Raleigh or Charlotte Part Deux: The Final Cuts

The Hurricanes will play their final preseason game tonight and ultimately, there really isn't a lot riding on it because the opening night roster is going to look completely different from what we'll see tonight. Regulars such as Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner and Tim Gleason will be out of the lineup and the Hurricanes top line will feature Radek Dvorak playing right wing. Injuries remain a concern, but it's doubtful that the Hurricanes opening night lineup is similar to what we'll be seeing tonight so there's no point in getting hung up on the results of this game.

However, this is a big night for players who are on the cusp of making the roster, as it is their final chance to make a good impression on the coaching staff before the games start to count. Head coach Kirk Muller said after the embarrassing 6-0 loss to Montreal last Friday that the "door was closing" for some players. Now that a week and a round of roster cuts has passed since then, have there been any changes? Somewhat. Most of the players who were longshots to make the team are now in Charlotte, but a lot of the fringe guys are still with the Hurricanes and have one more game to earn one of the final opening night roster spots.

There are a couple of players who stock has risen within the last week (Nathan Gerbe, Riley Nash, Ryan Murphy, Brett Bellemore), but the Hurricanes still have room for a couple more players and possibly more if the injuries to Gleason & Ruutu prevent them from playing in the opener. This is bad news for the Hurricanes in the long-term, but it also provides an opportunity for the younger players to thrive in a bigger role, something a lot of people have been calling for years now. Unfortunately, some of these younger players haven't risen to the occasion and tonight could be their last chance to make a lasting impression with the coaching staff.

This doesn't apply to all of the fringe guys because there have been some who have impressed in camp and the preseason, but others have underperformed and they will need to make the most of their ice time tonight if they want to earn a roster spot. As it stands now, the Hurricanes probably have 2-3 forward spots open and one or two spots on defense depending on who is healthy in another week or so. Who has the best chance of earning these spots and playing in Raleigh come next Friday?

After the jump, we'll look at the updated projected roster and which players will need to have a good showing tonight against Buffalo.

Projected Roster

Forwards

LW C RW
Jiri Tlusty Eric Staal Alex Semin
Jeff Skinner Jordan Staal Patrick Dwyer
Nathan Gerbe Riley Nash  
Drayson Bowman   Kevin Westgarth
     
Injured    
Tuomo Ruutu    
Elias Lindholm    

Some may not agree with some of the players I have down as "locks," but I think Gerbe, Nash & Bowman have done enough to be on the team for at least the first few games. Gerbe has been one of the Canes best forwards in camp and can be a nice stop-gap in the top-six until Tuomo Ruutu heals up. Nash has also been impressive as the third line center and has shown some decent chemistry with Jeff Skinner in the preseason. With Lindholm still not healthy, he should be on the team as the third line center for the time being. Bowman hasn't been as impressive as the other two, but he is on a one-way deal and has been good enough and can play a bottom-six role if needed. This makes me think he'll be on the team unless Muller really wants to shake things up.

So that leaves two roster spots open (fourth line center, 2nd-3rd line right winger) and possibly another if Westgarth isn't going to play every night. Who is in competition for these spots?

On the Bubble
RW Zac Dalpe
LW Chris Terry
C Brett Sutter
C/LW Jeremy Welsh
RW Radek Dvorak

It might be a preseason game, but this is a very important night for Dalpe because the Canes need a right winger who can score and he fits the bill for that. He just needs to deliver and show the coaching staff that he belongs in the NHL. I thought he did that last season but that doesn't matter now. The only thing on Muller's mind is whether or not he can help the team now and Dalpe needs to show that. 4-6 games isn't a large enough sample size to judge a player's ability but that's how the preseason works and it will likely decide Dalpe's future with the Hurricanes.

Another player who this applies to is Chris Terry, although he might be fighting the numbers game as a left winger. He has been good in training camp and has looked better than most of the other "fringe" players, but he could have a tough time making the team unless he can play the right wing, as that is what the Canes need right now. Terry's a natural scorer but he will likely need to adjust to a bottom-six role if he wants to stick with the Canes, so I have a hard time seeing him on the opening night roster unless Bowman is moved or plays right wing. 

Brett Sutter doesn't have to worry about the "numbers" game for now because the Hurricanes need a fourth line center and he fits the bill for that perfectly. I predicted last week that he would start the year in Charlotte, but the injury to Lindholm creates a hole at fourth line center and Sutter can step into that role, especially with Welsh being unimpressive the last month. Welsh has a one-way deal, but Sutter has looked better than him in camp and he should be on the team over Welsh if worst comes to worst. I'm not convinced that Sutter is an NHL player, but he has looked solid in the preseason and the door is open for him to make the team.

That leaves us with Radek Dvorak, who has a pretty good shot of making the club as a fourth liner. He is currently playing on the top line and has been putting up points in the preseason, so I could see him on the club come opening night. However, money/cap issues might prevent him from getting a contract, especially if they have to keep Welsh in the NHL. That said, they are thin at right wing right now and Dvorak can at least fill a depth spot for the nights that Westgarth doesn't play.

Defense

Left Right
Andrej Sekera Justin Faulk
Ron Hainsey Ryan Murphy
Jay Harrison Mike Komisarek
  Brett Bellemore
  Matt Corrente
   
Injured  
Tim Gleason  

I'm not sure how serious the injury to Gleason is but if he is out, it changes things on defense a little because it opens the door for both Ryan Murphy & Brett Bellemore to make the team. The coaches have been using Murphy in a top-four role during training camp and see him as a valuable asset on the power play, so there are a lot of reasons why the Hurricanes might keep him. However, they probably also want to keep Bellemore, who has been one of the team's best players during camp and has to pass through waivers before going to the AHL.

If Gleason is healthy, then this creates a logjam on defense and the Hurricanes will have a tough decision on their hands. Do they keep Murphy for what he can bring them on the power play or do they reward Bellemore for a good camp? Komisarek being on the team with a No Movement Clause also complicates things a bit because even if the Canes play seven defensemen, one of them will be in the press box.

I haven't seen enough of Komisarek to say that he should sit, but I think both Murphy & Bellemore have been good enough to make the team. You don't want to ruin Komisarek's confidence by benching him on the first game but if Bellemore & Murphy have outperformed him, then they should be the ones in the lineup. That said, if they can only keep one of them, Murphy will probably be the one to go to the AHL because he doesn't need waivers and can be called up if he is needed. As for Corrente, I don't see any reason why he should be on the team unless the Canes want to use him as forward and even then, I don't think he adds much.

The preseason might end tonight, but the Hurricanes still have a few things to figure out before their lineup is set in stone. It wouldn't surprise me if they don't settle on a final roster until a couple games into the because of how volatile things are at the moment.

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