Welcome to Quick Whistles, the reimagined version of last season’s Weekly Thoughts, a weekly piece that takes you through my mind as it pertains to Carolina Hurricanes hockey and the NHL in the form of a bulleted list of one-off thoughts, many of which will be unintelligible.
The return of this series means that hockey is back. As it stands now, we are less than two weeks away from Carolina’s opening night game against the Minnesota Wild on October 7.
Before we get to that, though, we have to make it through the exhibition schedule, and there have been plenty of interesting stories to come from it.
Here are this week’s quick whistles.
- 2017 first-round pick Martin Necas is among a select group of players that entered camp on the outside looking in for a roster spot but are still making a very compelling argument for their name to be included on Carolina’s opening night roster. The Czech center has impressed the Hurricanes coaching staff, including bench boss Bill Peters who has raved about every part of his offensive game. His talent has put him in the conversation, but now it appears to be a numbers game. Carolina’s depth down the middle is nearing an all-time best and the rookie’s faceoff and defensive games are both lacking, so Necas will likely have to earn a spot on the wing if he is to play in the NHL this season. His skating ability and skill with the puck makes him an awfully tempting option, especially if Lee Stempniak’s back injury lingers into the regular season. Necas, also a right-handed shot, has been getting looks with Jeff Skinner and Derek Ryan in practice. For more on the 18-year-old’s chances of making the team, here’s a bunch of words I strung together about the situation on Thursday.
- Like Stempniak, Scott Darling has also been nursing an injury in training camp. Peters said that it’s a shoulder injury that has kept the former Blackhawk out of preseason action, but that could change on Monday. Expect Darling to play the entirety of the game against the Edmonton Oilers. It would be his first game in a Hurricanes uniform.
- The competition on the blueline has been fun to watch. Haydn Fleury has the inside track to lock down a bottom-pairing spot with Trevor van Riemsdyk, but Trevor Carrick isn’t going away quietly. Carrick had two points in Saturday’s win over the Capitals and his feisty nature has been both apparent and impressive, though his defensive game has been lacking at times, which is a rather significant knock given that the team suffered from such issues on the third pairing last season. Entering camp, it was Fleury’s spot to lose on the bottom pairing, and he hasn’t done anything to suggest that he can’t handle playing in the NHL this season. He might have locked in his spot on the roster with his tremendous performance against the Lightning last week as he stepped up to defend Derek Ryan after a bad hit and made a slick sliding stop while defending a two-on-one rush. The fight, in particular, was huge for Fleury as it makes a statement to his teammates and will surely develop trust in the locker room, as Jaccob Slavin alluded to after the game. It’s encouraging to see so many young guys show that they are both ready and hungry for a spot with the big club.
- A little more on Carrick: I wonder if he is giving Klas Dahlbeck a run for his money for the seventh defenseman role. If he were 28 and not 23, I think it’d be a very interesting competition, one which Carrick would likely win, but since the 2012 fourth-round pick still has youth on his side, the most likely scenario is that he is sent back to Charlotte to play big minutes on a team that projects to be very competitive in the AHL. He’ll undoubtedly be the first in line for a call-up on the blue line if he does find his way back in Mecklenburg County.
- Ahead of Saturday night’s game, the Canes cut an additional 12 players from their training camp roster and put five players on waivers with the intent of sending them to Charlotte for the team’s training camp which begins on Monday. 2011 draft pick Gregory Hofmann, who is no longer property of the team, went back to HC Lugano of the Swiss league as their season is already underway. On Sunday, the Canes also sent Julien Gauthier and Roland McKeown to the Checkers. As a whole, none of the cuts were unexpected. The roster is now down to 33 players as the club heads to Alberta and Saskatchewan over the next few days. Following the road trip, the roster will likely get another big cut ahead of the team’s final preseason game, a home game against the Capitals on Friday. If I was to wager a guess, Necas, Carrick, Valentin Zykov, and Lucas Wallmark are among the group of players who are right on the bubble of forcing their way onto the club. They’ll get a long look over the next few days, as will Janne Kuokkanen who survived another round of cuts and has looked very good on the powerplay. Organization depth? Why, yes, I will take many helpings of that.
- Speaking of Wallmark, this is a player that has gone a little under the radar. It’s understandable as the team is seeing a group of teenagers and 20-year-olds come in and make big pushes in camp, but Wallmark’s two-way game is mature and impressive. Had it not been for the addition of Marcus Kruger over the offseason, the young Swede would probably be the favorite to come in an play on the fourth line. Peters loves this kid’s game and his ability to make adjustments from game to game. He had a very good rookie year in Charlotte and tallied a pair of assists in eight NHL games last season. He turned 22 on September 5.
- The team’s biggest free agency splash was bringing back Justin Williams, and he has been a treat to watch in his first two preseason outings. He’s netted a pair of goals and his stability and experience will be a huge asset for this team. He’s 35 now, but you probably couldn’t tell just by watching him play. Jeff Skinner’s comments about him have been very encouraging as well. Last week, the NHL’s sixth-best goal scorer from last season raved about the veteran, saying “He still plays pretty young out there. It’s fun to sit beside a guy who has been through so much. We’ve got some time coming up in the next few months where I’m sure I’ll be able to pick up some things.” Through a smile, he then said: “I don’t want to come off too annoying at the start.” I loved these comments from Skinner for a lot of reasons, but maybe the biggest is that he will likely be the captain of this team entering the season, and having a guy like Williams to mentor him is invaluable. Our very own Jamie Kellner, who made a very similar point in the comment section of Canes Country’s captaincy post, took this picture during training camp, and if it doesn’t make you feel some type of way, then you have no soul... or you’re just not as easily entertained as I am, which is also a very real possibility.
- My final quick whistle of the week isn’t Canes related, but it does relate to the league as a whole and a team that the Canes will be competing with for a playoff spot this season. That team is the Washington Capitals, and more specifically, the player is Tom Wilson. Wilson is a big power winger and he lays the body a lot. In many instances, the hits are clean and they give his team a big boost. That, and not his 69 points in 313 games, is why he is still in the league. In other instances, though, his hits are dirty and totally unnecessary. The instances in which the latter happens are far too often, and he struck again a few days ago with a big, illegal hit to Blues forward Robert Thomas. For his punishment, Wilson was suspended for two preseason games. A pair of meaningless preseason games is not a punishment for the player. If anything, it gives him a few days to rest. He has been in the league and the organization knows exactly what he will bring to their lineup, so what’s the point of that suspension? If the league truly wants to crack down on dirty hits that are intended to injure, they won’t do so by giving notorious instigators minimal penalties for running around and trying to end careers. While this is Wilson’s first suspension, he has been fined numerous times in the past, including a dirty knee-to-knee hit on Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary in April of 2016. I’m not here to say that big hits and fights shouldn’t be a part of hockey because they absolutely should be, as I alluded to above while talking about Haydn Fleury. They play an important role in the game when handled correctly. However, the league needs to actually send a message when players who are obviously just in the league to start shit step out of line and put other players’ health in jeopardy, players that have talent and make real impacts. There are a lot of things that are broken in this league, especially when it comes to the rules, the explanation of the rules, and the enforcement of the rules, but in these situations, the league needs to have good judgment. In my opinion, they fell short of the mark here and they did not accomplish anything positive with how they handled Tom Wilson’s hit. I could go on for 2,000 more colorful words about why this irritates me so much, but for my sanity’s sake, I leave you with the league’s video describing their thought process here.