With a crazy busy week and enough other stuff to fill up the weekend, Sunday Canes Chronicle is taking the week off with a probable return next Sunday.
With the aligning of the stars that saw the scrimmage finale for the Carolina Hurricanes prospect camp and the start of NHL free agent season both start at 12pm, Saturday was likely to be an eventful day for the Caniac Nation. And neither event disappointed.
On the free agent front, at the intermission of the scrimmage, the team announced the signing of Justin Williams on the video board. I offered my initial thoughts on the signing HERE, and a short set of reader polls and some discussion is also in a Coffee Shop post HERE.
The prospect scrimmage which is recapped below also impressed.
The format of the prospect scrimmage fits well for showcasing offensive talent. The game featured a shortened period of 4-on-4 hockey followed by another shortened period of 3-on-3 hockey followed by a 5-player (someone correct me if my count was wrong) shootout. In addition, the camp was heavier on forwards, so a decent number of the four-man units included three forwards. The result was some fairly wide open and loose play that gave the offensive players a chance to sign and served the goalies with a challenging task.
At a basic level, what stands out about the camp when I look back a few years is the increase in the number of players who at least have a chance to be top-tier NHL players. Not all of them will make it obviously, but the group of players with potentially high-end ability is large relatively speaking. A number of years back, a small handful of players were maybe top-end and the rest were a bunch trying to play way up to being a serviceable depth NHLer someday. Today there were 5-7 players who one could envision being top half of the roster players in the NHL in a few years.
Regulation goals were scored by Matt Filipe (2), Julien Gauthier, Jake Bean, Eetu Luostarinen, John Edwardh and Mac Hollowell. (Someone holler if they had different. My notes are messy, but I think I have that right.)
In terms of who stood out offensively the most today, I would give the nod to Gauthier. He found the puck on his stick in the neutral zone with a head of steam multiple times, and the end result of that seemingly every time was Gauthier barreling all the way to the net for a good scoring chance. His best sequence was probably the play where he had the puck in the neutral zone without momentum, made a nifty pass to spring a line mate for a breakaway and ultimately scored when he retrieved a loose puck and showed great hands to finish on the backhand. But that was not the only Gauthier highlight in a game with many.
With the puck on his stick or a clear assignment offensively, Gauthier looks like a shoe in to score 30 goals at the NHL level. The challenge is for him to round out his game and what he does during the 80 percent of the game when he is not working on a scoring chance.
I said shortly after the game that Bean reminded me of Joni Pitkanen today. Bean showed a propensity and a comfort level playing with the puck on his stick for extended periods of time. Like Pitkanen from days of old, Bean kept possession of the puck until he had something better to do with it. When on the ice, his team dominated puck possession, and Bean also generated offense with heady plays to distribute the puck from the back end. Bean had one ‘oops’ when he fell down between the face-off circles in the offensive zone which led to a breakaway in the other direction, but in total he did not stand out defensively in a bad way which is also significant.
I could rave about him more but will instead try to brief to make sure the important points are not lost in the volume. An important starting point is to say that after having a pretty good week of practices, Necas looked way better in real game action.
The biggest thing that I noted about his game after first seeing him in Wednesday’s practice was how he was able to play the puck at full speed. There are plenty of players who can skate in the NHL. There are also plenty who can make plays offensively. A common component of almost all elite forwards is the ability to play the game offensively at full speed. In my opinion, what makes Connor McDavid special is his ability to play the puck (shoot, pass, receive a pass, stick handle, etc.) at 100 percent speed. I am NOT saying that Necas will be even in the same category as McDavid, but he does possess the rare ability to play offense at something very close to 100 percent speed.
In addition, Necas speed and skating ability is the effortless variety. He is not laboring or working hard. He just flies around. Because he does not appear to be working that hard, his speed only jumps out at you with a point of reference, often a defender that he is flying past. Finally, Necas seems to have pretty good hockey sense especially offensively knowing how to create passing lanes to himself or to other players. And as an added bonus, I was incredibly impressed with the composure that 18-year old Czech Martin Necas showed doing his post-game interview in English which is obviously a second language for him.
Of the growing number of mid-late round drafted forwards, Filipe stood out on Saturday by virtue of netting two goals. (Lorentz had one too, but it was waived off and did not count.) Finishing is a plus but can admittedly be erratic with a tiny sample size. Maybe what deserves more notice and credit from Filipe was how he was able to regularly find holes to step into to receive and shoot. In addition to the two goals that each saw him create a passing lane to a scoring chance for himself, he had a few others. There is an element to shooting as far as scoring goals obviously, but for a finishing forward, I think the more important skill is the hockey sense to figure out where/when to step into holes to create passing lanes, receive passes and shoot.
He scored on a juicy rebound late in the scrimmage to finish off a learning week. Perhaps Hurricanes are spoiled by Sebastian Aho two years ago, but Luostarinen looked like he is more of a long-term project. Luostarinen has some skill and does go to the front of the net, but he has room to improve skating-wise and did not stand out otherwise this week.
He looks bigger, stronger and more assertive this summer. That said, I continue to think that he is on a longer schedule than some think. He just does not have either the acceleration or quick burst necessary to win short puck races and battles in the defensive zone nor is he blessed with great straight line speed. He also had issues a couple times sorting things out defensively with the most notable being Filipe receiving a pass coming in behind him and using him for a screen and a goal. Let me note two things in this regard. First is that Victor Rask similarly has average at best NHL speed and does fine because he reads and reacts so well. Second is that Roy is making gradual improvement. I like the path that Roy is on, but my early read for the 2017-18 season is that Roy is still a year or more away mobility-wise.
I thought the best regular pair on the night was Kuokkanen/Foegele. They controlled possession when they were on the ice together, earned offensive zone time and generated some chances. Neither scored, but Foegele had a pretty pass from behind the net for Filipe’s second goal. One of my favorite plays of the day was actually not a goal, but rather a play that saw Foegele receive a pass in the neutral zone with speed. From there, he carved a path straight to the net. Somehow he managed to elude two defenders without really turning east/west. Instead, Foegele just seemed to spin through them. His straight line style of play fits Peters’ system well especially for a depth forward role. My old comparison of Foegele’s game without the puck (forecheck and neutral zone play) to Justin Williams became even more interesting today. I think Foegele is a dark horse to compete for a 2017-18 roster spot despite making the jump from juniors.
He did not finish a strong week by filling up the score sheet, but I think he played well on Saturday. As noted above, he and Foegele dominated play and possession when they were on the ice together. If the Hurricanes do not add another center, Kuokkanen could be an interesting dark horse to rise up the depth chart ahead of schedule.
He did not stand out as dominant on Saturday, but I continue to think that he is more skilled and capable than any defenseman not named Jake Bean. He skates well and handles the puck going on and off his stick better than the vast majority of defensemen his age. I will be curious to track him to see if he can convert what I see as a fairly high ceiling into an impressive 2017-18 season in juniors that earns him a professional contract.
He had a goal that was waived off by an early whistle. He also had another play where he made a fairly nifty stick handling pay to clear and use a shooting lane. He still has work to do to cover the whole rink at NHL speed, but I like where he is development-wise relative to his starting point two years ago.
In game play, the scouting that suggest that Geekie needs to continue to improve his skating showed more. He was not horrible on Saturday, but he was not the quickest to loose pucks or up and down the ice either. Most visible was when Kuokkanen/Foegele had the puck in the offensive zone in the 3-on-3 portion against Roy/Geekie and worked the perimeter for nearly the entire shift and easily retrieved the puck when they lost it by being quicker.
With a format only slightly more favorable than the drills that often end with 1-on-none for a shot at the end, the goalies were again challenged on Saturday with mixed results.
If my math is right, Booth was touched up for two goals in probably a little more than one period of action. So the stat line is not great. And he probably overplayed the Gauthier backhand goal. But along the way, he made a number of good saves in a fairly wide open game, and I also liked him best in the shootout. He showed a nice combination of patience and also soundness in terms of not opening up any holes. His best in the shootout was a pretty save where Roy was behind him seemingly with room inside the post, but Booth managed to keep a skate or pad behind to close the hole.
He was on target to stand out as the best goalie until he was touched up for two quick goals late. Prior to that, Makiniemi had made a number of good saves. But even with the two goals against, I was impressed with Makiniemi’s quickness.
Like Makiniemi, LaFontaine was tracking toward being the goalie of the game at one point, but he too was then beaten a couple times to bring him back down. A trademark of LaFontaine’s game is his aggressiveness. It generally serves him well, but in the shootout he a couple times got caught making the first move and lunging a bit.
Helvig was beaten through a screen off the rush once, but like the other goalies also had his high points along the way in a fairly loose game.
All Canes Camp team
If I had to pick an all Canes Camp team based mostly but not totally on the Saturday scrimmage, it would include Callum Booth at goalie, Jake Bean and Noah Carroll on defense and Janne Kuokkanen, Martin Necas and Julien Gauthier at forward. Honorable mention would be Warren Foegele and Matt Filipe.
In case you missed it earlier this week, previous Hurricanes prospect camp coverage includes:
My ‘what I’m watching’ style series that covered the prospects player by player. from before camp started.
The future looks very bright, and maybe most encouraging is the fact that dynamic scoring help could be on the way to complement the young blue line that has emerged over the past two years.
Who else attended prospect camp this week and is willing to share his/her insight?