The Canes trimmed their roster by a substantial amount Wednesday afternoon, keeping just 25 bodies in the room. One of those bodies is Max Pacioretty, who will start the season on the injured reserve list and not count for one of the (up to) 23 available roster slots allowable. It’s possible that the Canes won’t opt to retain 23 players on the main roster, but some behind-the-scenes decisions left to be made could be a major factor in how they plan to construct the final roster.
Amongst those decisions are:
- The status of Derek Stepan, who remains on the current 25-man roster on his PTO. With a fantastic preseason behind him combined with the success he had last season, I’d say there’s a very strong chance he gets signed to an NHL contract. He has both center and wing versatility, he can play up higher in the lineup if need be, and he brings a savvy veteran presence to the group as well. I think he’s well earned his place.
- Stefan Noesen is a player that, considering how good he was in the AHL last year (he scored 48 goals and 85 points in 70 games), is seriously unlikely to clear waivers. He’s signed at a league-minimum cap hit ($762,500) and has over 200 games of NHL experience under his belt, and he would make a perfect 13th/depth forward for this group. He can reliably slot into the lineup in event of injury, and bring a different dynamic to the bottom-6. He may even be better than Martinook. Regardless, I think he’ll stick around as I can’t see the Canes taking the risk of exposing him to waivers.
- The Canes will have a real decision to make on Ethan Bear, who remains one of 8 defensemen on the roster. More on this below.
With the bulk of training camp firmly behind us, let’s take a look at who’ve been the winners and losers of the preseason thus far.
Dylan Coghlan: Understandably, Pacioretty got a majority of the fanfare in the trade that brought Coghlan to Raleigh, and he’s made it known that maybe people were sleeping on him. He’s probably been the standout player for me through the preseason, showing off his NHL-level quality in each end of the rink. He’s got a fast release and gets power behind his shots from the point, and has shown an ability to get them on net consistently. His passing is crisp, and his on-ice vision is impressive. Defensively, his gap control has looked stout and he doesn’t seem afraid to throw his body around.
He was my biggest question mark before camp started. I didn’t really know too much about him and hadn’t ever focused on watching him play, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised. He’s undoubtedly been the best amongst the four defensemen (Bear, de Haan, Chatfield) competing for the third-pair role, and I’d say he’s done more than enough to lock down his place in the lineup. He’s making the league minimum which could turn out to be a real bargain if he can play consistent minutes and potentially run the PP2 unit. And, at age 24, he still has room to grow. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m absolutely stunned that a cap-strapped team like Vegas would basically throw him away as an “add on” player in a trade. It’s a baffling decision, but the Hurricanes look primed to benefit massively from it.
Malte Strömwall: A guy who was rather unknown coming into camp after being signed from the KHL, it’s been evident how Strömwall was able to score 19 goals in 39 games for Dinamo Minsk last season. He’s got a wicked release and is deceptive with his shot placement, being able to pick out open space in the net from any range. He’s deadly accurate with just a flick of his wrists, which makes him a potent offensive player at any level. He can skate at NHL pace as well which will make his transition into NA hockey a lot smoother.
Oh boy, we've got a game!— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) October 5, 2022
Malte Stromwall follows just 30 seconds after Rees and it's now a 3-2 contest. Tremendous job by Ethan Bear to pick off the attempted breakout. pic.twitter.com/uGfGzxWVe6
He was assigned to Chicago in the AHL among the Canes’ roster cuts yesterday, but I think we could be seeing him in Raleigh throughout the season. Whether it be due to injury or the powerplay struggling at any given point throughout the year, he’s shown enough in the preseason that he can be considered an alternative option to provide some offense. A guy who can shoot like Strömwall is an asset, and in a Canes lineup loaded with offensive talent, he has the skills to produce. He could be the modern day version of Saku Maenalanen — a guy who comes out of nowhere to potentially make an impact — and at some point could help a powerplay group that has annually struggled with consistently.
Calvin de Haan: After coming into camp on a PTO, earning an NHL contract can’t be considered anything but a win for CDH. I’d put Derek Stepan in this category too if and when he officially signs with the team. In de Haan’s case, he has familiarity in the Canes’ system and was a solid contributor for the group in his lone season back in 2018-19. He was a valued piece to the deep playoff run back then, and although he’s on the wrong side of 30 now, he’s proven to be a reliable shut-down defenseman in this league. Even if he’s not a regular in the lineup, he can be used in specific match-ups and offers a stabilizing presence that’ll surely be handy come playoff time. Even if he can’t reach the same level he was at a few years ago, he’s surely not a worse option than Brendan Smith or Ian Cole, and should be a well respected presence in the locker room.
Jordan Martinook: At the end of the day, it might be hard to truly consider Martinook a “loser” in this sense. He’ll be on the roster, he’ll likely play quite a lot and he’s making close to $2 million dollars. However, I think the preseason exposed more than ever that he’s just not worth what he’s being paid. Others like Ryan Dzingel, Jamieson Rees, Malte Strömwall and Stefan Noesen have shown they can easily replicate Martinook’s overall on-ice impact while making substantially less money to do so, and potentially provide higher upside in the process. For a team that relies heavily on an analytical approach, the re-signing of Martinook made very little sense last summer and makes even less today. The move felt like a defensive reaction to the Tony DeAngelo signing, and the team would have been better off committing a bit more cash to Brock McGinn or by promoting from within. While he’s a fine NHL support player and there’s no denying what he adds in the locker room, it feels like the Canes have moved well past the need of Martinook in their lineup, and now he’s in the way of better, cheaper options.
Ethan Bear: When the Hurricanes acquired Bear in the summer of 2021, I thought they were getting a steal of a player with untapped potential in exchange for a known commodity in Warren Foegele. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t worked out for him in this system. You can’t question his heart and effort level, but his lack of foot speed and his persistence to turnovers when under pressure in the defensive zone have made him an untrustworthy player in Rod Brind’Amour’s system. Case in point:
Ethan Bear is gonna see Tage Thompson in his sleep tonight. pic.twitter.com/l2FORvEHns— The Charging Buffalo (@TheChargingBUF) October 5, 2022
At this stage of things, I think both sides would benefit from a change of scenery. While I believe Bear has some NHL qualities, I just can’t envision him becoming an everyday player in this group. Because of his inability to defend on the rush, he needs to be sheltered with a defensive-minded partner — but the issue is that Bear doesn’t have the necessary upside for sheltering to be worth it. In Jake Gardiner’s case, sheltering him could pay off thanks to his distribution and ability to quarterback a powerplay, but the team hasn’t shown enough belief in Bear to thrive in that role. He’s just not dynamic enough offensively to a point that you’d be comfortable enough to overlook his defensive shortcomings, which leaves his potential role undefined in this system. Beyond that, all three of Coghlan, Chatfield and de Haan have clearly outplayed him through camp, which leaves him on the outside looking in. He’s still an asset, and my stance is that the Canes would be better off moving him along while he still has some value — and I think Bear would also benefit from a fresh start elsewhere.
Grigorii Dronov: When I initially started writing this piece yesterday morning, I had Dronov on the “winners” list, as he’d seemingly played well enough in training camp to earn himself an entry-level contract. …. Until he didn’t. The Canes announced yesterday that they’d “mutually parted ways” with Dronov, which led me to place him on the “losers” list for obvious reasons. After careful situation, I decided to make a special category for him because I genuinely can’t imagine a stranger 48-hour span in regards to a single player. I mean, what the heck happened here? I was actually a bit disappointed when I read about the transaction as I’d thought Dronov had shown a nice blend of skills throughout camp. His passing was superb and he brought some nice physical elements. He could’ve adjusted to North American hockey in Chicago, and at age 24 he’s far enough into his development that he would’ve been a potential call-up option had he settled in and showed improvement. Regardless, that dream has come to a crashing halt, and Dronov will long be remembered as having a shorter Canes career than James Wisnewski.
As always, thanks for reading! If you have any winners or losers from the preseason that I didn’t touch on, feel free to discuss in the comments below!