Starting with yesterday’s game, I think my general plan is to provide some quick notes on individual games, and then once the tourney is over, I will loop back around and summarize the tourney in total. Saturday’s game shows how small of a sample size one game is and how much things can change measuring a player day to day. Case and point is Hudson Elynuik who looked like maybe he was trying too hard to engage physically (which is not a horrible thing) and netted two minor penalties on Friday was a scoring leader on Saturday.
If you want to catch up on my Traverse City Prospects Tournament coverage, my notes from Friday’s game 1 are HERE, and that article also includes links to three preview articles.
Michael Smith at CarolinaHurricanes.com again offered a great standard style recap of Saturday’s game, so I will mostly just jump to player and other notes.
The big picture
Whereas Friday’s game featured a Hurricanes team that was unable to move the puck from their own end, hemmed in and generally outplayed through two periods before surging in the third period, on Saturday the Hurricanes prospects launched upon opening puck drop. The Hurricanes were by far the better team through two periods before sort of coasting in the third period. Jeremy was perfect in the shutout but not tested to nearly the same degree as Callum Booth the night before. The special teams were a bright point with the power play looking like mid-season form and the penalty kill (although seeing too much work) holding its own too.
Rising up versus my expectations coming in
A key evaluation point for me for the Traverse City tourney is matching what I think I have learned about players with what they do in real game action. Evaluating Hurricanes process is an imperfect process because we see only a few of the puzzle pieces that make up the full puzzle. I get to see the players for three short bursts in the summer/fall between prospect camp, Traverse City and then for many at least part of the NHL training camp. Then they go off and play a full hockey season out of site. Sure I can see stats and read occasional articles, but it is nowhere near the same as watching a player day in and day out. It would be no different than if I decided to start on a website covering the Los Angeles Kings. Sure in this day of the internet, I could summarize what Google told me with regular check ins, but it is not the same. That is why the vast majority of prospect coverage at Canes and Coffee leverages coaches, scouts and media who track the players at a level similar to who I track the Hurricanes. But I digress…
The point is that Traverse City does offer at least a short stretch to evaluate the Hurricanes prospect in decent game action on a firsthand basis, so for me a big part of it is objectively evaluating and reassessing my impressions of players coming into the tournament with what I see during it.
On that note, here is a list of players whose play has exceeded my expectations coming into the tournament.
He does not look tremendously quicker than my read from prospect camp, so that is still there. But what jumps out from watching Roy closely is how mature and well-rounded his game is across the board. If I were to score the prospects on some big number of individual categories for development right now, he would top the list of forwards at Traverse City. (Kuokkanen would be a close second.) While there are multiple prospects with higher ceilings and ‘wow’ factors, Roy is incredibly well-rounded.
Face-offs-check. Understanding angles and how to take things away in the neutral zone with angles and size-junior Staal-like. Finishing ability-Maybe not #1 but not bad either. Vision with the puck on his stick-check. NHL-ready size-Today not in three years. Etc.
The potential issue with Roy could prove to be that his ceiling just is not quite as high as some other players who are less far along in their development, but he deserves a ton of credit for honing his craft across the full spectrum of play in his Canadian junior time.
Josh Wesley and my first screen for ‘could work’ for young defensemen
I wrote about him in some detail yesterday. He also fits in this category. My summer assessment of him had him in a category of players under contract who needed to at least carve out a role at the AHL level after spending the majority of the 2016-17 season a level down in the ECHL. But he has impressed me through two games. He has very good NHL size without being the awkward and non-agile kind of big. His skating has improved consistently from year to year since his draft year. But maybe most significantly, he plays the way you have to play to be an NHL defenseman today.
One of my first reads on young defenseman who jump up to the NHL level and are maybe in a bit over their heads has to do with how they handle it when they are in uncomfortable situations against good players. It is maybe oversimplifying things, but I put players in one of two categories. First are the players who back up and leave huge gaps to avoid being beaten badly. Second is players who gulp, take a deep breath and try to challenge and attack the puck.
My reasoning is simple. Not all players who have the aggressive tendency to challenge the puck will be successful. A good number will be horrible at the critical judgement part of this challenge and get beaten left and right because of poor decisions. But players who naturally have or can learn this tendency at least have a chance. In my opinion, players whose tendency is to back up and just leave a bigger gap to avoid being beaten have no chance. In today’s NHL where forwards are becoming fast and skilled from 1-12, giving NHL forwards time and space is a recipe for ceratain failure.
Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin and Ryan Murphy and their development illustrate the point pretty well. From day one, Brett Pesce and Jaccob clearly fell into the category of players with the guts to challenge the puck. No doubt, they made some mistakes in the beginning and still do. But at a basic level, they very regularly dictate when and what opposing forwards have to do with the puck which is half the battle. Ryan Murphy is an example of the opposite. His tendency when uncomfortable was always to keep backing up. And at the point where he gave bigger players a head of steam and part of a path to the net, he was in trouble – regularly. Noah Hanifin is still early in his development, but this is actually something I continue to watch with him. For a player probably the best on the blue line in terms of sheer skating ability, he can be quite passive sometimes content to be in decent position and does not attack the puck to the same degree as Pesce or Slavin.
So back to Josh Wesley…What stands out about his play in Traverse City is how aggressively he is challenging the puck especially at the blue line. He has at least five good hip checks to his credit when he stepped up and caught a good piece of a player who tried to wheel around him when he did. He has had a few minor ‘oopses’ here and there, but in terms of general style of play, he has generally been aggressive, had small gaps and taken away time and space and has consistently attacked the puck.
He is easily the player whose rating changed the most from game one to game two in Traverse City. I had him in the ‘falling’ category for forwards after Friday’s game. It is obviously impossible to say what he was thinking, but to me it looked like maybe he was just trying a bit too hard to engage physically. (And that is not a horrible thing.) He had too minor obstruction-type penalties and was out of position a couple times when the puck transitioned. Saturday he played primarily on a line with fellow WHLer Morgan Geekie and camp invitee Luke Boka. The line was as good as any on the night. They regularly got the puck deep in the offensive zone and sent bodies to the front of the net once they did. That netted a good number of decent scoring chances. Elynuik finished one of those on a rebound but also added a prettier goal off the rush. His stock rose on Saturday maybe after dipping a little bit on Friday, and he also provided a timely reminder not to too dramatically change expectations for these young players based on single games.
His situation does not exactly fit in this category because his area of kudos is not really a change from my previous view of him in the area I will discuss.
Saturday’s game featured a great evaluation point for players in special teams roles. The game was heavy on power play opportunities in both directions offering ample ice time with a man advantage and also disadvantage. And with the Hurricanes roster providing plenty of skill, the situation was a showcase for Jake Bean and how advanced his ability is as a power play point man for his age. There is an adjustment to make to take it up to NHL speed, but Bean clearly has the full tool bag already. He has a decent knack for carrying the puck up the ice and finding offensive zone entry points that keep puck possession. And once inside the zone, he is even better at the point. He has the difficult to find ability to quickly and cleanly handle the puck such that he can simultaneously see and assess the situation in front of him. That ability does many things, but it most visibly shows through in an uncanny ability to find and/or make shooting lanes to get the puck to the net. Whereas less skilled players make a decision early that they are going to shoot and just do so regardless regularly firing right in oncoming forward penalty killers, Bean very clearly has that ability to somehow figure out how to make small adjustments as he is receiving the puck or right after he does such that he can consistently get the puck past the defender in front of him either to the net or at least the fray in front of it. The same ability to see, assess and rapidly process where people are on the ice also manifests itself in the kind of passes that generate scoring chances. In addition, Bean has the hands and nerves to calmly handle the puck up top even without much time and also Ray Whitney-like ability to make s small turn or fake that pauses onrushing defenders and makes just a little more time and space to make a play.
Shorter version: I would not at all put this under the category of new revelation because it is part of what he was drafted for, but I think Saturday’s game and volume of power play ice time was a tremendous showcase for just how advanced Jake Bean is as a power play defenseman.
A few other smaller bits
Warren Foegele: I am on record as liking his game enough that I have him in the dark horse category for the 2017-18 opening day roster. That said, I think his game and projected style of play could benefit from another 10-12 pounds on his frame. As is, he has decent NHL size and is disruptive in all three zones with his skating and tenacity. But if he goes from 190 pounds to more like 202-205 pounds and gains a tiny big more lower body power in the process, he becomes one of those players who is dangerous because of the potential to knock players in Sunday games into Tuesday morning with an Erik Cole kind of play.
Janne Kuokkanen: His ratio of “makes a good offensive play” to “has the puck on his stick” is incredibly high right now. He seems to make something happen every other shift. He projects to be a year or two away from regular NHL action, but I continue to think that demonstrated scoring upside is the path to Bill Peters’ heart in training camp for Kuokkanen.
Julien Gauthier: He is still a bit of a work in progress with his play without the puck. He just has not yet developed the same level of definitive task identification and intensity of a player like Roy.
Jeremy Helvig: I would be remiss not to mention the goalie in a shutout. He was not tested as much as Booth the night before, but what is not to like about perfect? Common to both goalies is that they play the right kind of ‘big goalie game.’ Both diligently do the work to be in the right place such that they get hit by a lot of pucks and do not have to make a ton of acrobatic saves.
What say you Canes fans?
In a game with 19 players, it is impossible to catch everything. What did I miss, and/or what did you see differently?