one of the other three. Bean was calm when appropriate and assertive when given the chance with the puck on his stick in all three zones. One thing that always stands out with his game is his patience with the puck on his stick that allows him to adjust out of first passes to second passes. In many situations where many defensemen realize late that a target in the neutral zone is covered, the best option is to play the puck safely to space or the walls and avoid a bad turnover. The result is often a turnover but not the catastrophic variety. Bean has a great ability to realize that plan A is not there, quickly assess other options and then find a good plan B to put the puck on a teammate’s stick instead of having to make the safe play just unloading it. Maybe as an appropriate reminder of the more challenging parts of their games, there were two instances where both Priskie and Bean were up at the blue line and suddenly the puck was behind them in front of the Canes net. I continue to project Bean as a good offense-leaning and power play third pairing defenseman but will need evidence on the defensive side of the puck before I see him as a top 4.
The game also featured a first look at Canes free agent signee Chase Priskie. My first impression of him matched the scouting reports. He was capable even if maybe not perfect defensively, and though his partner Bean spent more time with the puck on his stick, Priskie showed a knack for making plays both passing and also getting shots through. His goal was the type of snipe from his 2018-19 highlight reels at Quinnipiac, and he also had an assist on an Eetu Luostarinen goal when his shot off the end boards found Luostarinen to the side of the net for a quick goal. Especially with Bean dealing in the offensive zone, Priskie seemed to have a good understanding of spacing and the need to adjust to be available for a shot or at least an outlet. With the Canes full up on defense, it probably takes injuries now for Priskie to push up into the NHL soon, but he represents another good, developing prospect for Charlotte.
To be clear, the 10 goals hung on the Canes had a lot to do with the team’s inability to defend in transition. The result was stretches that looked like drills with players just skating in alone, picking a spot and firing at will. That said, Helvig did not shine in a game where maybe the chance was there. He did not really have any answers to hold the fort early and give his team a chance to wake up, and in general, a goalie has to make some hard saves too. Helvig did not have enough of those. What struck me was how stiff he looked when 1-on-1 with a shooter. He was generally square but did not attack or seem to have the reflexes to steal one. As such, he mostly hooked like the goalie cutout with holes to shoot at when the Caps came sniping. On a day when the team in front of him did not help, this is another good point for a reminder about not making too much out of one game.
Amidst a forward group that was generally lackluster across the board, Janne Kuokkanen stood out positively. He was assertive and confident with the puck all game. Early in the game, he fired a nice tester shot from a tough angle. Shortly thereafter, he fed Eetu Luostarinen for a good scoring chance. The he followed up with a Jordan Staal-ish rush from one end to the other to gain the offensive blue line with possession. As an older player with NHL experience, Kuokkanen stood out positively as I hoped he would.
The rest of the forwards
The rest of the other forwards were mostly ‘meh’ or worse for me. Ryan Suzuki had a couple plays where he started to maneuver but ultimately lost the puck. He was too quiet otherwise for a player of his pedigree. Maybe chalk it up to nerves in his first game action in a Hurricanes uniform or rustiness coming out of off-season. Jamieson Rees did not look bad but also did not really do much to stand out. Same for Blake Murray who had a slot on Kuokkanen’s line but did not really seem to capitalize on it. Jacob Pritchard had a couple decent plays and of the invitees Leif Mattson netted the Canes’ third goal, and Martin Lang was most noticeable of the group.
Added and/or adjusted watch points for game #2 at 5pm on Sunday
1) A response
Even with this being mostly an exhibition, I would still like to see a bit of a response from the Hurricanes prospects after getting shellacked on Saturday.
2) Jesper Sellgren
As noted above, he was disappointing on Saturday. My hope is that he sees ice time with Priskie to see if a stronger partner makes Saturday seem like a bad day maybe largely due to bad circumstances.
3) Samuel Harvey
I have Harvey as my top player to watch from the invitees. If he gets the start in net as expected, I will be curious to see how he looks especially if the Hurricanes defense is porous again.