Canes and Coffee FINALLY unveiled namesake coffee cups yesterday. Now comes the not fun task of figuring out a few logistics like shipping costs, etc. with the hope of having a page to order them by early next week. The hope is to set things up to take orders by early next week, but you can see the cups HERE and also help with a quick three-question poll.
My ‘last week of August’ series continues work toward offering a few short comments on every player either under contract with the Hurricanes or still under draft rights. If you missed the beginning and want to catch up…
Part 4 today covers 11 more players in 3 different categories.
Since the departure of long-time captain Eric Staal at the trade deadline in February of 2016, much has been made of the Hurricanes’ captaincy. Discussions abounded about timing and options for the next captain. Those conversations which were already ongoing this summer both revved up and changed in terms of options when Justin Williams was signed. I have stated before that my starting point for considering this whole situation is that the Hurricanes management and coaching are as equipped as any in the NHL to evaluate and make a decision on this front. Ron Francis and Rod Brind’Amour were both great captains that played on winning teams. Coach Bill Peters came from a winning culture in Detroit. And the team has other players who wore NHL letters in Ray Whitney, Glen Wesley, Joe Nieuwendyk and Cory Stillman (now departed) for round table discussions. Regardless of which direction the leadership goes in terms of affixing letters to jerseys, these three players will all be called on to provide leadership.
In addition, I think it is also fair to include Justin Faulk, Victor Rask and Cam Ward in this group. Faulk and Rask wore letters last year, and Ward’s role in the locker room despite being a goalie should not be underestimated. But since this is not just an article about leadership/the captaincy, I put these three players in other categories.
If I had to pick a player from the current group who was the most logical choice to wear the ‘C’, I would choose Jordan Staal. He has paid his dues and been a top player for a number of years now. It predates his time in a Hurricanes’ uniform, but he has playoff experience and a Cup win. And he has arguably been the player longest on the ‘could be the next captain’ list. But that being the case, I said awhile back that I thought that if the Hurricanes management thought one of the current captain options was the right one for today, that said player would already have been named the captain.
He surged in terms of production in 2016-17 and also showed a knack for sparking the team a few games which are both significant accomplishments for a scoring-leaning captain. Skinner is definitely a candidate if the team does name a captain, but as with Staal, my hunch is that if he was the guy right now, he would already have it.
With candidates in house, some might think that naming a newcomer the captain would be odd and potentially ruffle some feathers. While this potential does exist, I think Williams is a different sort as a league gray beard who has won the Stanley Cup three times. His initial comments upon signing with the Hurricanes definitely made a mark and set a tone which is something one would hope for from a next captain. But at the same time, Williams’ personality and accomplishments will command attention regardless of what letter, if any, is affixed to his jersey. I could see him wearing an ‘A’ or nothing at all and helping mentor a younger captain. I could also see him given the ‘C’ with conversations behind closed doors that have him carrying the torch briefly while grooming whoever is next. Regardless, Williams will be a significant part of the leadership group.
The dark horses who have what is needed
With the addition of Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris, the Hurricanes climbed to 13 forwards on one-way contracts. That is obviously enough to fill the roster and suggests that it will be difficult from a promising prospect to supplant someone already at least penciled into the lineup. But at the same time, the Hurricanes need to find more scoring and there are numerous players with the potential to do that. I already put Jake Bean, Julien Gauthier, Martin Necas and Aleksi Saarela in a category of young prospects with high upside. But that set of players is very likely at least a year away from the NHL roster. But the small set of players highlighted below also brings scoring upside but possibly in the form of players who are closer to NHL-ready for the start of the 2017-18 season.
I have been incredibly high on him all summer since a launch point in seeing him at the prospect camp. His skill set as a playmaking center fits for what is needed/expected out of Derek Ryan’s slot, and longer term, I think Kuokkanen has more upside partly because of his young age. Could he be ready ahead of schedule? He is near the top of my list of players to get an early read on in scrimmages and preseason action to gauge whether he is ready for the NHL level maybe a year ahead of schedule.
Foegele did everything one could ask of him as an overage player in the OHL in 2016-17 with a strong regular season and an even better playoffs. He can play center or wing, but with his skating ability, decent size and tenacity on the puck in all three zones, I view him as being a wing at least short term. In addition to simply having a strong season, Foegele comes into training camp with the advantage of playing the 2016-17 season in exactly the role he would target at the NHL level in 2017-18. In the playoffs, he was a key part of a top checking line and also played penalty kill. If he can quickly transition that skill set to NHL speed, I think he could push one of Joakim Nordstrom or Josh Jooris for a fourth line wing slot by matching what those players bring defensively and adding more offense. My watch point for him in training camp is how well he plays but also what he sees for line mates and also penalty kill ice time.
I am actually not as high on Roy short-term as others. To be clear, he made tremendous strides in his two years in juniors since being drafted and did about all one could hope he would do at that level. That is obviously a good thing. And in terms of breadth of development, Roy is as strong as any of the forward candidates. In 2016-17, he scored, played well defensively, won face-offs, distributed the puck and did about everything else. But my ‘skating above all else’ thinks that Roy will need some time in the AHL to fine tune his positioning and situational reads at higher speed and also to continue to improve in terms of mobility.
Zykov is arguably the biggest wild card of this bunch. I am not sure that his ceiling is as high as the other three players, but he goes to the net in the offensive zone like is ingrained in his style of play – because it is. The Hurricanes need more of this in the lineup which leaves the door cracked open for Zykov. If he crashes the net shift in and shift out like he will, and it creates offense, he rises up the depth chart. Very similar to Roy, I am not as high on Zykov as many for the same ‘skating above all else’ bias. I think he needs to find another step or two to be able to play NHL hockey at transition points, but at the same time I acknowledge that scoring in and around the crease is needed.
Four of kind with the physical starting point
The Hurricanes prospect pool has become significantly deeper under three years of Ron Francis’ tenure, and the group now boasts a variety of players with differing skill sets. But along the way some trends have emerged in terms of types of players drafted. One thing that jumps out when one tries to group draft picks under Francis is the general bias toward raw size and skating at the forward position. There have been exceptions like Sebastian Aho, but in general Francis has drafted forwards with above average size and at least average speed/skating ability. And in the middle rounds Francis has used a decent number of picks to net NCAA forwards who relative to Canadian junior players with two-year contract decisions can spend longer developing before a contract decision must be made. This category features forwards who were mid/late-round picks, are NCAA players with longer development windows, have above average size and skate pretty well for their size.
Filipe emerged from the pack of mid-round forwards at the prospect camp when he smartly stepped right into open areas on the ice at the right time, received a pass and made no mistake beating the goalie for a pretty goal. The sample size was incredibly small and therefore has the potential to create an overdone positive bias, but at the same time, there is something to be said for ranking players based on on-ice performance since that is ultimately where they will need to succeed. Like the others, Filipe is a sophomore this season and is already tuning up for his NCAA season.
Letting the broken record continue to run, Cotton is another NCAA forward who just completed his freshman year. He similarly brings a decent mix of size but without being a laggard skating-wise and has some offensive ability to boot. Like Filipe he will return to college for the 2017-18 season with the potential to play up to two years after that before hitting his draft rights contract deadline.
A couple check ins to Wisconsin suggest that Zimmer had a good learning freshman season in 2016-17 but did not set the world on fire. Like the others, Zimmer has good skating ability and projectable NHL size and projects at least to have the skill set and potential to become a new NHL checking line forward with good mobility. But again, key for these mid-round NCAA draftees is that Francis will not be forced to make a go/no-go decision on a contract after two years as with Canadian junior players. Instead, Francis can use a full three years and even potentially a fourth (though that is very risky for good players because it puts them too close to free agency). Zimmer laces them up for Wisconsin again in 2017-18 as a sophomore.
Stevens is a tiny bit different in that I would not put him quite in the same category mobility-wise as the previous three. But he very clearly meets the big, with offensive upside and with time to develop in the NCAA criteria. His 2016-17 season was cut short by injury right when he was starting to put it together, so it will be interesting to see if he can hit the ground running for the 2017-18 season.
With that, I have touched on 43 out of 66 players either under contract with the Hurricanes or drafted and still under control of team.
What say you Canes fans?
1) With number of categories/groups expanding, are there any players already in other groups or not yet mentioned who you think could also fit in one of today’s groups?
2) Do you see other landing places in parts 1 through 3 for any of today’s players?
3) As I get toward the end of this project and possibly face a few random puzzle pieces that do not seem to have a match, who wants to take a shot at creating groups for the remaining players?