The Carolina Hurricanes prospect team started strong in the Traverse City tourney on Friday afternoon. Facing a Blues team that also rates high for its prospect pool, the Hurricanes jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, survived a sluggish second period and ultimately prevailed 4-1 in their tourney opener.
Carolina Hurricanes scoring
(someone chime in if I missed an assist as their is no official score sheet that I am aware of)
Goal 1: Morgan Geekie from Stelio Mattheos and Luke Henman
Henman made a nifty play to get the puck to Mattheos in space on the rush. Mattheos fed Geekie who beat the goalie while steaming in just right of center.
Goal 2: Julien Gauthier from Andrei Svechnikov and Stelio Mattheos (I believe)
The play started with Bean at the top of the umbrella feeding Mattheos on left side who made a nice pass through the seam to find Svechnikov for a quick wrist shot. Gauthier was parked in front and deposited the loose change into the net.
Goal 3: Martin Necas from Janne Kuokkanen and Stelio Mattheos
Kuokkanen made a nice play to quickly carry the puck into shooting position from the end line. When the rebound spit out, Necas swooped in to finish.
Goal 4: Janne Kuokkanen from Andrei Svechnikov
Streaking down the right side on the rush, Svechnikov created a passing lane and then passed across to Kuokkanen who filled the middle lane and finished.
Check in on ‘what I’m watching’ points
In case you missed it, my tourney preview is HERE. Many of my watch points featured in Friday’s win.
1) Rising above (Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas)
Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas were productive with a goal and two assists between them. All in all they had a good night and made plays, but I would not say that they were dominant.
2) A chance to reclaim depth chart ranking (Janne Kuokkanen, Julien Gauthier, Nicolas Roy, Aleksi Saarela)
Of the group, I listed Janne Kuokkanen stood out most, but I also thought that Julien Gauthier and Nicolas Roy played well. By my account, Aleksi Saarela was quiet in a negative way in the first game.
3) Seeking a launching pad for the crease (Jeremy Helvig)
In front of an invitee-heavy blue line that fairly well, Helvig had a solid game. He was especially good in the second period when the team in front of him sagged. He had a couple of high-end saves to preserve the 2-0 lead and help the team stay above despite sub-par play. In total, his 28 saves on 29 shots (someone check the total) was exactly what I had hoped for from him in this tourney.
4) Which side of the fence (Jake Bean, Julien Gauthier)
In my preview, I looked for the pair of 2016 first-rounders in their third season in the tourney to use this tourney to make a statement. He still leaves a bit to desire in terms of being a physical force every shift, but overall I liked Gauthier’s game. Not surprisingly, he was a force with the puck on his stick and a head of steam forging toward the net, he spent his share of time in/around the crease and he avoided going full invisibility cloak in between shining plays. I gave Bean high marks for the first period, but he had a couple ‘oopses’ later in the game. But I would still rate Bean’s game as more positive than negative.
My three stars
With a 4-1 win, there were more than three options, but I am going to a little off the predictable and less based on score sheet marks and more based on who I thought just played great hockey shift in and shift out.
First star — Janne Kuokkanen
In an understated way, I really liked his game on Friday afternoon. He looked very comfortable playing and being effective without the puck on his stick much. He impressed me as a very good read/react third forward for a line with skill and puck carriers/distributors. The Necas rebound goal was the result of a heady play by Kuokkanen to quickly create a shooting lane and get the puck to the net, and his goal was a nice finish off the rush and a perfect example of thinking and playing the game well without the puck on his stick.
Second star — Jeremy Helvig
He really shined in the second period when the team in front of him sank a little bit. As a good goalie often does, he held the fort until the team in front of him rebounded a bit. He had a couple really good saves when the team was under duress in the second period but also just deserves credit for being steady and error free throughout. It will be interesting to see if he can build on this game throughout the tourney and push himself into consideration for AHL starts sooner rather than later.
Third star — Stelio Mattheos
Necas and Svechnikov were heard from on the score sheet before all was said and done, but I actually thought the team’s best forward line was Henman/Geekie/Mattheos. The trio attacked with speed and generated offense most consistently all night. Geekie had the line’s goal, but I am giving the slight edge to Mattheos for winning a star. He had a nice feed on Geekie’s goal and two other assists if my math is right. But more significantly, he was a going concern every shift whether he was attacking with his line mates with the puck or if he was defending it.
Leaving them out of the three starts is not intended to be a slight of headliners Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov; I just thought a couple players were even better. Julien Gauthier played well. And I think one could easily substitute Morgan Geekie for Stelio Mattheos as those two played well together (as did Luke Henman).
Other player notes
I already raved about him a bit above, but he really impressed me. Oftentimes, finding third forwards for scoring lines can be challenging. If the first two players are higher-end players, they often are the type to like to play with the puck on their stick. That makes good crease crashing power forwards like Wayne Simmonds a great fit, and it also makes pure receive/finish forwards like James Neal a great fit. But players who can match pace and just always seem to know what to do and where to be are arguably the type of player that most boosts a scoring duo. Interesting is that when one projects the (near) future for the Hurricanes, I think the peak version of that lineup would include Aho/Teravainen and Necas/Svechnikov anchoring two separate scoring lines. That leaves both looking for a critical third. I included Kuokkanen in an August 29 article highlighting three players who I was higher on than most and continue to think he is in interesting dark horse in the battle of multiple rookies trying to win NHL jobs for October.
Luke Henman/Morgan Geekie/Stelio Mattheos
I think this trio was the team’s best line. They were easily the team’s best in the first period driving the puck into the offensive zone and generating a high number of good scoring chances. They maybe slowed a tiny bit as the game wore on, but in terms of consistent play throughout without any real lows, I put them even above the headline line.
Whereas many of the Hurricanes prospects have the potential to ‘regularly’, Roy’s game is a bit quieter but still strong. On Twitter during the game, I compared Roy to the ‘good defense’ part of Victor Rask’s game. Roy has the same uncanny ability to read situations quickly and skate into angles to take things away from the opponent when defending. Just like Rask, without being incredibly speedy, Roy is very effective at slowing the other team using a combination of his size and sound positioning and decision-making.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Who stood out most positively to you in Friday’s win?
2) Heading into game 2 on Saturday, what trends are you watching most closely?