After two days of radio only broadcasts, the ability to take in the visual part of a Hurricanes preseason contest was a welcome event, and the fact that it occurred at home where I can watch more/different than the puck which is mostly what is tracked on a television broadcast was even better.
In true ‘giddy like a little kid welcoming an old friend back’ fashion, I took a “crap load” (to use my sons’ terminology) of notes on Tuesday’s 4-3 loss, will try to organize them in a way that is halfway readable.
The 4-3 loss was not at all a good result. The Lightning iced a team that included no one from the top half their roster, while the Hurricanes were about half and half. So when you consider the advantage in terms of volume of NHL fire power, a 4-3 loss is a disappointing result. The game had many of the elements of Hurricanes losses of old. Ward was beaten twice from well out (though I think one was a deflection) to quickly create a two-goal deficit in the second period. The Hurricanes had the better of it in terms of volume of chances but missed a few chances to finish. And a couple bad breakdowns quickly found the back of the Hurricanes’ net.
The Hurricanes were also sloppy which maybe had something to do with playing three games in three days in three different cities. The players rotated, so it is not so much about the volume of ice time as the travel. Finally and importantly, I thought the game was decent in terms of individual players preparing for the regular season and also that a few key players stood out positively.
He missed almost the entire second period when he dropped the gloves to stand up for Derek Ryan who was boarded. Fleury received 17 minutes of penalties (instigator, fighting, misconduct) which I thought was a piece of over-officiating. I am fine with Fleury standing up for a team mate spur of the moment. Past the fisticuffs, Fleury had a solid game in two periods of action. He had a run of turnovers in the first period (not the horrible kind, just chucking the puck up the ice without finding a teammate’s stick) but settled in after that. The highlight was a diving block of a pass defending a 2-on-1 rush.
What stands out about Fleury right now is the reasonable soundness of his game. He is ready physically in terms of skating ability, strength, etc. And his game without the puck in terms of decision-making, gap control, etc. has made solid step-wise progress each of his three years in the system. My sense is that right out of the gate, he will be the kind of player who does not kill you. While it is reasonable to hope his ceiling is ultimately becoming more of a difference-maker, being steady and solid is a tremendous entry point for a 21-year old defenseman to build from.
Here is hoping that Trevor Carrick and Klas Dahlbeck play well on Friday (if in the lineup) and make for multiple good options for filling the last defenseman slot.
I really liked his game on Tuesday. He had a couple times where I thought he stepped up a bit too far and was in a precarious position if the puck got behind him or even next to him in the middle of the ice, but at a basic level, I liked his aggressiveness defending in all three zones. I will live with a few errors if it is part of the path toward Hanifin becoming a bit more aggressive in terms of taking away time and space and forcing opposing forwards to get the puck off their stick on Hanifin’s schedule, not their own.
He also showed a little more patience just keeping the puck and buying time with his wheels when no great passing option emerged quickly. I am on record since the very first practice that I saw Hanifin in Raleigh at the 2016 prospect camp as saying that the great version of Hanifin has an element of Joni Pitkanen to it. There is a tricky balance between being creative and using skating ability to generating offense as a defenseman and trying to do too much, but I think Hanifin’s game will improve if he can shift a little more to Pitkanen on the blue line puck handling spectrum.
He has been the team’s best player thus far in preseason. He had a huge three-point outing on Monday and followed it up with another goal today. As I said on Twitter during the game, more significant than the scoring which can sometimes have an element of random luck to it is how crisp and decisive he has been in the offensive zone especially with the puck on his stick. His goal on Tuesday was directly from the ‘hockey smarts’ category. From below the end line on the right side of the net, Ryan made a heady pass to find Andrew Miller for a point blank scoring chance. But what Ryan did next was eye-opening and just plain smart. He did not just sit and watch to see if Miller could finish his pretty pass (level 2). He also did not join the play by taking a quick stride to get to the near post (level 5). From there, he would have been in the play and at least with the possibility of squeaking a puck through a hole from a bad angle if a rebound found him. Instead, Ryan had the sense to quickly take the long route around the net to arrive where he would have a gaping half of a net to shoot at if the puck happened to find him. In addition, with Miller shooting from the other side, that was actually a reasonably high probability place to find a rebound. Sure enough, Miller’s shot hit something on the way through at which point Miller pushed it across, and Ryan made no mistake burying the into the open net that he had parked in front of well before there was a clear reason to do so. The result was a heady goal (level 8).
He was intermittently good. I thought his line was the best on the Hurricanes in the first period and came up short only on finishing. Necas sprung Phil Di Giuseppe on a breakaway, and later fed him again for a good chance from between the face-off circles.
With the puck on his stick, he shows maturity beyond his years in terms of vision and the ability to make plays offensively. But what continues to jump out about his game even beyond the high end offensive potential is his skating. He had one play where he went all the way into the corner to forecheck. The puck was reversed and ended up in the other corner. From there it was passed to a forward slightly on that side of the ice near the blue line. Without any crazy flailing kind of skating burst, Necas had already started from deep in the corner and skated his way back into the play at about the blue line on the other side of the ice.
He is good enough to play in the NHL right now. Whether he does or not will be more a function of how much of an upgrade he is over other options, what is best for his development and potentially the opportunity to have his entry-level contract slide forward a year.
I get the same read on him every time I watch him of late. He is at least borderline NHL ready with the puck on his stick including manning the point on the power play. He is not ready yet defensively. If it was simply occasional mistakes, I could see the potential to learn on the job at the NHL level. But his areas for improvement are more along the lines of attention to detail in terms of positioning and his gaps defensively. He was the player victimized on the first Lightning goal when he lost track of his man right in front of the goalie for a point blank shot and goal against. With his options being only the NHL or Canadian juniors, I think he is definitely a player who will benefit from gaining more NHL preseason ice time to play as many minutes as possible against the higher level of competition. Because of that, I think there is a good chance that he will stick around late into training camp (until Peters wants to give all of the ice time to the NHLers), but from what I have seen thus far, I will be surprised if Jake Bean challenges for an NHL roster spot in 2017-18.
Important to note is that this was his first start of 2017-18. He was beaten twice fairly quickly in the second period, and both shots were from a ways out. There was traffic in front of him on both shots, and I think the second shot glanced off something and changed direction on the way in. But both shots were from far enough out that he should have had some chance to track them (even on a deflection) and at least have a chance to make a save. The first shot in particular found a hole right through the wickets.
During the game, I described him on Twitter as ‘the least exciting pretty good prospect’ or something close to that. He had a power play goal in the first period, and then promptly followed that up by pushing out on the penalty kill and blocking a couple of shots. With Derek Ryan blowing the doors off offensively right now, it probably takes an injury at the center position for Wallmark to compete for an NHL slot for opening day. But if the team needs reinforcements because of an injury, Wallmark’s steady all-around play is a nice drop in regardless of who is lost.
He was not lights out on Tuesday night, but he did manage one play that encapsulated why he is special. In the third period, he had a play where he received a backward pass at the defensive blue line. He had a little trouble receiving the puck, so it bounced off his stick to in front him. While starting to retrieve it, he quickly looked up to assess what, if anything, was coming at him. When there was no opposing player attacking the bobble, he calmly continued to assess what was in front of him while retrieving the puck. He then skated straight into the teeth of defense and picked up speed when everyone backed off. He then made one minor shift to get a defensemen leaning the wrong way and blew right through the middle of everyone all the way to the net. He drew a penalty on the play, but more significant was how adeptly he just picked apart the defense for nearly the length of the rink. He later sniped a goal on the power play which was obviously a good thing, but I thought the earlier play was more noteworthy.
A few of the other big names
I thought the game was a mixed bag for both Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin who mostly played apart except for seeing each other intermittently during the random rotation of defensemen in the second period when Fleury was in the box. Despite a few missteps handling the puck, I thought Slavin looked every bit of his regular season fast/quick, so I feel good about where he is in terms of preparing the for opening day. I would put Jeff Skinner in a similar category. He was assertive, quick and aggressive in the offensive zone with and without the puck. When he does that, the goals eventually come. Brett Pesce was not horrible, but he has been better in terms of winning pucks and defending. Maybe the most notable development in terms of big names was the fact that Justin Faulk did not play. He and Scott Darling are the only two regular NHLers who have not seen action yet. Darling is accounted for with word of a minor tweak this week and the expectation that he will see the ice on Friday. I have had a busy couple days with work/life, so I have not had time to dig through interviews or listen to what is being reported at 99.9, so someone please holler if we have an update on Faulk.
What say you Canes fans?
Who else was at the game (or managed to get the video stream to work) and has observations that he/she would like to share?