On Wednesday night in Western Canada, the Carolina Hurricanes preseason schedule rolled forward into and through game six of a seven-game schedule.
After a resounding 6-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, the Oilers gained revenge with a 4-0 win on Wednesday night in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
The Oilers lineup was heavier in NHL-level players, and the Hurricanes offered a blue line primarily of non-NHLers and a lineup that was minus Jordan Staal’s line to try to slow Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Based on the lineups, I am not reading too much into the loss and am instead using it primarily as an evaluation point for individual players including a number of younger players who drew into the lineup.
Follow up on ‘What I’m watching’ preview
1) Martin Necas at right wing
Probably the biggest news heading into the game was that Martin Necas would see ice time on an NHL line at right wing next to Jeff Skinner and Derek Ryan. Right now with Lee Stempniak sidelined by injury, that is the one slot that is potentially open for the start of the regular season.
Necas did not so much look bad at right wing as he looked ‘meh.’ Cutting to the chase, based on a tiny one-game sample, I do not view him as a great option to fill a right wing slot. The greatest strengths of his game through five preseason contests was his play with the puck on his stick in the middle of the ice, especially on the rush. Playing on the wing and often on the walls replaced the part of the game where he has shown a potential to excel with one where he looked overmatched and/or out of place at times. Necas did not fare particularly well winning board battles against bigger/stronger players, and for the first time the fact that he is giving up 20-30 pounds on many opponents showed and seemed to matter. (I did not think it did when he was playing center.) And as a player who leaned heavily pass-first in the center slot, he also did not so much look like a wing sniper who had the knack for finding the right places to receive and finish. He did show the ability to match NHL pace on a true NHL line (not surprising), and he was still active with his great skating ability on the forecheck.
Part of me thinks it could be interesting to see him slide into the center spot between Skinner and Ryan. Another part of me thinks maybe the time just is not now for Necas at the NHL level. And a final part of me acknowledges that while there is value in making assessments based on individual games, it is also important to temper the degree to which the result is considered an absolute answer especially for young players put into new situations and needing time to absorb and adjust.
Martin Necas was the subject of today’s Daily Cup of Joe where I talked about his skill set and situation in a couple more layers of depth.
2) Battle for the last blue line spot
In general, the night was a challenging one for the defense, and the troubles included all three of the players battling for the final place in the lineup. Haydn Fleury had a decent night on the whole, but he was eaten alive by Connor McDavid defending a one-on-one rush and also had a dangerous turnover in his own end. Klas Dahlbeck was victimized on the Oilers’ first period shorthanded goal when he was slow to take away a passing lane across the front of the net twice, once in each direction. And Trevor Carrick tried unsuccessfully to hold a puck in at the blue line on the power play which sent the Oilers off to the races 2-on-none.
I think the lesson for Fleury and something to watch is his gap control. One thing I notice about his play is that he leans strongly in favor of staying between the puck and the net and not getting beat. At a basic level that is sound hockey, but at an extreme level it means leaving too much of a gap. The single sure recipe for failure against elite NHL forwards is to give them time and space to do what they want. As happened with McDavid, when you give them that they take more and make you play.
But in total, I continue to like Fleury’s game and also Carrick’s. Wednesday was an extreme test against arguably the best player in the league and easily one of the most dangerous teams for attacking with speed. Couple that with a young forward group devoid of Jordan Staal’s line, and it was a really tough assignment.
The bottom of the blue line exits Wednesday’s games with a few dings but still looking promising.
3) Last chance for forwards to impress
The Di Giuseppe/Roy/Zykov line had a couple incredibly good cycling/puck possession shifts. If paired together in Charlotte, they could be the old Nestrasil/Staal/Nordstrom equivalent in terms of burning entire shifts playing offense on the walls and looking to must 1-2 shots in the midst of it.
The trio was decent, but I did not see any of the three as making a big enough statement to push into the opening lineup mix.
Nicolas Roy continues to impress me as a player whose development in terms of A to Z details of the game is advanced for his young age. Valentin Zykov continues to look as if he has gained a step which I think was a requirement to match NHL pace. And I think despite not wowing on the score sheet that Phil Di Giuseppe is exactly the kind of experienced depth that a team needs some of in Charlotte for when injuries pile up.
Other player notes
Cam Ward: I would not say that he was great, but he was not horrible either. A couple of the goals he had no chance on. Connor McDavid beat him from in close. And maybe the Kassian goal he could have had. But in total, I would not classify Wednesday as a setback in net.
Jake Bean: He had a really rough learning night against good NHL forwards. By the end of the first period, he was a negative for the night. The Kassian goal came after Bean lost (did not really engage) a puck battle and then let Kassian stroll around the net, back to the front of the net and then even a little farther out to get a better shooting angle. Bean did nothing to impede him at any step of the way. He followed that up with a bad pinch at the offensive blue line that led to an odd man rush the other way. Shortly thereafter, he had a play where he let Draisaitl dish the puck on the rush and then skate right by him for a given and go off the rush. And then either late in the first period or early in the second period, when pressured in the corner, he uncharacteristically made a puck handling mistake chucking the puck dangerously to the middle of his defensive zone.
I think I summed up my thoughts on Bean’s game in an article maybe a week ago when I said that the development of his game with and without the puck are wildly different. On the positive side, I think he could be at least a serviceable NHL power play point man today, and if he has space to start up the ice and make passing lanes, he looks comfortable carrying the puck. But in terms of defending the puck and playing in his own end, he is nowhere close to NHL ready yet. His just turned 19 years old in June, so a call for patience is in order, but my current concern is that he quite often looks below average even in his age group in terms of defensive acumen.
Elias Lindholm: He had two of his patented side of the net passes in the first half of the game. Victor Rask did not finish either of them, but they still showed that his offensive game is rounding into form.
The preseason finale is at PNC Arena on Friday night. We should see another significant round of cuts either before or after that game that sees the roster trimmed to within 2-4 players of the opening day roster