With the team opening up more seats in the lower level and the event continuing to grow each year, I feel like the majority of Hurricanes fans who would care to hear about the Red-White scrimmage were probably there. Nonetheless, after a long hockey-less summer, I cannot help but write a game recap of sorts.
The format was regular 5-on-5 hockey with a running clock for two 20-minute periods with penalties resulting in a penalty shot instead of a power play. It would be reasonably fair to call the game a Hurricanes prospect game, as the vast majority of the players were AHL/below AHL-level players. Phil Di Giuseppe who stuck at the NHL level after being recalled and Brock McGinn who also logged 21 games at the NHL level in 2015-16 were the relative veterans in terms of NHL experience. Their experience showed.
In my brief comments on Twitter after the conclusion of the game, I declared my 3 stars to be Sergey Tolchinsky, Brock McGinn and 1 of Janne Kuokkanen, Callum Booth or Phil Di Giuseppe.
He had a shootout goal, an assist and at least a half dozen great offensive plays mostly putting the puck on someone else’s stick for a scoring chance but also stepping into a hole and blasting a shot on net. That kind of play has been the hoped for upside in Tolchinsky’s game since the Hurricanes signed him as an undrafted free agent in the summer of 2014.
But what has been more striking both in Traverse City and now early in the NHL training camp is Tolchinsky’s motor, tenacity and consistency. Very often young players with high levels of skill/scoring ability as their calling card tend to prairie dog into and out of a game. They might make an offensive play here and there but then disappear for long stretches. In Sunday’s scrimmage, the most impressive part of Tolchinsky’s game was his motor and tenacity. He was a going concern each and every shift and was in the middle of the play and around the puck (when appropriate) in all 3 zones. Even when he was not creating offense, he was a factor. It will be a bit more challenging to do at the next notch up against more NHL players in an even faster game, but the mentality, mind set and style of play that Tolchinsky is developing is definitely pointed in the right direction.
After Traverse City and a fast start in the NHL training camp, Tolchinsky is beginning to distance himself from the pack of not-yet-NHLers and doing the right things to earn consideration for the next level.
I am actually not as high on Brock McGinn’s chances to crack the Hurricanes rosters as most. After his fabulous debut, McGinn was ultimately 1/3 of what might have been the Hurricanes worst 2015-16 line combination next to Jay McClement on the fourth line. Time will tell if perhaps McGinn just was not a great complement for McClement or if maybe McClement was the issue (definitely was a part of it). That said, McGinn is 1 of the players on the fringe of the AHL and NHL and should be playing with a hungriness that aims at winning a roster spot.
Like Tolchinsky and Phil Di Giuseppe noted below, McGinn stood out in a positive way in Sunday’s Red-White scrimmage. He was fast and assertive all night earned a goal for his efforts and was involved in many more offensive attacking plays. My spattering of notes with either “McGinn” or “23” next to them include “beats do to outside,” “nifty backhand finish,” “hustles to beat icing,” and “great motor and pace.”
McGinn’s real try out starts in games against closer to NHL level competition in preseason games, but he definitely did all he could do to make a first impression and build momentum in the tune up game.
Phil Di Giuseppe
Di Giuseppe was not as flashy as McGinn or Tolchinsky, but he might have been just as impressive in terms of playing fast and assertive and looking like a player who was a notch above the competition. It is a bit of an aside, but he was the 1 player whose name jumped out at me when I saw the lineup. As a player who played and played well at the NHL level from early December through the end of the season, I would not have figured him for playing this game. My intuition is that in no way was the coaching staff or Ron Francis trying to send a message to Di Giuseppe, but I have to think that playing in this company today was also noticeable to Di Giuseppe and possibly put a bee in his bonnet.
He rose up and seized the challenge. Again, while maybe not as flashy as Tolchinsky or McGinn, he was consistently 1 of the most active and best players on the ice and had a couple nice power forward type moves to the net.
Kuokkanen is probably the player from the 2015 and 2016 drafts who has most risen in recent days relative to where I had him pegged before Traverse City and the start of training camp. What stands out most to me about Kuokkanen (think I mentioned this in Traverse City recap) is his comfort level and ability to play in crowded spaces in the middle of the rink. I think this transition/ability is especially vital for smaller, skilled European players who must adjust to the smaller rink at the same time they are playing against even bigger and faster players which can make the middle of the rink complicated and even dangerous. My early read on Kuokkanen is that he completely gets the fact that the key for a smaller skilled player is playing fast such that bigger defensemen are constantly on their heels/backing up and cannot step up into a check or a tighter gap. He regularly flies through the neutral zone in a way that puts significant pressure on the defensemen in front of him and also has a good combination of vision and the ability to stick handle in a phone booth size space to make plays with the puck inside the offensive blue line off the rush without needing a ton of space to do so.
Shorter version…I REALLY like what I have seen from Kuokkanen. We definitely need to select a skilled Finnish player in the second round of the 2017 NHL draft. 🙂
Booth logged a scoreless first period and the only shutout for the 4 goalies. He was not under fire nearly as much as Alex Nedeljkovic was at the same end of the rink in the second period, but he faced a handful of tricky shots through traffic. And what is not to like about a goalie entering and exiting a game without giving up a goal? Booth’s ‘back to school’ article from earlier this week can be found HERE.
Trevor Carrick: He played with a physical edge right out of the gate and throughout the game. My notes had Carrick banging Brendan Woods twice and Jake Bean once in addition to a couple more hits. The Hurricanes depth on defense makes for a challenging situation for Carrick, but I like the physical edge that he plays with and think the team could use a bit more of it in the lineup.
Julien Gauthier: He had one really good power forward move where he went right around a defenseman on the rush and then made a nice pass to Nicolas Roy for a scoring chance, and he had a couple other good plays. But I think the striking difference between him and someone like Tolchinsky was the intermittent nature of his bursts of offense. Gauthier was not as noticeable on a shift by shift basis. Consistency shift to shift was actually noted in Gauthier’s ‘back to school’ article.
Valentin Zykov: He did not stand out as much as I might have expected in this game, but it was not that he played poorly or was noticeably bad in any way. He did have one nice play where he beat a defenseman (Robertson I think) to the outside and then lowered his shoulder and went sideways straight to the net a la Erik Cole for a good scoring chance.
Andrew Poturalski: Poturalski thinks the game well in the offensive zone and was a nice complement/pass recipient for Tolchinsky when they were on the ice together. I suspect that he still has some work to do to round out the defensive side of his game, but I think he is the kind of player who can produce offensively at the AHL level.
Jake Bean: My appreciation for the subtle things he does continues to grow. He had an assist with a heady and crisp forward pass on McGinn’s goal and created a couple other rushes with good passes through the neutral zone.
Tyler Ganly: Here is hoping that he is okay after being boarded by Brendan Woods and having to be helped off the ice seemingly favoring either an arm or shoulder.
Next up is a quick 2-game set at Washington on Monday and then at Tampa Bay on Tuesday.