First, I think it is important to say that the most significant thing happening as far as NHL hockey today is the ongoing Patrick Kane story and related press conference today. I sort of live tweeted from the 1st Hurricanes practice session today and decided against doing that for the 2nd which overlapped with the press conference and related Twitter storm. I am not going to start pitching my opinions on the situation especially since I have not researched it thoroughly yet and as far as the legal stuff goes am nowhere near qualified even when I do. But as someone who covers even a small piece of the NHL (the Hurricanes for me), I think it is important to say that this is a serious and important situation. Though I would rather spend the time on more fun hockey stuff, I will spend time tonight reading about what happened today after the dust settles a bit and news stories appear.
On another note, I helped out another digital hockey publication by writing a 2015-16 Hurricanes hockey preview. You can find that HERE.
I obviously did my best to write a good article, but I do have a couple disclaimers especially for Hurricanes fans:
1) It is incredibly early to take a shot at some of the details like roster and line combinations. Rather, than trying to play prognosticator, I took the approach of putting forward the most likely scenario coming out of the 2014-15 season. That is in some ways a cop out and in some ways the right thing to do at this early stage. For example, I actually am not a huge fan of EStaal/JStaal/Versteeg, but that seems as probable as anything.
2) I tried not to be reasonably objective. I am not at all ashamed to admit that I lean Canes positive on Canes and Coffee and do not claim to be an unbiased journalist. I am not sure if I was full neutral for the ATB preview, but I tried to go a bit more that direction for this article.
Wednesday’s Hurricanes practice was the 1st after back-to-back preseason games and also with multiple days before the next game. That means time to work on stuff coming out of 2 games. It also meant a very heavy dose of conditioning. Finally, it meant a very obvious split into an NHL and an AHL group.
I think the biggest news was who went where. Though a few things might have been different only for evaluation purposes and things are subject to change over the next 2 weeks, the team was very clearly split into an NHL and an AHL (with few remaining junior players too) groups. In addition, head coach Bill Peters was only present for the 1st practice for the NHL group.
The NHL group featured forward lines of :
Eric Staal / Jordan Staal / Nathan Gerbe
Jeff Skinner/ Riley Nash / Kris Versteeg
Chris Terry / Derek Ryan / Brendan Woods
Brad Malone / Jay McClement / Andrej Nestrasil
Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm joined this group late only for the skating drills. Best guess is that they simply got a small physical break since they played in 2 of the 3 games counting the Red-White scrimmage.
The defense pairs were:
Ron Hainsey / Justin Faulk
John-Michael Liles / James Wisniewski
Noah Hanifin / Michal Jordan
Jaccob Slavin / Ryan Murphy
Cam Ward and Eddie Lack were the 2 goalies for this group.
A couple things jumped out at me:
- At least for today or theoretically just for evaluation, Jaccob Slavin seemed to play his way up into the NHL group.
- Also on defense, Ryan Murphy stayed here despite what I thought was a rough outing on Monday.
- Noah Hanifin stayed in this group. I would not call this a surprise, but it was at least possible that he just did not look NHL readyish and played his way down. He obviously did not.
- Derek Ryan played his way up into this group. When a team signs a 28-year old rookie, it obviously thinks there is at least a chance he could be NHL ready soon. His spot with this group today suggests that Canes coaches think that is at least a possibility for 2015-16.
- Brendan Woods is the only other forward who has played up, at least per today’s practice groups. If today’s player splits do mean something (that is my hunch but who knows for sure), I think Woods’ slot with the NHL group would rank as the biggest surprise/jump up the depth chart at forward (with Slavin winning this title for defense).
- Haydn Fleury skated with the 2nd, largely AHL group. I like his play so far. And again, it is important not to read too much into it (could end up in NHL group next practice), but with a short training camp, I do think it is fair to assume that it means something until told otherwise, especially when the split in general is pretty blatant.
As for the practice itself, the NHL group spent a significant amount of time on system stuff retrieving pucks and moving them the length of the ice and similar much of it in 5v5 drills. The AHL practice featured a bit more drills and a little bit less system work.Both practices started early and had a talkative/chirpy kind of start with some energy to them. And both practices finished with what is the hardest skate so far this training camp and in some time. I am NOT the right person to measure skating intensity because I would have missed any in-season true bag skates and am only occasionally able to attend even for preseason. Disclaimer aside, this was the hardest I can remember the team skating. They basically did 2 skating groups rotating constantly with no breaks skating stop and go lines up and back the length of the rink or from side boards to side boards. After a pretty intense practice for the AHL group and BEFORE the bag skating ensued, there were a decent number of hands on knees. It picked up significant during the skating drills which went non-stop for about 12-14 minutes to finish practice.
A few quick player notes:
–Brendan Woods. He stood out just for being there for the 1st practice as noted above. 2 other things also stood out. He was working hard same as everyone else, but he also seems to have that right knack for having a bit of fun in an appropriate way. He had a bit of fun with people waiting in the drill lines and got away with an exaggerated hook to start 1 of the skating drills when he was slow off the block and saw that Noah Hanifin could probably tow him back into the race. Finally, he skated the lines next to Noah Hanifin which would seem to be a tough comparison for 1 of the biggest players, but he actually did very well matching Hanifin’s strides. I noted somewhere awhile back that mobility was key for him. Last summer, he was coming off knee surgery and looked more like a lumbering big guy. Not so much today. With the Canes wanting to get bigger, if he proves capable in terms of pace and skill, he becomes a dark horse with a desired skill set. If nothing else, he is maybe playing for Brad Malone’s job next year when Malone comes off his current contract.
–Drew MacIntyre. He has to be 1 of the most athletic goalies the Canes have had in camp. He is lightning quick and with a bit of flair. I have not seen him enough in game action to evaluate his game in detail, but in an age where HUGE and maybe a tiny bit slower is becoming the NHL norm, he brings more of the old cat-like quickness from years past. This could be a huge year for him. He gets pushed to Charlotte, but if he looks good there, lucks into some NHL time because of an injury and looks good doing it, he could play his way into the picture to be a backup NHL netminder in Raleigh for 2016-17.
–Derek Ryan. We need to see if a bit of a rotation emerges for this week’s practices, but if not, partly based on on-ice performance and partly based on reading tea leaves, I would put him as the leader of the non-roster forwards right now.
Unless the schedule changes, the team gets the day off on Thursday and resumes practice on Friday.