Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a short collection of player notes.
Joel Edmundson/Jaccob Slavin
I have liked this pairing with Slavin moved to the right side and Edmundson on his natural left side. Slavin has not looked significantly different switching across and the gain has been Edmundson looking much more comfortable especially handling the puck under pressure.
He suddenly has four points in his last four games with three of those being primary points from finding ways to get shots to the net from the point. In addition, he has averaged 20:46 of ice time in a much bigger role. Could he be on the brink of taking a step up? That is an intriguing situation to watch as the season winds down especially because the team needs a defenseman or two to step up with the team minus Brett Pesce and Dougie Hamilton. If he is breaking out as we speak, the timing could be perfect. As a restricted free agent who must be re-signed this summer, his late surge could put him in a bigger role heading into the 2019-20, but the effect on his next salary should be modest. He logged three-fourths of the 2019-20 season in a third pairing/healthy scratch role which dictates a modest salary increase over his entry-level contract salary. And though he has been collecting points of late, he is unlikely to score his way up to a significantly higher pay grade. Especially with the Hurricanes having a few other question marks on the blue line with level of play and possible departures to free agency, the Canes could get the best of both worlds with Fleury playing his way up to a higher level but still having his next contract come in at a dept defenseman type of salary.
He is obviously on everyone’s watch list after his stellar three-point NHL debut on Sunday. I think an interesting way to think of Geekie is in comparison to the team’s recent centers to emerge from the system. A couple years back Victor Rask burst onto the scene ahead of schedule by virtue of proving he could play sound defensive hockey. That was enough to win him a roster spot. As he settled in, he also developed a decent scoring touch more as a scorer than a playmaker. He peaked as a solid two-way center capable of 50ish points before cratering. Before his play fell off a cliff, the raps on him were his lack of foot speed and limited ability to create scoring chances for his line mates. Following Rask was Lucas Wallmark who in many ways was very similar. He too earned ice time by showing that he could be sound defensively. From that foundation, Wallmark developed into a capable third/fourth line center with his peak being when he stepped into Jordan Staal’s checking role for an extended period of time during the 2018-19 season and performed admirably in that role. Like Rask, Wallmark was a good two-way center and showed a decent finishing tough. Also like Rask, the limitations of his game were his foot speed and to arguably his ability to generate much for his line mates.
Enter Morgan Geekie. He has some interesting similarities to Wallmark and Rask. Like them, he will be below average for foot speed at the NHL level, but also like them he has the potential to be okay defensively from hockey IQ, decision-making and positioning. Also like Wallmark and Rask, he brings decent finishing ability that should translate to the NHL level. After his stellar debut, I will be watching Geekie’s continued play for both ceiling and floor. In terms of ceiling, his tool bag offensively is a bit more diverse than Rask and Wallmark’s. Could he score goals at the same rate as peak Rask and Wallmark but also add a playmaking component that also boosts his line mates? If so, he could play a role in finding true balance for depth scoring. In terms of floor, the question is whether he can match Rask and Wallmark in terms of two-way play. That was what earned each of them ice time and bigger roles. Offensive contribution is valuable obviously, but if it comes with sub-par defensive play, that is a challenging fit for a depth role for a center.
Though the ideal scenario would have seen this happen earlier in the season and with the Canes possessing a sizable cushion above the playoff cut line, what is happening now is ideal at least for figuring out the 2020-21 roster. Alex Nedeljkovic figured to get at least a first crack at being the Canes backup goalie at the NHL level for the 2019-20 season before Don Waddell found a way to offload Scott Darling’s contract without the cost of buying him out. Best guess is that the arrival of Reimer changed the original plan. But I have to believe that the arrival of Reimer just pushed the original plan back a year. First to be clear, Reimer has performed admirably as a backup and could easily win that same role going forward if the team did not have Nedeljkovic. But because of age, pedigree, level of play at the AHL level and also significantly the fact that he will need to clear waivers next year (which he likely would not), Nedeljkovic figures to start the 2020-21 season at the NHL level as the backup. An important part of heading down that road includes two important things. First is assessing that plan’s viability. Second is trying to get Nedeljkovic acclimated to the NHL level as much as possible. My best guess is that the Hurricanes will try to trade Reimer this summer despite his strong play and that the team will also look to add a capable AHL/NHL goalie with decent NHL experience to be a capable #3 in Charlotte in case Nedeljkovic does not work out. Anton Forsberg is trying to stake a claim to that spot right now. So though dropping two AHL goalies into the NHL lineup in the heat of the playoff stretch run maybe was not ideal, it works sell for trying to assess options in net for the 2020-21 season.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on the new iteration of Edmundson/Slavin that has Slavin on his off side?
2) Is Haydn Fleury on the brink of taking a sizable step in his development?
3) At the risk of being overly optimistic based on one game, what are your thoughts on Morgan Geekie?
4) Finally, what are your thoughts on Alex Nedeljkovic’s play through four games and his viability at least as a backup at the NHL level for the 2020-21 season?
1. It seems fine.
3. He has potential, but realistically he was probably the fourth of fifth best prospect this year. The organization has not managed prospects particularly well. Think about this—Roy is the 1C on one of the best team’s in hockey the past 3 weeks; Gauthier is a regular in a lineup for a team that is challenging the Canes; Kuokkanen will be on the ice against the Canes several times in the next three weeks. Yet it took injuries for Geekie to get a start. For those who were arguing that all the prospects were tweeners, Roy and Gauthier (even Saarela to some extent) are making that look less likely. Yet Bean may not see Raleigh this season.
4. See Carter Hart. Ned should be given the chance to start at least 1/2 the games next season. Given the age of the core, the Canes window opens widest 21-22 through 23-24.
1. The pairing works, but there are big question marks on D. Curious to see what the D looks like when/if Vatanen draws in.
The canes will have a hard time carrying all their D, especially Gardner (thank goodness he scored last night and had a nifty assist, he’s got some offense in him and hopefully this will spark something for him, which is good for him personally and for the Canes, who must be looking to trade him).
2. Our Heydn is turning into the guy that was drafted sometime back in the dark ages. Good to see him lose the hesitation and assert himself as a bit of a threat offensively. I’m sure there are old members of the C&C community who are pleasantly surprised. I wish we would’ve kept the first round pick and brought up one of Roland or Jake Bean for a tryout rather than trading for Brady.
3. One additional positive on Geekie, one which Trip pointed out a few times during the broadcast, is that he is right-handed. The entire forward group was left handed for most of the season, but with Williams, Geekie and Trocheck drawing in there is more of a balance now, (if Bock is NHL ready there may be another right-handed guy on the way next season). I am curious to see what Geekie does with another couple of games. Zykov managed a magic run of almost 10 games towards the end of a season a couple of years ago. It didn’t last but it energized the team, something the Canes are going to need every bit of if they are to make it across the playoff line. And the name Geekie also makes for an endless rocessions of puns from the broadcast booth, and possible new identity for the team, “the Geek Squad”, though I like the bunch of jerks best, at least our Morgan looks like a Best Buy. We could’ve done something with Walmart while we had Walmark, but we missed that Target window on that one.
4. We need more time to see how the Ned/Forsberg combo holds up. This would be a pretty good 2/3 combo of goalies for next season, assuming Mrazek recovers and the Canes want him as their #1 (he’s not been a lights out goalie this season and has had his significant ups and downs, overall Reimer has played better, albeit in a limited role). Ned hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s played good stretches of solid hockey and may be settling in. Forsberg is a big athletic goalie. I wonder if attributes such as size can determine what goalies play which opponents. It’s harder to screen bigger goalies.
Moving Edmondson over is the backup story to the real headline, which is that Fleury has really stepped up his game. He is being physical, when under pressure ices the puck or just flips it to center far less frequently, and is skating with possession up ice with far more regularity and threatening on the rush. You know he’s playing better because RBA is giving him far more minutes and trusting him more. Again, he’s at 131 NHL games with half of them coming two years ago and they say it takes 100 for a defenseman to figure it out; he seems like he’s figuring it out.
The thing that stands out most about Fleury as you noted is (at least sometimes) more patience with the puck. V1.0 of Fleury just wanted to get the puck off his stick and out of the defensive zone. That is an okay formula for avoiding ‘big oopses’, but the result is constantly turning the puck over in in the neutral zone and needing to defend again. That trade of always giving up puck possession to stay out of big trouble is a no-go at the NHL level.
For all of the various things one could watch for a defenseman, I really think Fleury’s progress boils down to watching only 2 things: (1) How prone he is to quickly giving up puck possession to impatiently avoid trouble; (2) How comfortable he is aggressively playing into gaps like Slavin instead of sitting back too much. It has been intermittent, but he has been better in both areas of late.
1. At this point I would guess that the Edmundson/Slavin pairing will remain in place even when Vatanen enters the lineup. Then who will be the odd man out?
2. I would say Fleury has already taken a sizable step. He deserves to stay in the lineup when Vatanen is cleared to play. What will the new pairings be?
3. It’s great to see Geekie get off to a great start (similar to Foegele when he got his chance). I think he is part of the reason the Canes were willing to trade Wallmark. I agree that his defensive play and development is the big question mark.
4. I would bet that Ned is the backup next year (his salary next year is $775,000 even at the minors level). The Darling/Reimer deal was a master stroke by Waddell. Reimer’s record of 14-6-2 this year positions the Canes for maximum flexibility in deciding what to do for next season. Remember that Forsberg won his arbitration case; his minors salary is $775,000 and he will be a UFA. I doubt he returns to the Canes.
Early in the season there was a commentor here who was vehemently certain Haydn was simply unqualified to even be in the NHL. I believe he eventually stopped visiiting this site. Anyone else wondering what he has to say now?
1. I have never liked Edmundson on his offside – Slavin is so much better playing on the right side that I am not ever sure there is any fall-off. This will until (if???) Vatanen makes it to the ice.
2. No. Fleury is not on the brink…he is doing it. It started in training camp when he came in with a new attitude and edge and he has been building on it all season long. I am a fan.
3. I liked RBA’s comments on him after the game and while you can talk about 2G/1A – there was so much more. He held his own in the faceoff circle as a right-handed center, he played in front of the net and contributed in a non-statistical way by screening for two goals, he led the team with 4 blocked shots (kind of unusual for a forward??). It is just one game – but what a debut. That said, I wouldn’t begin to think about his place in the rafters – let’s wait until at least the NJD game on Thursday! 😀
4. As we saw in his first game – he got into a bit of trouble early and then bore down with 2+ periods of shutout hockey. He is not Binnington but I think he shows he most likely belongs at this level and is going to need to make some adjustments to get there.
Slavin is far more skilled with his stick than Edmundson, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he is better on his off side.
What we are seeing from Fleury is confidence. It makes all the difference for a player. It is a good break for him to get this extra TOI. Will make a difference in his career. Injuries worked out well for Slavin and Pesce too.
The theory of Nedeljkovic being the presumptive backup took a bit of a hit today as he was sent down to Charlotte over Forsberg. If the Canes thought he was a better tender they wouldn’t have worried about exposing Forsberg. The reality is Ned hasn’t shown much. He wasn’t good in the first period yesterday. Once again not letting in any howlers, but not making any good saves either. He got better, but has been outplayed by Forsberg in his opportunities so far. I’ve said this before, but if the Canes thought so much of Nedeljkovic he would already have been given a shot. I think it’s 50/50 he’s even with the organization next season.
Forsberg can be picked up on waivers, so that may have influenced the decision to send Ned down.
Didn’t like our Hayden’s game early in the season but he has looked like top 4 d for almost 2 months. Hope he continues to grow and play at a high level.
Yeah, the Canes have not taken advantage of their farm system, that’s for sure.
Ned hasn’t dazzled, so I can see why they wouldn’t extend his audition (that being said, I don’t agree that he was significantly outplayed by Forsberg, they were about even, good enough for a good team in front of them to win, not good enough to safe face when the D was about as leaky as a whale’s underpants).
Prospects will likely do best with the NHL club tht drafted them, at least if said club has consistency throughout the coaching ranks and agreements on systems and style of play.
Sending a player without experience to a new team with new systems is definitely an extra challenge.
The Canes have, or rather had, a wealth of prospects that I think could have made a difference (some would be bust, but some would perform), yet they keep giving them away and attracting expensive subpar veterans, that is totally impossible for me to understand.
Well, it is what it is, at least Geekie got a chance to impress. Let’s see how Kuakonen does on Thursday, hopefully not a 3-point night.
I always liked Kuokkanen more than the average/consensus. I think his ceiling is fairly low. He lacks dynamic in terms of skating or scoring ability. But I also think his floor was high as a smart, 2-way player with enough skill to be a decent complementary player. In that regard maybe he is a bit like Wallmark and Roy as a capable player but maybe not the type to really drive wins. I think he becomes a capable third line player who is not so much a true difference-maker but is capable of sticking in a decent NHL lineup. Guess time will tell…
Kuok doesn’t grit-and-grind the way RBA likes a player to do – and he doesn’t do it the way Geekie does it. Kuok got called up today – I expect we will see him Thursday. I hope he has a fabulous night, so long as the Canes notch a win.
He had quite a magical chemistry with Jordan Staal in the preseason last year. His year was derailed by injuries and that potential was never explored.
We certainly wish him well, except when he plays the Canes.
More importantly for Thursday, I hope Vatanen can draw in, time to prove that at least we got something for our prospect.