Calling it like it is, Monday’s third game of the Traverse City prospects tourney was a disappointment. The Blue Jackets team was noticeably physical early to make a point and then mostly outplayed the Hurricanes throughout. There was a smattering of good individual plays, but the closest the Hurricanes came to any sustained push was probably only 5-6 shifts early in the second period before that dissipated into more of Columbus being the aggressor.
Perspective is important. This is mid-September hockey with a team pulled together with minimal practice and also a sizable group of players who are not even part of the organization. So reading too much into a single game or even the whole tourney can be overdone. That said, a game was played and as such, we might as well glean what we can from it.
At a general level, the issues were team-wide. The team had nowhere near the jump that Columbus had especially early, and similar to Saturday’s loss to Chicago the team had issues trying to advance the puck out of its own end with any kind of pace.
My usual player notes will focus primarily on the positives mixed into a tough night.
Despite allowing three goals, I thought Helvig held up well under siege and with some sloppy play in front of him. He has a good knack for using his large frame to play into shots and enough athleticism that he is a good first shot goalie. Like many young goalies, he has a ways to go in terms of rebound control, and ideally he will also become a bit sharper handling the puck. But in total through three games, his stock has risen. It will be interesting to see if and how soon he can claim some ice time at the AHL level and then if he can rise to the level of Alex Nedeljkovic and Callum Booth who are tracking in front of him.
Svechnikov has not been eye-popping dominant in this tournament, but he has been good probably in the way that projects to his role in the NHL. As a scoring wing with a receive/finish skill set, his game is not so much to dazzle with stick wizardry playing with the puck on his stick but rather to make plays. He did that again on Monday with another pretty power play feed to Gauthier in front which could have been his third goal assisted by Svechnikov. Svechnikov also had a near miss off the outside of the post and another decent shot on net. I think entering the tourney, I had high hopes for an utterly dominant performance. That has maybe not materialized but he has been good.
Entering Monday’s game, I would probably have rated Saarela as the most disappointing through two games. He was virtually invisible in the first two games. But when not much else was visible Saarela appeared with a big first period that could have been bigger. He finished early and then had two more point blank scoring chances that he missed the net on. Scoring another goal or even two would have been better, but at least being a noticeable part of the play was a step up after two quiet games.
For prospect events like this, I usually have a hard time tracking the invitees simply because of the volume of players to watch, lack of familiarity with many of them and especially with Traverse City the quality of the video feed and its limitations. But as a somewhat familiar player from also visiting for prospect camp in late June, Mitch Eliot is interesting. He is a free-wheeling, skating offensive defenseman somewhat from the same mold as Jake Bean and Adam Scott. In a game when the Hurricanes were sluggish advancingthe puck, he was one of only a few players who had some hop and ability to move the puck out of the defensive zone. If he can convert his skill set to the NHL level and couple it with enough defensive acumen, Eliot is the type of defenseman who fits in today’s NHL. With the Hurricanes’ prospect pool becoming deeper and another defenseman added via free agency from the KHL, it seems unlikely that the Hurricanes would extend an entry-level contract to Eliot, but if I had to pick one invitee, he would be my bet.
If I had to pick one player whose stock has risen the most with me through three games in the prospect tourney relative to my thoughts on him prior, Mattheos would take top honors. My initial impression of Mattheos was that of a reasonably rugged forward with decent size and skating ability but below average puck skills and offensive ceiling. Mattheos is still not in the same group as players like Svechnikov and Necas, but he has impressed me. He has not looked out place on a first power play unit that had NHL type talent, and he demonstrated a good knack for finding passing lanes that compromise the defense and often quickly lead to scoring chances. He also played penalty kill. I still see Mattheos as more of a third line forward, but my assessment of his offensive skill set improved with his play in Traverse City.
The Hurricanes will conclude the tournament with a match up against the Dallas Stars prospects on Tuesday at 3:30pm.
Then, weather permitting, the Hurricanes are scheduled to start their NHL training camp practices on Friday.