Friday’s day 3 of the Carolina Hurricanes prospect camp featured a late morning practice and then a fun social event as the players attend the Durham Bulls game tonight. Here is hoping that these mostly northern kids do not melt before the sun goes down in Durham.
Here are my notes from Friday’s morning practice:
—David Marcoux as a teacher and technician: I am on record as questioning some of the results during Marcoux’s tenure as goalie coach. First of all, important to note is that Cam Ward has been trending in a positive direction since Marcoux received the goalie coaching job. But in his 2 years in the role, the team saw a significant fall off in play from Anton Khudobin from 2014-15 to 2015-16 (before then after Marcoux) and then the same from Eddie Lack from 2014-15 to 2015-16 (coming from Vancouver to Carolina). There are many factors that go into this obviously including the players themselves, so simply pinning it on the goalie coach is oversimplified and inaccurate, but at a basic level Marcoux’s job is to help the Canes goalies play at their maximum level.
But prospect camp offers a different viewpoint on Marcoux’s role and a positive one at that. In the 30ish minutes that the goalies generally spend on the ice before the skaters during prospect camp, Marcoux works them through a series of drills mostly of the technical variety, has a very hands on approach to the process and is very communicative with each of the individual goalies. I can hear few of the details and am not capable of evaluating what he is teaching anyway, but his approach and how he works with the young players is noticeable.
—Jack LaFontaine: In said drills and in general throughout camp, LaFontaine is the 1 of the 3 younger goalies who stands out having more of the athletic type quickness and scrambling ability that is a trademark of Nedeljkovic. I would not call LaFontaine overly big by today’s NHL goalie standards that seems to be quickly tracking toward NBA basketball size height but at 6-2 and 204 pounds, he is at least average if not a tiny bit bigger which bodes well if he can couple it with being quick and athletic.
—Alex Nedeljkovic: Per my comments above about the trend for NHL goalies to look much more like big walls who mostly eclipse nets from the mold of Ben Bishop and Frederik Andersen, Nedeljkovic is not cut from this mold. He is not tiny at 6-0, but he is undersized for the position today and will likely be even more so in 2-3 years. Just like anything else in sports, bigger tends to be better than smaller, but it is not the only thing, nor is it a fatal flaw for Nedeljkovic whose strength is his quickness. As a fan of fun hockey, Nedeljkovic’s style of play and skill set is incredibly exciting. If he does make it as an NHL goalie, his game will inevitably have a higher volume of “Oh my goodness!!!” type saves relative to the huge positional “I am big and just get hit by pucks” type goalies. How fun is that going to be in a couple years?
—Matt Filipe: Yesterday, I noted Max Zimmer as the player from the Canes large group of bigger skating wings as the play who stood out most in terms of skating. Today it was 2016 third-round pick Matt Filipe who stood out in terms of offensive play. He seemed to settle in today and pretty consistently pick spots on his shots hitting some corners for goals or otherwise picking a good place that forced the goalie to be good. He also demonstrated good decision-making on when to pass and when to shoot on some of the odd man rushes common in the drills. I continue to think that the entire group of wings who are mid-low round draft selections looks promising in terms of generating some NHL players from the decent physical set of big and at least fast enough. In trying to separate from within the group, my limited 3-day view likes Max Zimmer best for skating and Matt Filipe best for finishing/offense. That said, this set of players is on a longer path that projects at 1-4 years from the NHL level, so it is less about where they are now and more about how much they can improve in the next 6 months, 12 months, 2 years, etc.
—Alex Peters: Peters is 1 of 4 camp invitees who are not signed to NHL contracts right now and are therefore free agents. The Hurricanes are sitting at 46 contracts once all RFAs are signed and with the possibility of adding 1 more player plus possibly signing players like Gauthier or Bean to entry-level deals to get it done. I am not sure Francis that affords Francis as much room to sign a free agent as the team did when it signed prospect camp phenom Sergey Tolchinsky a couple years ago. All of that said, Peters is interesting. He is an old school big defenseman at 6-4 and 220 pounds, but his agility and speed continues to look better than that of a rudimentary ‘move guys from the front’ old school big defenseman. The one weakness of his game that I notice is his ability to play with the puck on his stick. But at an overall level, but he does not look out of place in a decent group of defenseman that includes at least 3 players (Fleury, McKeown, Bean) projected to play in the NHL one day.
—Peters also part of today’s funny moment: I always seem to find 1 random thing that cracks me up for a couple minutes. Yesterday’s was Ron Francis coming down from the seats and trying to get into the locker room which was locked from the outside. It was obviously not intentional, but my imaginary picture of the kids locking the door on Uncle Ronnie and then giggling behind it was too much not to enjoy. I say it was either local kid Josh Wesley with his entry-level contract signed and a desire to impress the out-of-towners or otherwise Janne Kuokkanen simply because Kuokkanen just has a ring to it for this kind of stuff.
But I digress…My funny moment today happened during 1 of the last drills. The basic idea was that all of the players were on the bench in red and white teams and were scrimmaging with random numbers of players on the ice as called over the boards by the coaches. So there were 2-on-1s, 3-on-2s, a few 1-on-1s, and just about every other random combination that often say 1 team with a 1-man advantage or sometimes even sides. A random occurrence or maybe the coaches getting out of sync on what was next saw Alex Peters hop over the boards for his team while a small army of 4 players did so for other team. There was a brief moment when Peters looked to be sorting it out while everyone was heading onto the ice and then seemed to just retreat into the defensive zone probably not sure exactly how the hockey textbook suggested he defend a 4-on-1. Welcome to Raleigh kid!
—Josh Wilkins: On the Raleigh note, Josh Wilkins, like all of the camp invitees really, looks like he belongs. He has a decent shot and whatever exactly it is that separates him from the top 210 players in the world in his age group is not much. He heads to Providence this fall. Also of note are Ben Gleason, Maxim Larev and Adam Karashik who have all had their moments. I am immediately a member of Team Karashik simply because he is the closest I might ever come to seeing a namesake play for the Hurricanes. 🙂
—Janne Kuokkanen: Kuokkanen does not stand out in the board wars or battling drills, but with even a tiny bit of room and the puck on his stick, he continues to look really comfortable. He is comfortable handling the puck with a small and shrinking gap and just makes skating look smooth and easy such that you need a reference point of another skater to gauge his speed. Without someone else in the picture, he just does not look like he is working hard enough to be moving that fast a tiny bit like Noah Hanifin except maybe not at that elite level. One of the things that I continue to think the Canes are lacking for 2016-17 is a playmaking center who can create offense for line mates. (No. I am not going to launch into another Ryan Nugent-Hopkins post.) But when you look forward, Aho might fill this need as early as this season, and both Kuokkanen and Elynuik from this year’s draft class bring some of that skill set down the road. Nicolas Roy is the other center whose name comes up regularly. I view him as being more of a 2-way center with some finishing ability, but admittedly his absence from practice the past 2 days from being under the weather has me lighter on trying to read his game.
—Warren Foegele: I continue to like him which of course prompts him to notice him and watch him more closely. I stand by my love of his game as a Justin Williams or Erik Cole type wing when playing without the puck on the forecheck or in the neutral zone. As far as limitations, the current version of him does not project as a top 6 type scorer. I like him as a third or fourth line depth forward who is difficult to play against. It takes an upgrade on his offensive tool bag or finding other ways to score to boost him higher on an NHL depth chart. But even if a player like Foegele (or any of the Canes collection of mid/late round forwards) peaks as #9-12 forward, that is the path to Francis’ goal of building from within, filling the bottom of the lineup with good, inexpensive, young forwards and being deeper at the NHL level. It might not be this summer because the Canes can also let him just develop in juniors, but I think Foegele’s play will eventually warrant an entry-level contract.
—Roland McKeown: Last summer, McKeown was a player who was largely lost in the excitement of the blue line additions. Noah Hanifin was rightfully 1 of the biggest stories of prospect camp. Slavin was another big, rangy, smooth-skating defenseman from that same mold with Hanifin and Haydn Fleury. There was also Brett Pesce and Trevor Carrick. Physically, Roland McKeown does not stand out in this group. In terms of ‘wow’ skating or flashy play, that assessment still holds true this summer. But he is gradually rounding into a good steady defenseman who projects to be a nice stable, stay-home #4 or #5 on the right side possibly across from 1 of the rangy lefties with the ability to push play with the puck on their stick.
—REAL hockey at the end: The last (or close anyway) drill featured a 1v1 race around cones to retrieve a puck at center ice and then go to the net, contested of course. The compete and intensity for that drill rates highest of everything I have seen this week in terms of physical, real hockey. Julien Gauthier flew over Nedeljkovic (pretty sure he was in that net at time) and into the net head first knocking the net off its pegs. Best was Warren Foegele and David Cotton being matched up twice and being a fairly even race to the puck. The result was a pretty good physical war coming up on the puck and then fighting to get/keep it. The better of their 2 exchanges featured Cotton spinning Foegele around at the puck, a decent bang of shoulders and Foegele mouth guard being launched into the air. Kudos to Cotton for matching Foegele who I would arbitrarily rate as second behind only ‘man child’ Gauthier for tough assignments for this drill. This drill made me feel sad and happy at the same time. Happy was anticipating real hockey back at PNC Arena. Sad was realizing that this small taste for a few days in July was the only thing before the long abyss of the NHL summer that is mid-July through early September when training camp finally kicks off.
For those who have not been able to make the weekday practices fit in their schedule, DO come watch Canes hockey on Saturday. The scrimmage is from 12-1pmish but the Caniac Carnival festivities including autographs, bounce house stuff, etc. start earlier in the morning.