The preseason is over, and I, for one, am rejoicing over that fact.
The Carolina Hurricanes will kick off their 2021-22 season on Thursday against the New York Islanders. Their opening night roster might feature a couple of surprises after a pair of young forwards made it through the final training camp cuts.
How long will they stick around, though? That’s the question being kicked around at media availabilities, and the early responses are ones of uncertainty.
Seth Jarvis earned the right to be here. Throughout training camp and the preseason, he stood out with offensive creativity and pleasantly surprised with the maturation of his three-zone play. He didn’t look like a 19-year-old rookie.
But is he currently good enough to make the team on a full-time basis?
I think there’s reason to believe that he is, but the same numbers game that made it unlikely for him to make the team out of camp makes it unlikely that he will stick around or even get the opportunity to show that he can hang.
Carolina’s top-nine winger group is all but cemented. Jarvis won’t take a spot from Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen, Martin Necas, Nino Niederreiter, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, or Jesper Fast. Is he capable of beating out Steven Lorentz? Sure, but that means he is playing on the fourth line, and I don’t think that helps anyone in the long term.
I’ve been a strong advocate for keeping Jarvis in the fold and giving him NHL games before sending him back to Portland, and it appears as if that’s what will happen. You can justify giving him some games on the fourth line next to Derek Stepan, but that isn’t a season-long solution to what is a good problem. You need him to play and play big minutes, and that won’t happen if he’s on a fourth line.
The numbers game is still the clubhouse favorite in deciding Jarvis’ future. He beat it the first time, but things will have to change rather drastically for him to win it again.
I hope he proves everyone wrong, though. There’s no denying that he seems destined for lots of NHL success, regardless of whether that starts this year or next year.
Defense in Flux
There seem to be more questions surrounding Carolina’s defensive pairings than there are around forward combinations.
It comes down to whether it will be Ethan Bear or Tony DeAngelo on the top pairing next to Jaccob Slavin. Right now, it looks like it will be Bear, and I think that is the smart move.
I’ve written about DeAngelo in length in the past, and the TL;DR is that his offense is elite, but his defense is atrocious. His defense is what will hold him back from playing against other teams’ best players consistently. The team can’t afford to put themselves in that spot, especially with a brand new goalie duo in place.
That doesn’t mean TDA can’t or shouldn’t get time with Slavin, because I think he should. However, it needs to be heavily reliant on matchups. Offensive zone faceoffs after icings and attacking depth players should be the strategy for making the most of his skillset. If he is put in positions where he can confidently play his game, he will be an important offensive contributor.
Ian Cole is a pretty good partner for him in a third-pairing capacity, and he will have all the opportunities in the world to contribute on the power play.
Bear, on the other hand, is the more well-rounded player and should be the more consistent partner that Slavin has, at least early on.
This is a player who might surprise a lot of people this season. His offense is underrated, and he’s already shown some of those exploits in the early days of his tenure in Raleigh. He’s a great skater who makes good reads all over the ice. He isn’t as dynamic as DeAngelo, but he might start to close that gap in time, and his defense is already miles better. He will also have the best d-partner he’s ever had in Slavin.
It’s tough to get a good gauge on goalies, especially new goalies, during the preseason. It’s doubly true when the team ices an NHL-like lineup just once in their four exhibition games.
Frederik Andersen will undoubtedly get the opening night start and his two preseason games were somewhat of a mixed bag. He was outstanding in his first start against Tampa Bay, wherein he stopped 37 of 38 shots and led the team to their only preseason win. The wheels fell off to an extent in the preseason finale in Nashville, but that had just as much to do with the team in front of him and the fact that the Predators rolled out a veteran-heavy lineup.
We saw from Andersen in the preseason that his presence in the net is different from what we saw from Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic. He isn’t an aggressive puck player who relies heavily on his athleticism to bail him out.
He’s a big goalie who is extremely poised and calm. It will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out after several years of hectic goalie play. Only time will tell which is better for this team, but Andersen is a veteran, and everyone knows what to expect from him.
It will be fun to see whether or not his infamous October curse will follow him to Carolina. He has a history of very slow starts.
Antti Raanta had the net with Carolina’s veteran-laden lineup in their overtime loss to Nashville on home ice and looked comfortable after getting shelled by the Lightning in his first start.
Can he stay healthy? That’s the biggest question following him into this season.
Again, preseason games don’t give you much on veteran goalies. A lot rides on the Andersen-Raanta duo, though. Good early returns would help alleviate some of the concerns there.