CRYSTAL BALL *UPDATE 3.0*
Every year around this time, I run out to the local magazine store to pick up a few NHL fantasy draft guides. Fantasy hockey is a great time – allowing average joes like you and I – to try manage our humorously named team to the top of the office, class, or friend group league standings. Its also an excuse for a bunch of grown men to gather in a room and watch football in a circle with open laptops and notepads. I’ve never managed to win a fantasy pool, but boy do I love to try.
Today I throw on the fantasy coach hat and take a stab at what the Canes roster may look like once the final moves are announced next week.
*UPDATE 2.0* More roster moves have been made ahead of opening games against Tigers
A few quick things to note before I dive into my predictions. I understand the names below are more than just names. They are young men, most of whom have worked exceptionally hard to get to this level, and deserve recognition for even making it to the major junior conversation. With that said, major junior hockey is competitive and the only way to really analyze players is to put feelings aside and objectively evaluate their level of play. The evaluations I have made in no way reflect criticism of players character or personality. While it’s naive to believe hockey teams are picked on merit alone, I have done my best to remain as objective as possible in narrowing down who I think will be here opening night.
Secondly, the names are very loosely put on “lines” or in pairings. The lines are in no way concrete but I have done my best to construct realistic projected lines or lines that existed at some point in camp or the exhibition games. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on who should play with who. If you like/dislike something you see here, be sure to leave a comment below.
Burke – Estephan – Wong
Babenko – Bellerive – Millette
Davis – Lindgren – Franklin
Sheen – Gutierrez – White
Folk (inj) Vandervlis
(OUT: Wesley, Duperreault)
The Wong Estephan Burke line will make a comeback as soon as Estephan returns for Sabres camp. The three had success together last season and there is no reason to believe they can’t once again this year. That said, there’s a new bench boss in town and he may see it differently. This trio may not be the lock that some think they are, but they should get a chance to prove last season wasnt a fluke.
Babenko has shown some fantastic chemistry in the preseason playing alongside the 20 year olds Millette and Gutierrez. The reason I separated them is two-fold. First, the coaches may want to spread the two overagers over more than one line. Considering I believe the three youngsters (Davis, Bellerive and Franklin) will make the team, having Millette and Gutierrez on the same line may leave some of the other lines exposed and undersized. Secondly, Gutierrez hasn’t proven to be the best faceoff man in the preseason. That may change, but if he is going to play in the top six he will need to be close to 50% on the draws. Considering faceoffs also aren’t a strength of Estephan, with Gutierrez in the top six, the Canes may struggle to get possession off the draws as often as needed to be successful. That aside, they may still give the line an opportunity together to start the year. We will see what happens.
While I have Bellerive playing pivot alongside Babenko and Millette, I’m not necessarily confident that’s where he will start the year. They may move him to wing and promote one of Lindgren or Vandervlis to center Babenko and Millette. One advantage the right wingers I have listed making the team have, is that they are the only right-shot forwards on the team. While I haven’t been blown away by the play of White, he’s a right-shooting winger on a team loaded with lefties, giving him added value.
I have Wesley and Duperreault not making the team when in truth I believe the talent margin amongst the bottom few players is miniscule at best. Carter Folk has been hurt and I expect he will make the roster and be given a chance to play his way into the picture. Vandervlis, while quiet in the preseason, is big, has a decently high ceiling, and plays center. Not a no-doubter, but stands a good chance in my estimation.
Duperreault has played well and has virtually the same stat line as Sheen, yet I have Sheen making the team. When it comes down to it, I think guys like Sheen will win out over Duperreault thanks to size. Ben has made a case for himself and I may be dead wrong, but I am going with my gut.
In the case of Johnny Wesley, I’m just not sure he’s done enough of anything to earn a spot on the roster. He recorded one point in four preseason games along with 8 PIMs. I can’t speak poorly of his game because I’m not sure I had any notes on him either way. Being noticed can be bad as much it’s good, and in the case of the often invisible Wesley, I would have liked to have seen him impose himself on the game more.
Overall, I struggle to try predict the bottom six. There isn’t much separating many of the middle aged players and I’m not sure how keen the coaches and GM are on keeping all three of Bellerive, Franklin and Davis. In truth, Franklin and Davis have stood out to me more often than Bellerive, and to keep Jordan and send one of the others home might be a tough pill to swallow. If all three make the team, with the possible exception of Franklin and possibly Bellerive, I don’t think any of the three will play fourth line minutes. Franklin and Bellerive play a grittier, heavier game than Davis and could probably be effective on a physical agitating line with skill.
My predictions rely entirely on the coaches being comfortable with going with a very young team and how Carter Folk responds once he returns to health. If one or two of Bellerive, Davis, and Franklin are assigned, it will open the door the Duperreaults and Wesleys of the world to make the team.
Nielsen – Atwal
Pankewicz – Merezhko
Kennedy – Reagan
(OUT: Watson, Allan)
In my mind, the decisions to be made on the back end are actually easier than up-front. Nielsen and Atwal will be the top pairing once Andrew returns from Toronto. Kennedy and Reagan play well together and will trade time with the only other likely combo, Pankewicz and Merezhko. From my perspective, the real debate is the role of seventh defenseman. I believe it will come down to Skeoch, Allan, and youngster Nick Watson.
I’m not confident there’s much separating Skeoch and Allan. Both are big right-handed blueliners that play with a little edge. Both had some good moments and some less fantastic moments in the preseason. I remember a few bad turnovers and reads by Skeoch in the first game against the Tigers, and likewise, Allan didn’t fair the best on numerous occasions in Coaldale against the Broncos. Unfortunately I was unable to watch more games than those two and am admittedly basing this assumption on a small sample size. Unfortunately for players that struggle in camp, preseason is a small sample size in general, and a bad performance or two can really put you behind the eight ball.
There is no doubt that Watson has a much higher ceiling than either Allan or Skeoch. He has done well to make it this far. Calen Addison remains the most impressive defenseman I saw play for the Canes in the preseason. His performance in the final two periods against the Tigers absolutely blew me away. While not as noticeable as Addison, Watson has proven to me that he will be a good player in this league. The question is simply when.
Watson could make the team ahead of both Allan and Skeoch but I think that depends largely on the decisions the coaches make up front with the young guys Davis, Bellerive, and Franklin. Keeping all four players from the 2014 draft seems risky and unlikely to me, but anything is possible.
The big winner here in my books is Brandon Kennedy. From what I saw and heard, he really rose to the occasion and solidified his position on the roster. I would be very surprised to hear he has been assigned.
Skinner (A) Sittler (B)
Unlike some, I don’t think Skinner enters the season as the clear-cut number one. Is it his job to lose? Absolutely. But with that said, I think Sittler has proven he is more than capable. I believe the Canes have the potential to be a winning team with Sittler alone. Lucky for them, they also have young Stuart Skinner.
Skinner has the higher ceiling and has been groomed from a young age by Hockey Canada. Based on his higher profile and draft pedigree, Stuart will be expected to continue on his impressive trajectory. Whether it’s fair or not, there will be some pressure on Skinner to be very good this season.
I think the coaches will split the starts 60/40 early and wait for one of the net-minders to take the job. They have nothing to lose by starting the season with the two goalies splitting time. If Sitter struggles, it clarifies the situation and solidifies Skinners confidence as the starter. If Sittler succeeds and posts solid numbers (while Skinner does the same), he continues to raise his trade value. If Sittler is traded while his value is high, the Canes will be laughing regardless of how Kegler performs in relief (assuming he would be called up). Remember that the Hurricanes only gave up a 7th round pick in acquiring Sittler.
Giving Sittler a chance to push Skinner is good for everyone involved and I fully expect to see him get a healthy work load early.
Trying to predict the decisions a new coaching staff is likely to make is extremely difficult and I expect I will be wrong about more than one of the names above. I do think it’s possible to make an educated guess, but a guess it remains.
How do you feel about the roster above if it is accurate? What gives you confidence and what makes you cringe?
Let me know what you think below. Who should stay, who should go, and who should get a chance at a call-up first?
Since the article was posted (Sunday, Sept 20) and as predicted, the Hurricanes have announced forward Johnny Wesley has been reassigned. You can find the press release here. As I mentioned above, I didn’t think that Wesley did enough to make the team. I don’t think he played exceptionally poorly, but the level of play needed to make the team this Fall is higher than it has been in the past few years.
I hope for his sake Wesley has a great season in the BCHL.
Again as predicted, the team announced today (Friday, Sept 25) that big defender Scott Allan has been released. You can find the press release here. With the move to release Allan, the Canes roster is now down to 25 players. Players remaining to fight for the final roster spots on the back end include Skeoch and Watson.
After more than a week between roster moves, the Canes released on Friday afternoon that forward Ben Duperreault has been released. Duperreault was a WHL veteran of sorts, having played for some time with the Warriors. He did well at camp, scoring in a few preseason games and generally making a positive impact. He looked pretty good against the Tigers in the Hurricanes home opener, generating two semi-breakaways (he was stopped on both). That said, I initially pegged him to be released because of his size, and yesterday it happened. Both he and Franklin are smaller guys, but between the two, Franklin I think provides much of the same with a higher ceiling at a younger age. I think it was a tough decision, but at the end of the day, Duperreault was going to take ice time away from the Canes promising young players, and Anholt didn’t want to deviate from his plan.
Will we see one more move before the roster is totally finalized? The team is currently carrying a host of defensemen and a decision could still come down to release or assign a player in the next week or two…