Effective immediately, I am claiming a once per month exemption on proofreading using my September exemption today.  It has been a crazy busy weekend, and though I really wanted to post this today, I also need to get to sleep.  I will try to do a bit of proofing/editing tomorrow at lunchtime.

In changing the format in a few small but significant ways, the Canes happened upon easily the best Red-White scrimmage from anything I can remember. First, they played a full 60-minute game (and overtime which was legitimately needed). Second and I think maybe most significantly, mostly the kids who needed to make an impression played and the veterans/stars got the day off. Finally, I think they were instructed to play real hockey with hitting and physical play. Surely no one was going to hammer someone in the open ice, but within the realm of reasonably safe play, the guys banged and hit. I think the roster that was mostly kids probably helped because you did not have 18-19-year olds pulling up confused about whether they could hit Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, etc. or whether they should be gentle. Instead we had real hockey and the Red team mounting a huge push with about 5 minutes left in the game to eventually pull even at 3-3 and force overtime (which was going to happen anyway). So the result was what looked like a good preseason game, NOT a watered down exhibition game to meet the minimum entertainment requirement. Hopefully, the team sticks with this format.

It is really hard to watch 40 players in detail, so the ones where I have less notes or even no notes, I would not jump to the conclusion that that is necessarily meaningful. It would be great if people who watched other players more closely chimed in. I have already had conversations on Twitter and elsewhere with people who watched Roland McKeown and Nicolas Roy more closely than I did.

Disclaimer aside, here are my player by player notes from the Red-White scrimmage:

The veterans

–Elias Lindholm. He was not spectacular or big on the scoresheet, but he looked fine. He was assertive with and without the puck and played with pace.

–Victor Rask. Ditto. He was not flashy, but he was consistently a step above the younger competition just like last summer when it was more of a surprise.

–Andrej Nestrasil. I thought he was very good. I though his line (Nestrasil/Ryan/Terry) was the best line in the game. He pretty consistently carved straight lines to the net and was rewarded with 1 goal on a nice Chris Terry pass for his work. He also had the nifty backhand pass from behind the end line on Derek Ryan’s early goal. So with a stat line of 1 goal and 1 assist (someone correct me if he had more even) and a number of other plays where he won pucks, passed pucks or shot pucks, Nestrasil had a solid outing. If the stats junkies did shot-based stats for this game, I think that line would have killed it.

–Brad Malone. He played his game skating hard, banging a bit and had a couple decent chances. If the Canes have a roster spot for a “big and bang” player, he is obviously the frontrunner and did a decent job staying there today, but I think it could be an interesting battle between him and Brendan Woods for a 4th-line slot.

–Chris Terry. What a difference a year makes. Last season, he was playing in games like this trying to stand out above the crowd. I am not sure it was by a huge margin, but he did last summer and earned NHL ice time and ultimately a 1-way NHL contract for his work. This summer he entered as a player that you would hope to stand above the crowd in a game like this. He clearly did to me. He was just incredibly crisp making and receiving passes and making good hockey plays. He did not score, but he found open patches of ice to receive and 1-time pucks. I figure him for 4-5 shots on goal on these plays. He also put the puck in his line mates’ wheelhouse multiple times making simple but correct passing plays. There are a number of players higher up the depth chart who need to play better for the Canes to succeed this season, but Chris Terry also offers a ton of offensive upside. He was a very good offensive player at the AHL level with a pretty broad tool bag that includes playmaking ability and also a good 1-timer. The competition was below the NHL level on Sunday, but when given the chance to show he was a notch above it he did. That is exactly what you would hope to see from him.

The goalies

Daniel Altschuller. He stood out as especially good. If my math is right, he did not allow a goal until the 2-on-none (or maybe a ½) goal during 3-on-3 overtime hockey when he had no chance. In about 2 periods of work, he made some pretty good saves and maybe equally importantly did not have any letdowns to let in soft goals.

I always have trouble tracking goalies in games like this unless they let in soft goals or stand on their head. None of the others jumped out at me either way, but it is possible that is more a function me watching the skaters more.

The young skaters

–Nicolas Roy. He headed back to juniors today, but I think he looked pretty good today. He impressed me with 2 things. First, his mobility and skating relative to his size/age was good. As an 18-year old who is listed as 6-4 and 197 pounds, he had a couple plays where he won pucks on the boards, wheeled toward the middle, fed the point and smartly went straight to the net. He is real early in his development but looks like a good get in the 4th round with his combination of size and potential.

–Brett Pesce. I loved it when a knowledgeable fan behind me hollered out “You need to stop the pass” (or something like that) when he failed to defend a 2-on-1 (cannot remember if it was the Nestrasil goal or another). So that was a tough situation that he did not play particularly well, but other than that I really liked his game and think he was the best of what I would call the 2nd tier of the younger defensemen. (I sort of group Hanifin and Fleury as tier 1 of the young D. Then I put Carrick, Slavin, Pesce and McKeown together as the tier 2 of the young D. Then I group the older prospect D together which includes Biega, Lowe, Rissanen and to a lesser degree Jordan since he has a 1-way deal.)

Despite the 1 ‘oops’ on the 2-on-1, I thought Pesce was really good. Most noticeable was his poise with the puck in his own end. Even when he did not have much and was under duress, he pretty consistently found a nice balance between being patient with the puck on his stick and sometimes moving it forward into low-risk areas even if it sometimes meant giving up the puck. Glen Wesley was a master of what I called “knowing when to make small mistakes instead of risking big ones.” In the NHL, you do not really need/want every defenseman to always be trying to make plays. Having a few players who can just bring safe and sound hockey shift after shift is a nice balance for more creative players.

–Trevor Carrick. Interestingly, he actually paired with Pesce. I was not as impressed with Carrick’s game. I thought he tried to do a bit too much with the puck on his stick multiple times instead of taking a simple play to move the puck across or forward. I never caught exactly what happened, but the 2-on-1 noted above for Pesce seemed to come from his side of the ice though I did not catch whether he got caught too far forward, had a bad line change or…?

–Derek Ryan. I already raved about Nestrasil and Terry who I thought played exactly the game you would want from veterans in a game like this. Derek Ryan centered those 2. While the other 2 were more noticeable, when a line dominates like that all 3 players usually deserve credit. Ryan showed nice hands finishing in front on the Nestrasil pass in the 1st period and also jumped into a hole for another nice chance that MacIntyre stoned him on.

–Haydn Fleury. He played a nice, solid, efficient game. He did not try too hard to make huge plays to stand out. He just mostly played sound hockey retrieving pucks, moving pucks forward and being positionally sound on defense. He has now run the summer (prospect camp, Traverse City, 1st scrimmage mostly full of 19-20 year olds) in terms of playing at a higher level than other good players his age. Next up, we get to see if he can do the same against NHL players. The trajectory is very good, but the challenge is also harder.

–Zach Boychuk. He did not find his way into the middle of too much offensively, but if you watched him, you could see him doing everything he could to make a difference. He went down in front of a point shot. He did not cheat positionally to try to generate ‘gambling offense’, and he was in the middle of some puck battles. His generally solid game did not damage his chances significantly, but his game was not the standout performance for which a Boychuk fan would have hoped.

–TJ Hensick. I did not notice him a ton, but he had a few nice moves with the puck on his stick and had an assist on a real nice centering pass. He definitely looks like a skilled AHL scorer. The question is whether he can push to the NHL level.

–Jaccob Slavin. As more of a warmup and drill observation (including Friday), he is 1 of 2 Canes defensemen who have skilled forward kind of hands. He brings a bit more stickhandling-wise than you run of the mill defenseman and also looks to have much more than the ability to whack the puck toward the net when in close. For me, his game was very mixed on Sunday. One could see what the Canes like about him. When he got the puck in his own end with some room to get going, he did not look too much unlike the other big skating lefties in Hanifin and Fleury. But his game Sunday also had a decent number of mistakes. He had a pass against an aggressive forechecker get tipped and go dangerously in on the goalie. He got his pocket picked on the boards by Lindholm. He also had trouble in the neutral zone a couple times when he got going but things closed up on him. He is making a big jump from college hockey, so there are going to be some figuring it out/adjusting to the pace moments. It will be interesting to watch how quickly he can adjust because you have to like his general skating/skills.

–Keegan Lowe, Danny Biega and Rasmus Rissanen. None of the more experienced prospect defensemen jumped out at me in a good or bad way. I would chalk this up more to the “what’s new and exciting bias” that had me trying to watch a slew of other players and not consider it a negative comment. I have a bit of a read on these players’ games and without a DVR version of the game, I can only catch so much. I guess the key thing to note is that I think it is very important for these 3 players to stand out with the people who matter – the coaches and management. The Versteeg trade that sent Dennis Robertson to the Blackhawks relieve pressure a little, but the Canes are still tight for having enough NHL and AHL spots for defensemen who need to play there and the logjam only gets worse next summer when Josh Wesley, Roland McKeown and Haydn Fleury all move up (if Fleury does not stick at the NHL level which he well could).

–Phil Di Giuseppe. He actually reminds me a bit of Chris Terry in that he has a pretty good all-around set of tools offensively with a decent shot, playmaking ability and hockey instincts. More than the 1st 2, hockey instincts netted him a goal when he went to the front of the net and tapped in a nice Hensick centering pass.

–Brendan Woods. Last summer, he missed prospect camp with a knee injury and came into training camp cleared to play but probably still at something less than 100%. So this summer, he should be fully ready to go. He is a big body and a presence on the ice. For players like him in today’s NHL, it is all about mobility. Every team loves to have a couple big bodies to bang. Malone has a big advantage being signed to a 1-way contract, but that is the slot that I think Woods could also fit in. Peters keeps preaching the need for more net front presence. If Woods proves willing/capable of doing that consistently and shows a knack for finishing chances there against NHL players, his stock starts to rise.

–Brock McGinn. He did not stand out to me. Lucas Wallmark did score a goal when Fleury sprung him on a breakaway, but otherwise, I think you could call the McGinn/Wallmark/Boychuk the line that was most surprisingly quiet. As I noted in Boychuk’s writeup, it is not that the trio was necessarily bad, but with 2 more veteran players, one might have expected them to be more active on the score sheet.

–Josh Wesley. It will be interesting to watch him develop. His game is not modeled after his father, at least the 2000s version of him. Wesley’s game is that of a more offensive-minded defenseman. He had a goal in the Friday scrimmage that was Sekera-ish with him wheeling around the offensive zone. On Sunday, he stepped up in the neutral zone for a steal and then completed a give and go type play to enter the offensive zone with the puck and a head of steam for a decent shot and scoring chance. He also struggled a bit at times with his decision-making in his own end which is surely on his work list heading back to juniors.

–Brody Sutter. He had a nice finish in close on the goal to pull the Red team even at 3-3 late but did not stand out to me otherwise.

–Roland McKeown. He seemed to not get noticed in a good way. I have a bunch of mini-notes for turnovers and breakdowns for many of the young defensemen, but unless I am missing something, I do not have anything for him. That is not to say he was perfect (because my notes are not perfect), but I think it is accurate to say that he had a ‘quiet’ game, in a good way. Interesting is that both Pesce and McKeown who are at/near the top of the Canes prospect list for right shot defensemen both seem to project as nice safe/sound/predictable complements to someone like Hanifin, Fleury or Slavin who al might be a bit more Pitkanen-ish.

Saving the best for last

–Noah Hanifin. He matched everyone’s high expectations in displaying his upside. His goal alone puts his potential in an elite category. It featured him flying down the ice carrying the puck with ease and then zipping a nice pass to Sergey Tolchinsky near the half wall. And then continuing on to receive a give and go pass in tight. His ability to handle that pass with speed and without much room closing in on the goalie is not the norm even for good NHL defensemen. And his ability to deftly handle a rebound quickly with no room and flick it into the net was pretty. He skates like the wind (as advertised). He also has the hands of a skilled forward (which is a real good bonus).

But past his raw talent and the “Wow! Look at that!” that we were all hoping for, Noah Hanifin is very much at a stage where he is figuring out what he can and cannot do against a higher level of competition. He was the defensemen who was beat badly when he let Lucas Wallmark sneak behind him to receive a stretch pass for a breakaway goal. He also had alternating plays in the 1st period that saw he spin away from a forechecker once to find open ice for himself and push the puck up the ice but then minutes later where he spun into trouble an coughed the puck up in his own end. Then later he had the pretty passing play where he received a cross-ice pass from Tolchinsky, calmly looked things over and then zipped the puck right back onto Tolchinsky’s stick when he stepped into a soft spot int eh offensive zone. Then a few minutes later, he turned and flipped a no-look backhand pass across the ice to his D partner just inside his own blue line. That one found his partner’s stick, but too many of those turn into bad mistakes.

If I think about it, I think Hanifin is about where you would expect him to be at this point. He did not benefit from getting 4 games against at least high-end 18-20-year old competition in Traverse City because of a minor wrist injury. With his incredible skating, at lower levels he had the ability to skate out of most bad situations. At the NHL level, he will still be an elite skater, but the gap between him and the competition will be much smaller. I think the only way that he will figure out what carries forward and what maybe does not is ice time. Best thing for him is to get a ton of minutes to keep learning and adjusting a bit. Best thing for us fans is to keep enjoying the magical plays and elite talent that he has, but balance it with a dose of patience while he grows up to the NHL level.

–Sergey Tolchinsky. He really impressed me Sunday. If my memory is correct, his only scoring point was the assist on Hanifin’s goal. But more significant for me was 2 things. First was his ability to play his game with an NHL pace. Especially in the 1st period, he was very quick and crisp in his decision-making and mostly minus the dangling to extremes that was so fun to watch in prospect camp. And I think that is important. At the NHL level, skill players need to much more make a move or skate a bit to open up a shooting or passing land then just take it quickly. In the 1st period, he must have had 5 plays where he had a decent passing lane quickly put the puck on a teammate’s stick. A couple of those ended up being decent shots and maybe a couple others turned into nothing. But that pace and decisiveness is the reality of the NHL game on a small ice surface with a bunch of big and fast players. The second thing is even more significant which is that the more I watch Tolchinsky, the more I think he is just at an elite level for thinking the game 2-3 steps ahead of what is happening. That skill generally cannot be taught, and it often applies to all aspects of the game, not just offense.

Two quick examples:

1-There was a play where his team pitched the puck behind an opposing defender about halfway into their offensive zone. The defender had a bit of trouble finding the handle on the puck right about the time one of Tolchinsky’s line mates stepped up to pressure him even more. Tolchinsky was the 2nd forward coming behind the play and read it perfectly. He did not step into the middle lane to receive a pass if his team mate won the puck. That would have been premature and risky if the puck suddenly went the other way if the defender who had the puck managed to get control and turn it the other way. But he did push forward a bit farther quickly when he realized there was a decent chance that his team might win the puck and stepped right into the area where either a bad pass or a cough up was likely to be. Sure enough the opposing defenseman and Tolchinsky’s line mate got tangled up and the puck spit right into the lane that Tolchinsky was moving up quickly to fill.

2-On the cross ice pass to Hanifin that ultimately came back to him (not the goal off the rush), he intentionally made a passing lane and then quickly exploited it. With the puck on the half wall, he made just enough of a look turn toward the front of the net which of course backed up the forward in the middle of the rink just a little bit and then zipped the puck right through that hold to Hanifin clear on the other side of the ice. Cannot remember where I heard it, but someone once said that the difference between decent playmakers and great ones is that decent ones are pretty good at finding and exploiting passing lanes. Great playmakers also have the heady ability to create passing lanes when they have none. I think Tolchinsky gets it.

He is the forward equivalent of Haydn Fleury. He has now officially run the table and done all he can do to impress this summer against good 18-20-year old competition. Next up is trying to do the same against NHL competition.

I like him more each time I see him play. He is much more than a flashy offensive player with decent hands and some shifty skating. I had him as a big underdog to make the team entering the summer. I upgraded him slightly after a strong Traverse City tournament. I guess I need to give him another small upgrade today and start to wonder (and hope) if maybe he will prove me and the odds wrong by early October.

If you read this far, you really have a hockey problem. Welcome to the support group. J

Go Canes!

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