Scrambling into PNC Arena a few minutes late for the Group A practice at 8:30am on Friday, I was as giddy as a small child on his birthday. The whirring sound of skates on ice on the way in was like a sound from the hockey heavens. Missing hockey for almost 5 months, I was thrilled to have the chance to cover real hockey and jotted notes like there was no tomorrow.
As a precursor to some of my notes/comments below, I suggest reading my short ‘what I’m watching’ checklist style preview from this morning.
Mostly in stream of consciousness format after a long week, here are my notes from Friday’s practice:
Quick Hurricanes roster check
Friday saw Haydn Fleury still out of action presumably from the leg injury sustained in game 1 of the Traverse City tourney. Friday also saw Victor Rask and Andrej Nestrasil sporting yellow no-contact (or maybe light contact jerseys), and neither player participated in the short scrimmage between the group A and group B practices. Finally, there was no sign yet of Teuvo Teravainen or Sebastian Aho who wrapped up play in the World Cup of Hockey yesterday after Finland was eliminated. Dennis Robertson wearing 54 and Brett Pesce now with 22 is going to take some getting used to.
Hurricanes defense pairings and forward lines
First, I think it is important to put forward 2 disclaimers. First is that the majority of what happened on Friday was drills in groups of 3s, 4s and 5s such that it was more of a rotation through the line than defined combinations. Second, it is important to remember that even the combinations that we do see are subject to change regularly in training camp and and into the season. That said, even practice #1 is an interesting checkpoint to see where Coach Bill Peters’ head is at.
From my preview this morning, we did see Nordstrom/JStaal/Nestrasil and Skinner/Rask/Stempniak (though Rask and Nestrasil both wore yellow jerseys and did not take part in the scrimmage). McClement and Stalberg also saw some time together. On defense, we saw Slavin/Faulk as expected, but Hanifin actually spent most of his time with Murphy not Pesce as I originally anticipated. Hanifin with Murphy would seem to suggest Hainsey with Pesce (which I think has the potential to be a decent safe and sound combination like Pesce with Liles last season), but Hainsey and Pesce were in opposite practice groups today and paired with younger players. Again, it is important not to consider combinations from the very first practice to be anything close to final.
Hurricanes prospect carry over from Traverse City championship
A big portion of the 59 man roster (once Teravainen and Aho return from the World Cup) was the group that just finished winning the Traverse City NHL prospect tourney. After playing 4 real hockey games in 5 days and then getting a couple days off before today, one would hope to see momentum and a positive carry over from Traverse City. And we did:
Sergey Tolchinsky: Yes. He is a bit undersized, and it is a prerequisite that we mention this whenever talking about him (just like with Martin St. Louis who was a perennial all-star), but the kid has hockey sense, smarts and skills. He saw a shift or 2 on Jordan Staal’s wing in the scrimmage (remember Nestrasil sat that out) and did not look out of place. His signature moment was coming in on the rush, delaying and freezing the goalie and then blasting a laser into the top corner for a goal. He seems to be one of those players who has a knack for seizing opportunities and finishing at a higher rate than statistics would suggest is right.
Julien Gauthier: What continues to stand out about him the more I watch him is his agility. He is NOT the old school park in front of the net and win battles for loose pucks type of forward from the mold of Johan Franzen or another big but mobility-challenged forward. Rather, Gauthier looks to be cut more from the mold of a Rick Nash who uses size and strength as an asset but also has plenty of skating ability and skill. What Ron Francis hoped for when he drafted Gauthier at #21 in the 2016 NHL draft was on full display when he took a puck at the offensive blue line and blew right through Brett Pesce and whoever was paired with him at the time and stormed straight to the net for a grade A scoring chance.
Valentin Zykov: He too had a nifty one-on-one move where he beat a defender to the outside and then lowered his shoulder to get quickly to the front of the net Erik Cole style. If I had to pick 1 dark horse from below an arbitrary top 25 or 26 players, he would probably be it right now. From what I have seen so far, he seems to have a pretty good understanding for when to make simple and safe plays and when to be a bit more creative.
The practice itself
The practice featured mostly drills using the full sheet of ice with a bunch of skating in 3s, 4s and 5s. Three themes stood out in the drills. The first was puck support both defensively and offensively. Second was getting traffic to the front of the net paired with shots. Multiple drills with other themes finished in the offensive zone with the final part of the drill being to feed the puck to the point and get 2-3 bodies at the front of the net. Finally, the majority of the drills used the full rink and featured a regular pattern of transition-pace through center-enter 2-3 wide. The practice also featured a pretty hefty skate most of the way through practice that saw the players doing full rink 8s for a good 12-14 minutes. The volume of skating and pace was enough that the vast majority of players were hands on knees after finishing their group’s turn.
Other random Hurricanes training camp day 1 notes
—Jake Bean: As I gain more time watching Jake Bean play, it is becoming easier to make sense of the whopping 24 goals he scored as a defenseman in Canadian junior hockey last season. He has a decent shot, but more than that he has that great combination of accuracy and maybe even more significantly the unique combination of poise, patience, stick handling ability and smarts to time things well such that he is regularly shooting through traffic and to a specific part of the net.
—CHL line: Gauthier/Kuokkanen/Roy played together which is an interesting combination of playmaking in the middle with size and significant size on the wing in the form of skilled players.
—Erik Karlsson: He did not so much stand out to me overall, but he had 1 of the better shifts of the day first hounding the puck on a 1-man forecheck while his teammates changed behind the play, ultimately winning the puck, zipping a centering pass to the front of the net and then hopping on his horse to get there and finish on a rebound. The play was a textbook example of creating and then participating in offense from a tenacious forecheck.
—Brock McGinn: I have always said that these kind of practices are mostly useless for evaluating goalies. It is a regular stream of 1-on-none, 2-on-1 and similar rushes in which players can step into a shot and just flat beat a goalie if he hits his spot. So there are always a decent number of goals. Getting to the point, Brock McGinn stood out in terms of finishing more than his fair share of shots today including a crazy one in which he turned and backhanded a rebound into the net out of mid-air.
—Raffi Torres: It is a very early read with only a short scrimmage for anything remotely close to game action, but my initial read is that at 35 years old and about 2 years removed from regular hockey play, I do not think he is going to be able to match speed/pace of Bill Peters’ system/style of play and today’s NHL.
—Lighter moment: Today’s funny for me was Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask going first in a drill, completely botching what they were supposed to do and getting a quick talking to from Rod Brind’Amour with the ‘sorry coach’ attentive pose.
My schedule is booked for Saturday, but I am tentatively cleared to attend the Caniac Carnival scrimmage on Sunday regardless of it works for rest of family.