Picking up right where they left off steam rolling the competition in preseason action under Rod Brind’Amour, the Hurricanes scored early and ran to a solid 3-0 win in Tampa. Both rosters were light on NHL talent, so I would not read anything into this in terms of the regular season, but winning still beats losing and the immediate return of the pressuring forecheck is encouraging.
I caught only the second and third periods due to another commitment, but here are short notes from that.
Brian Gibbons and Max McCormick
Flanking Morgan Geekie, the veteran AHL duo had a strong game and contributed on the score sheet. What stood out more than the scoring was how well both players fit what Brind’Amour wants to do. Both skate well and push aggressively both pursuing and playing with the puck. The comparison is to Greg McKegg who was similarly a veteran AHLer with some NHL experience and a skill set that fits the Canes forechecking style.
He had a strong game. The jury is still out on his ability to match NHL pace, but his game, especially on the offensive side of the puck, is mature. The McCormick rebound goal came on a heady play that saw a well-defended Geekie shift just enough to change shooting angle off the rush, put the puck on net and set up a rebound chance.
I feel like I am going to oscillate daily on his potential as an NHLer. He looked every bit of a player who was a notch above the competition in the prospect tourney. But in yesterday’s game, he still looked like a player who had to adjust to NHL speed. What stood yesterday in terms of his play with the puck was that he did well when he had just a little bit of time and space to assess things and get started moving north-south. From that starting point, he was able to advance the puck and make a few of the middle of the rink passes that he is so good at. But under duress in his own end, he very much looked like a young player who is still trying to play up to NHL speed. That level of play is not abnormal for young players, but as a player whose strength is playing with the puck on his stick, I would hope this part of his game would look more NHL-ready.
The top…4th line
Martinook/Wallmark/McGinn looked regular season ready. The trio even capitalized on receiving power play ice time as a top unit with a pretty passing goal. But more generally, their pace was good, they moved the puck well and defended well when they had to.
Fleury had a strong preseason debut. He looked crisp and significantly seemed to be trying to do a bit more with the puck on his stick. Arguably the largest area for growth for Fleury is correctly choosing his spots for when he can do a bit more with the puck than simply try to clear the zone or get it out of harm’s way. On Tuesday, he had multiply plays where he started forward and at least tried to find options up the ice as he did. Baby steps.
I continue to like him a nice middle-ground as a depth play with enough skill to contribute offensively but also with the ability to play sound two-way hockey. The mismatch for Kuokkanen is that he is not the prototypical flying forechecker that is the preference on wing in Brind’Amour’s system.
Round two of preseason hockey is on tap for tonight. Not certain, but I hope to post a short preview before game time.