I went back to a post I wrote on June 6, 2010, on the subject of tracking the progress for next year. I wanted to see how the Hurricanes organization decisions compared to those decisions I thought were needed to advance the team in 2010-2011.
It was my view then and continues to be my view that for the 2010-2011 Hurricanes to improve as a team, they had the following areas that needed an upgrade:
(1) adding a defenseman to run the power play; (2) adding some size, speed, and physicality at forward, (3) finding a big, fast scoring wing to go with Staal and Jokinen on the first line (or perhaps Staal and Whitney), (4) jettisoning some highly paid, under-achieving veterans, (5) adding a cannon defenseman to scatter pigeons in front of the net, particularly on the power play, (6) finding a third line center, and (7) buying out Brind'Amour.
(1) Adding a defenseman to run the power play:
The addition of Sanguinetti and McBain and the return of Joe Corvo gives the Hurricanes some substantial talent for running the powerplay. When Sanguinetti was signed, I was really pleased because he was a player I had noticed while watching the Rangers and watching AHL games. I was also thoroughly pleased with the re-signing of Joe Corvo. As compared with 2009-2010, the Hurricanes, I think, will be much improved in terms of defensemen able to quarterback the power play.
(2) adding some size, speed, and physicality at forward:
This area still is some degree of a question mark for me. I liked what I saw from Jared Staal at the Prospects Camp; but I expect Jared Staal has at least a couple more years before he starts into his best years for the Hurricanes. I also like Justin Shugg, but he too seems to be a player who is anywhere from two to four years away. Justin Shugg is strong, but he is not a man mountain like Jared Staal. Matsumoto was another forward I saw watching AHL games and I like how he plays. He adds physicality and plays larger than 6' 190 lbs. I think this area is one to watch in general. Somebody needs to take some of the hitting load off of Ruutu. Bowman could be that person. His hitting game has really developed over the past season. In the end, I think Osala will be given a chance to play in the NHL in 2010-2011, and I think he will earn a roster spot at some point in 2010-2011 with a role that focuses on crashing the net and playing a big, physical game in the corners and in front of the net.
(3) finding a big, fast scoring wing to go with Staal and Jokinen on the first line (or perhaps Staal and Whitney)
Jeff Skinner was not the prototypical gigantic, scoring wing I had envisioned; but he is regarded as an excellent scoring forward. He impressed me at the Prospect Camp for the two days I was able to attend. Jeff Skinner is the real deal, I believe, but he could easily be a year or two away from sticking with the Hurricanes. His talent is enormous and it will be important not to rush his development. I believe that Boychuk will be getting time on the first line. I think both Boychuk and Dalpe are highly skilled, fast forwards; and if Nash signs and is able to handle the third line center duties, Dalpe may well get more time on the first or second line. In the not too distant future, I think Staal and Skinner will be a very impressive duo on the first line. I think Boychuk will establish himself as a clear top six forward and depending on the opponent will get time with Staal and Skinner (but that could be 2011-2012).
4) jettisoning some highly paid, under-achieving veterans:
The changes at the trade deadline accomplished much if not all of the need to jettison the under-achievers. To me, the only non-core veteran forwards left are Samsonov, Kostopoulos, LaRose, and Cole. All four are legitimate NHL players; and of the four, only Samsonov strikes me as the only forward of the group who under-produced without having a substantial injury as the root cause of under-productivity. I think Kosotpoulos is an over-achiever and have zero issue with his play. Kostopoulos plays hard each shift and does all he possibly can to help the team win. Defensively, there are no under-achievers left on the team.
It is, however, a cross-roads half-season for both Cole and LaRose. Both LaRose and Cole have shown themselves to have the talent to produce 20 goals a season. Both LaRose and Cole had disappointing seasons in 2010-2011, but that can be attributed in large part to injuries. Samsonov's year was also disappointing; but he has a history of focusing during contract years and making himself very valuable to the team in his contract year.
(5) adding a cannon defenseman to scatter pigeons in front of the net, particularly on the power play:
Babchuk's return absolutely gives the Hurricanes a much needed boost in the power cannon department. Sanguinetti also has a strong, strong shot. McBain's shot is accurate and he is a player for whom the puck seems to have eyes. Corvo had a tough time in the scoring department in 2010-2011, and I predict he has a much more Corvo-like offensively effective year this coming season. I also think Pitkanen has a cannon of a shot and as he learns to shoot more, he too can help the Hurricanes in the scattering of pigeons in front of the net.
(6) finding a third line center:
The rapid development of Dalpe in the AHL makes him a front-runner as far as I am concerned for the third line center. On the other hand, if Riley Nash signs, he too could make a strong case for himself as the third line center. Jeff Skinner also should not be under-estimated as the third line center. Although he is young, he has some amazing skill. Matsumoto has shown himself to be extremely capable at the AHL level and he could earn a roster spot with a breakout camp.
(7) buying out Brind'Amour:
Brind'Amour and Jim Rutherford handled a difficult situation with grace and dignity. It was the right decision for everybody involved.
Of the seven areas I thought the Hurricanes needed to address prior to the 2010-2011 season, I thought six of the seven categories were very well-addressed. I still believe the Hurricanes need to add some more physical forwards into the Hurricanes system; but I like the forwards the Hurricanes obtained. I am also hoping that Sanguinetti will add a physical dimension to his game. I'd like to see Jim Rutherford re-sign either Carson or Picard to add some more physicality to the defense.
The Hurricanes have established the identity of the team by the players it obtained. It is a very talented, fast, hard-working group of hockey players who play "team first and not me first." It bodes very well for the future.