Before practice started today, the Carolina Hurricanes trimmed the roster to 33 players. In my post for early this morning which you can find HERE, I laid out a projected schedule for cuts. I expected more like 35-38 players, but the team is healthy so far, and Bill Peters seems to be switching over from evaluating young talent to building a hockey team for 2015-16.
Much of what happened was to be expected though maybe on a tiny bit more aggressive schedule than anticipated.
From the expected category:
–The Canes are now down to 3 goalies which includes the 2 NHLers and the #1 for Charlotte, so nothing changed with the depth chart here. (As a side note, I think Daniel Altschuller is making progess. He is still young at 21.)
–The 2 elite potential kids on defense (Noah Hanifin and Haydn Fleury) are still around to no one’s surprise.
–The group has shrunk to the sure thing NHLers and just about enough players to have tryouts for the few open slots.
But there are a few things that jump out, not so much as unexpected, but at least notable:
1) The next wave of defensemen (18-21 year old group) unanimously survived the cuts whereas the older prospects ‘on the clock’ did not. The remaining group of defensemen features the 5 players on 1-way contracts plus Ryan Murphy who I sort of put in his own category and then Noah Hanifin, Haydn Fleury, Trevor Carrick, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin. That group of new players (only Carrick played in AHL last season and he is only 21) leapfrogged the veteran group of Keegan Lowe, Rasmus Rissananen and Danny Biega who all headed to Charlotte.
Some combination of Francis and Peters seems to be ready to jump ahead to the younger group on defense. Right now, the Canes have 15 defensemen for 13-14 slots in Raleigh and Charlotte. Dennis Robertson was the first to go in the Versteeg trade. It is not as if all of these players will be immediately jettisoned. They are good AHL players and you need some of those in the system. But with McKeown, Wesley and Fleury (if he does not make jump this year) scheduled to move up to AHL level next year, it would not be surprising to see another of these players traded to get a comparable age/comparable quality forward, especially with size, who might be at same level in general but closer to the NHL depth chart on a Canes team that is heavy on defense prospects but light at forward.
2) Zach Boychuk is perhaps the most surprising cut. As a veteran AHLer with NHL experience, one would have figured him to be in the mix for 1 of the last roster spots. I thought he looked decent doing the little things and playing the right way in his game action, but he did not find the score sheet and obviously did not stand out enough to the coaching staff.
3) Size wins out. An early depth chart would have likely had McGinn, Nordstrom and Ryan still here, and it would not have been too far-fetched to also add Tolchinsky and Di Giuseppe as arguably the 2 most skilled forwards in the system. I am not sure many would have had Brendan Woods and Brody Sutter to round out the group. At 6-4 and 6-5 respectively they bring the size that the Canes so desperately want to sprinkle into a generally small lineup. The question is whether they can match the pace of the NHL game and bring enough offensively such that their list of contributions do not end with “big.” It is from a drill, but one of the things that jumped out at me from my visits to PNC Arena this week was Woods skating next to Hanifin in the hard skating drills on Wednesday. I doubt he would win a race, but in skating drills he did much better than expected matching Hanifin in terms of covering ice and equally importantly how quickly he could turn over his strides in short spaces skating the lines. Just maybe his size combined with AHL experience and a full year to recover from the knee injury that slowed him last summer has him ready to take a bigger step up than most would have guessed. Both Woods and Sutter seem to fit the slot already filled by Brad Malone, but just maybe an injury opens another slot and/or 1 plays his way up to a higher slot.
Next up: Back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday up in Canada. What are the chances we can actually find a way to see it on TV or the internet?