For the second consecutive night, the Carolina Hurricanes handed the Tampa Bay Lightning a loss by a wide margin. Wednesday’s final tally was 6-1 Hurricanes. This might sound odd, but I actually thought Hurricanes were a decent amount better on Tuesday. Timely finishing and three power play goals ran up the score, but the Hurricanes were sluggish early and sloppy intermittently throughout. But at least for stretches, the pace and aggressiveness were there on Wednesday.
Doing things a bit differently, I will hop straight to player notes and try to cover the recap in the process:
The best summary might be these two Tweets:
4/? Really like Warren Foegele. More than any other young player fighting for a spot, I think he epitomizes what Brind'Amour hockey is supposed to look like. https://t.co/cV0BpanMeR
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) September 20, 2018
When I try to picture the good version of what Rod Brind’Amour hockey would look like, Warren Foegele is it. He very much reminds me of the 2005-06 version of Justin Williams with a little more size and probably even speed but maybe a tiny bit less offensive ability. He just constantly skates hard to get into plays and engage pucks/players such that he is a royal pain to play against on the forecheck and in the neutral zone.
The question with him is how much he can produce offensively at at the NHL level, but I think at a minimum, he is the 2020 prototype of a physical depth forward with skating and enough offensive ability to contribute. He is built for today’s NHL with a wiry strong frame at 6 foot 2 inches tall and 190 pounds. That works fine for today’s NHL for a power forward in a Wayne Simmonds kind of way, but could he play at 205 in a couple years without giving up speed and/or acceleration? Again, this is not a requirement but at 10-15 pounds heavier, he adds a bit of the Erik Cole kind of dangerous that makes defensemen and forwards in the neutral zone quick to give up the puck.
Especially with Brind’Amour trying to effect a change in mentality and style of play, I will be surprised if Warren Foegele is not either on the opening day roster or at least with the team by November after a few things settle out.
He had a strong game. Recycling another Tweet, two things jumped out about his game in the first time seeing him in game action in a Hurricanes uniform.
3/? Two quick things on Dougie Hamilton. 1-He he Skinner-like ability to shoot puck just 1/4 second before he actually receives it which gets puck on net before goalie is expecting. 2-He's very much type of D man where you want puck on his stick as much as possible. #Canes
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) September 20, 2018
For a team that even during successful years did not have a ton of star power on the blue line, Hamilton is the type of defenseman who one wants to have the puck on his stick as much as possible.
The kids from Quebec
The fourth line was a cool mix of Spencer Smallman, Nicolas Roy and Julien Gauthier who all hail from the QMJHL. The line had a productive night being on the ice for two of the Hurricanes’ three even strength goals. Gauthier was the net front presence on the Dougie Hamilton goal. And he followed it up with a nifty play to pivot to get into shooting position and then snipe a goal in the third period. I still think that Gauthier’s game without the puck needs to develop, but he continues to have a high ceiling offensively. In addition, after netting two goals from the crease area in Traverse City, he again factored in a goal by going to the front of the net.
Here is an odd observation, but has anyone else notice how fast Necas is when he is just coasting. He has a knack for pushing off on his last stride such that he almost seems to be accelerating at times when he is just coasting.
His game was a mixed bag. He had a couple nice plays with the prettiest being a play that saw him feed Teuvo Teravainen in the neutral zone, receive the puck back and then circle the net to find Foegele for a point blank chance.
But he will be a work in process defensively at least early in the 2018-19 season. He seems most comfortable getting in deep on the forecheck and using his skating ability to take away angle and force early passes. But a bit like Brock McGinn, he often does this like a heat seeking missile rather than in read/react mode. The result is that he has a tendency to get himself in a bit too deep when he is the second or third forward on the forecheck. He is also still ‘squishy’ defending in the neutral zone. Necas is generally in the right area, but too often is at level 1 just sort of being in the right area but not level 2 where you understand passing lanes, angles and assignments quickly and take things away from the opponent and/or force early passes. Especially with Victor Rask out of the picture right now, best bet is that Necas is best-served by developing at the NHL level even though there will inevitably be some growing pains.
In the post-game press conference, Rod Brind’Amour was asked about possible pressure on Necas being pushed up to the NHL level. He responded by saying that the “pressure was on them” to mean him and the team. He followed by saying something to the effect that Necas was young and would need time to develop. Brind’Amour gets the need to let young players develop and learn from mistakes within reason.
Another side note is that while he is definitely ahead of schedule in terms of skating and ability to use his wheels to create with the puck on his stick, Necas does not have a great NHL shot yet. He did score on a nifty deflection, but with a few other decent shooting opportunities, the goalie had no problem tracking his shot for easy saves.
Kuokkanen collected three points in Wednesday’s win. More significantly, I just think he is the prospect forward most ready mentally to play at the NHL level. I yammered a couple times about how well he gets positioning and puck support in his Traverse City play. That was on display again tonight. I really think his skill set as a player with decent playmaking and offensive ability but also with strong hockey IQ/decision-making is a perfect fit for Staal’s line. Even though he is inexperienced, I think he has a good chance to be competent defensively, but he also brings some offense.
I think the risk of putting a couple other offensive type young players is that they could be in over their head with the match ups and defensive responsibilities that Staal faces. And I think the risk of putting a pure/maximum defensively player on that wing could limit the line’s ability to generate offense other than cycling the puck and feeding the point. Solid defense is priority #1 for Staal’s line, but in today’s NHL, there must be a scoring component too. It is just too hard to break even by shutting out good scoring lines every night.
Regardless of where he fits, Kuokkanen made a strong case for NHL ice time on Wednesday night.
A couple quick hitters
If Jordan Staal had more finishing ability, he could push to 30 goals. He had two garden spot type chances on Wednesday and fired off the goalie on both.
Scott Darling seemed to be struggling to track the puck early. He had one shot go through him but not into the net followed by a couple unscreened shots where he spit out rebounds. But he fought through it and got better as the game wore one, and what is not to like about 30 minutes of shutout hockey.
I will be curious to see if Justin Faulk can find the range and timing from the top of the face-off circle on the left side. The power play is back to a more pronounced two low and three high with the umbrella type positioning that has only one true point man flanked by players that work the half boards to the top of face-of circle. On Faulk’s unit, Hamilton was the point and Faulk in one-timing position on the left side. A couple years back, he had a huge season blasting away on the power play more from a point position. This arrangement sees him shooting from even closer. At that range, Faulk has the ability to clean beat goalies even if they see the shot.
It is only one game, but I modestly downgraded Saku Maenalanen. He did not look out of place or bad, but my first impression of him was that he is serviceable defensively and possibly capable of filling an NHL roster spot but more of an offense-lite checking line forward. Based on what some of the other players are doing so far, I do not think that will be enough to crack the roster.
Not sure if it was a function of line mates, but Sebastian Aho sputtered a bit on a night when a lot else clicked. I like the idea of using preseason ice time to try unknown or little used combinations, but I think when the dust settles that Aho and Teravainen will be together as two-thirds of the top scoring line.
Winning is better than losing. And I think that for teams who were not good enough in the prior season some amount of preseason is an important part of building confidence. That said, I think too much could be made of the Hurricanes two dominant wins over a good team. Subject to change in the last four preseason games, the current trajectory would have fans greatly adjusting expectations based on games that do not matter much. It will be interesting to see how the team fares from here on out.
Next up is another home preseason game on Friday against the Washington Capitals.