Now that one week of pre-season games are in the books, we should have somewhat of an idea of where some of their fringe players are. They ran the risk of inviting a lot of young/unproven players to camp and with at least 6-7 open roster spots, all of them were going to get their fair shot over the past week. I went over some of the position battles that we could be seeing over the past week and after four games, it is still tough to figure out which players will stay on the big club once the seasons starts in two weeks.
There is a strong chance that we won't know the opening day lineup until after next week when the pre-season concludes, but we should see a few cuts today and there are likely going to be a few interesting names on the chopping block. The Hurricanes pre-season didn't exactly show much promise, as the team dropped three of their first four games including a 6-0 loss to Montreal and head coach Kirk Muller stated that the "door is closing" for a few of the younger players.
The results in pre-season typically don't matter, but there was some expressed disappointment from Muller about the performance and execution of some of the younger players and I'm willing to bet that a couple of them might be in Charlotte by Monday morning. Muller's given plenty of chances to the young guys in camp this year by using them in top-six roles and on special teams. so it will be interesting to see who ends up staying in Raleigh after this week.
We already know that Nicolas Blanchard, Zach Boychuk, Justin Peters, Michal Jordan, Jared Staal and Aaron Palushaj are heading to Charlotte, but who else could be next on the cut list?
Before we get into an individual breakdown of the players, let's take a moment to remember which positions are up for grabs, as that will have a big role in who makes the team. Right now, the third and fourth line center spots are open along with at least one left wing and two right wing spots. The Canes will also likely keep two more defensemen and carry seven on the roster come opening night. After the first round of cuts, Carolina has 12 players fighting for six or seven spots, so Carolina still has room for their younger players, but which ones have the best chance of starting the year in Raleigh and which ones will be in Charlotte come October?
Elias Lindholm, C/RW – Raleigh (NHL)
Lindholm has played only one game in the pre-season and has been battling a shoulder & wrist injury, so him making the team might sound like a long shot right now. However, if injuries are the reason why Lindholm hasn't played much then I think he will get a shot during the regular season. Jim Rutherford said that he would be given every chance to make the team and he will probably be with the Hurricanes for the first 9-10 games to see where he is. If he looks good in a top-nine role, he will stay.
There isn't any need to rush Lindholm now, but the Hurricanes are in somewhat of a "win now" mode and Lindholm is someone who can make the team immediately better if he is as good as advertised. His solid all-around game could also help him adjust to a bottom-six role if the team has to ease him into the NHL. Anyway, Lindholm will probably begin the year in Raleigh and we will probably know more about his future after the next month. Injuries have derailed his progress a little, though.
Nathan Gerbe, LW/RW – Raleigh (NHL)
Gerbe's defensive play is a little suspect, but he has made an impact in every game he has played in. It seems like he does something to stand out every shift, even if it isn't a game-changing event. Whether it's throwing a hit on the forecheck, disrupting breakouts or forcing turnovers in the defensive zone, Gerbe's been noticeable on the ice for good reasons. He's also versatile and can be used throughout the lineup if needed, which is important with right wing being more of a need for the Canes right now. Gerbe can also be someone who provides secondary scoring, as he has good offensive instincts and a decent amount of skill, something that Hurricanes fans saw last night on his power play goal.
He was skating with the top-six for most of training camp and the pre-season, but I see him as more of a help for the third or fourth lines during the year since I'm not sure if he can produce enough to play those minutes. He does have the speed and the skill to keep up with those lines, though.
Riley Nash, C – Raleigh (NHL)
Nash has played only two games due to a skate cut, but he looked good in both games and was one of Carolina's best forwards in the 3-1 win over Montreal. Most figured that Nash would make the team because he played 32 games with the Canes last year, but he still had to earn his roster spot. I feel that he has done enough to at least start the year on the team, as Nash has impressed in the pre-season and has been given a lot of roles by the coaching staff. He was centering a line with Jeff Skinner & Tuomo Ruutu on Saturday night and was used heavily on the penalty kill as well. I said that if Nash wanted to stay on this team he would have to do more to stand out and he has done that in his brief playing time thus far. Nash also has to be exposed to waivers before going to the AHL and I don't think the team will risk losing him for nothing.
Radek Dvorak, RW – Charlotte/Cut
Dvorak's had a strong camp and a great pre-season, but I think the Canes will end up letting him walk from his tryout deal at the end of the month. The reason I say this is because the Canes probably know what they'll get out of Dvorak and his abilities are limited, which was evident in his last full NHL season. I could see the team wanting another veteran in the locker room, but they can get potentially more on-ice production from someone like Chris Terry, Drayson Bowman or Nathan Gerbe for the same cost. It's also worth noting that they signed him to help the penalty kill and Muller only used him there for 15 seconds in the win over Montreal. Muller is more prone to use his top players on the PK instead of grinders, so this isn't terribly surprising. If he continues to roll with this strategy, then it wouldn't make sense to keep Dvorak around if he isn't even going to be used to kill penalties.
Again, I can see the team wanting to keep Dvorak but he could get lost in the numbers game.
Chris Terry, LW – Raleigh (NHL)
Out of all the Charlotte veterans, Terry has been the most impressive in the camp and the pre-season, which is saying a lot because he hasn't been given a lot of minutes. He is making the most out his ice time, though and that's very important if he is going to make the team as a fourth liner. Terry was a great scorer in the AHL, but he he can still be effective in a bottom-six role because he plays a simple game and do little things to help the Canes win the possession battle. We saw a little of that last season and over the past week, as he has been one of the team's more impressive prospects. I don't know if he'll be in the NHL to stay, but he has done enough to start the season with the Canes instead of a trip to the waiver wire.
Jeremy Welsh, C – Charlotte (AHL)
Welsh might be on a one-way deal but he has not looked ready for the NHL yet. Muller has used him in a lot of different roles and he has struggled to make any sort of an impact. He's a big player and can be an effective center, but he doesn't really know how to use his size, as he hasn't been very physical nor has he created much room for his lineamtes. He has also made some bad miscues in his own end, which resulted in goals and chances against. I had high hopes for Welsh when the team signed him out of college, but he might need some more time in the AHL before he is ready to make the jump. He might be okay in a fourth line role, but I don't think he has done enough to earn a spot over Riley Nash.
Zac Dalpe, RW – Charlotte (AHL)
As much as I want this to be the year that Dalpe breaks into the NHL, I don't see him making the team out of camp right now. Muller's given him chances by using him on Jordan Staal's line and he still hasn't done much to stand out among the rest. Dalpe's one of the players prone to being claimed off waivers, as I don't think there is much left for him to learn in the AHL, but the Canes only have so many roster spots to go around and Dalpe will need to do a lot more to earn a spot in the top-nine. If the team plans to keep Ruutu & Skinner as left wingers, then that might open up a door for him but the point still remains. I wouldn't be surprised if Dalpe finds his way back to the Canes if he passes through waivers, though.
Brett Sutter, C – Charlotte (AHL)
Sutter's had a good pre-season but whether or not he makes the team will depend on what the Canes do with Lindholm. If they keep Lindholm and use him as the third line center with Nash as the fourth line pivot, it doesn't leave much room for him. However, if they send Lindholm back to Sweden or use him as a right wing, that would allow him to step in as the fourth line center and he should be able to do that without much of a problem. Sutter is probably nothing more than that at the NHL level right now, so if the spot is open he coudl be the one who gets it. There's also the issue of exposing him to waivers, but this isn't the first time he has needed to pass through them.
Drayson Bowman, LW – Raleigh (NHL)
Bowman is another player on a one-year deal but the difference between him and Welsh is that he needs waivers to go to the AHL and has a little more to offer with the Hurricanes. He was playing on a line with Eric Staal for most of camp and appears to have made some improvements from last season. A problem with him last year was that he was knocked off the puck easily but he looks stronger now and could fit into a checking line role. He's also making better decisions with the puck and getting to the scoring areas instead of just firing a long towards the net seconds after he enters the zone. I don't think Bowman will be the scorer that he was drafted to be, but he could fit in as a checking line player and the coaching staff still seems to like him. He will probably be on the roster come opening night.
Ryan Murphy – Charlotte (AHL)
Murphy has looked very good in camp, but letting him start the year in Charlotte may not be the worst thing in the world. The reason I say this is because he will probably get top-pairing minutes down there, whereas he may only be a third-pairing guy with the Hurricanes right now. Rutherford mentioned that they could start the year carrying as many as eight defensemen, which means Murphy has a realistic chance of making the team but if they are only going to use him in a limited capacity, I don't see the point in keeping him. Getting top pairing minutes in the AHL would be better for his development than being used strictly as a third-pairing/power play specialist. This could change if the coaching staff uses him in a bigger role, but this is just my two cents right now.
The Canes also have the option of calling up Murphy during the regular season because he doesn't need to pass through waivers to go to the AHL right now. They don't have this flexibility with many other players on the roster.
Brett Bellemore – Raleigh (NHL)
Not only has Bellemore beeon one of the team's most impressive prospects, he has been one of their best defensemen in camp. I still want to see how he looks in a real NHL game before I overrate him, but he plays such a solid game in all three zones and should at least get a few games with the Canes. Bellemore isn't going to be a game-breaking defenseman but he has done a little of everything well and has played like a veteran this past week. He also fits the Hurricanes needs well, as a defensive defenseman who can move the puck, skate well and keep play out of his own zone. He provided a nice compliment to Jay Harrison in the Montreal game on Saturday night and I'd like to see the Canes try that as their third pairing for a couple more games.
Matt Corrente – Charlotte (AHL)
Corrente adds a nasty element to the Canes lineup but this has resulted in more bad than good so far. He took four minor penalties in the game in Montreal and has constantly made bad plays in his own zone from trying to be took physical. This happens with young defensemen, but Corrente's penalties aren't anything new and they could really hurt the team during the regular season. He was sort of a longshot to make the Hurricanes to begin with, but the coaches seem to like what he brings to the table and he is still in Raleigh now. That said, Corrente is probably behind Murphy, Bellemore and maybe even Komisarek on the depth chart so I wouldn't expect him to be on the team come opening night.