On Wednesday in Nashville, the Carolina Hurricanes iced what I termed a ‘try out’ group against a Predators lineup that was mostly an NHL group. As much as anything, the game demonstrated the gap between these two levels. The Hurricanes had moments, but the Predators by far had the better of play and scoring chances. A strong night by Anton Forsberg in net made this game look much closer than it was.
Below are a few takeaways from the game:
1) Mixed bag from Julien Gauthier and Martin Necas
Both Julien Gauthier and Martin Necas had their moments but also ups and downs in the game. Necas showed his potential buzzing around the offensive zone clanging a shot off the bar and having a couple other chances. But he still floats a bit at times and also coughed the puck up a few times. In short, I think Necas has every bit of the scoring upside that has people excited about him, but he is still rough around the edges and very much a work in process as a complete player at the NHL level.
Gauthier’s game was somewhat similar. On the positive side, he made multiple plays to get to the front of the net. But he has yet to finish which obviously counts too. Though his game has improved significantly in terms of engaging the puck, I wish he would pick his spots to finish a few more checks instead of hounding the puck and turning up ice.
I think the time is now to get both of these players NHL ice time to see what they can contribute offensively and see if they can continue to grow.
2) Defensive depth is…….depth
The Hurricanes defense group was pretty nearly a player by player list of #7 to #12 defensemen in the Hurricanes system. As noted above, the Hurricanes game up three goals on a day when the goaltending was stellar. The game could have been 5-0 without any need to point a finger at Anton Forsberg. I think when people see upside in young defenders, the focus is often on how many good plays they make. But in the harsh reality of NHL hockey, the capability of a fringe NHL defensemen is better measured by how many sizable mistakes they make. After the first period, I saw a few people commenting on how well Jake Bean played maybe based on a few good plays he made with the puck on his stick. In the same period, he let forwards behind him twice for partial breakaways in on the goalie. He also took a delay of game penalty that was missed and then an actual holding penalty immediately thereafter (possibly a makeup call?). Because Forsberg bailed the team out on the two breakaways, the attempts mostly get missed. I do think Fleury is capable and with upside, but he picked up a penalty and was also a bit loose defensively a few times. Sellgren and Wood managed to let not one but two forwards behind them with the puck for a 2-on-0 in front of the net. I thought McKeown generally played well including on the penalty kill but had a play where he let a forward walk right around him and to the front of the net alone.
Especially given the volume of options, I think the group will be fine to fill the #7 slot and or a bottom pairing slot as needed. But I also think the try out blue line group in total at least right now tops out at that level and are not players that I see as capable of filling a higher slot.
I summed up my thoughts on the group’s effort shortly after the game as follows:
Unpopular opinion maybe, but #Canes blue line depth is just that…'depth'. The group of D today who probably slot #7-#12 are maybe capable in a #6 slot but just make too many mistakes to fill in higher than that. Forsberg made it look better than it was at 3-0. #TakeWarning
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) September 26, 2019
3) Anton Forsberg
Goalie Anton Forsberg was the team’s best player on a night where a mostly AHL Canes team was overmatched by a mostly NHL Preds team. Despite allowing three goals, he was stellar. With a few teams having ‘iffy’ #2 goalies and Forsberg on a cap-friendly contract, I have to wonder if there is a chance he plays his way into being an early October waiver claim like Curtis McElhinney did this time last year.
As I said in today’s Daily Cup of Joe, I think the goalie position is one more than any other where you do not adjust original plans based on a couple preseason games. I also spelled why I think that despite the strong competition across all four goalies that nothing is likely to change from the original expected depth chart to start the season. I guess the next four or five days will tell if I am wrong and there really is a tryout for ice time in the crease at the NHL level.
Up next is a quick two-game burst at home to close out the preseason. The Hurricanes will have cuts on Wednesday and will ice a lineup much closer to the opening night lineup on Friday and Sunday at PNC Arena.