MAIN CAMP: THOUGHTS
With a few days of training camp now in the books, the 2015-2016 Hurricane roster is beginning to slowly take shape. It’s great to leave behind four months of speculation and finally dig into some tangible hockey talk. Here are a handful of observations from Sunday’s on-ice sessions.
It’s interesting to see how play has developed over the weekend. From what I saw, the best players really started to assert themselves Sunday evening, (hopefully) making things a little more clear-cut for the coaching staff as they carve down the roster tomorrow (Monday). I have compiled some observations into bullet points. The thoughts revolve largely around the games Saturday and Sunday evening as well as snippets from Thursday and Friday. There are numerous players who have performed extremely well that I haven’t mentioned below. I want to be sure readers know that the thoughts are simply overall impressions and stand-out moments – nothing more.
Arvin Atwal: Charismatic guy. Not afraid to agitate. Doesn’t shy away from conflict or confrontations. Extremely vocal but seems to use it in a constructive way to communicate and direct teammates. Will without a doubt be a big part of the Canes power play. Has offensive ability. Accurate shot from the point and high slot. Not afraid to join the rush. Did make a couple bad reads and had a D to D pass along the attacking blue line picked off for a 2 on 1 the other way. Overall, I liked what I saw. I could see him as a sleeper to rack up some points this season. Was paired with Reagan – a combination I could see starting the season together.
Team Blue: Were, in my eyes, the best team Sunday. Tyler Wong is flying right now, constantly making good plays and looking like a threat to score. “Top” line of Millette, Franklin and Estephan looked very good. Scored some pretty goals and overwhelmed team Red for long stretches. Interested to see if Franklin is able to make the opening night roster. Should be a fun line to keep your eyes on once the exhibition season starts.
Zane Franklin: Has been a standout every game I’ve seen. Has a nose for the puck. He is small but extremely determined and strong with possession. Has a fantastic shot – both accurate and powerful. Soft hands and good vision. Looked like he belonged beside Estephan and Millette. Finished a fantastic pass from Estephan with a nice goal. Trending no-where but up. Excited to see what he does once the roster gets thinned out.
Jordy Bellerive: Was a little quiet in games I was able to catch but has put up points. His physicality stood out to me. When he wasn’t getting a sniff offensively – he was still making his presence felt by throwing his weight around and back-checking.
Ayden Roche-Setoguchi: Impressed with his physicality. Seemed very comfortable separating attackers from the puck along the boards. There were a number of times he neutralized the rush with good positioning. Would push attackers wide and follow up with a clean check.
Millette: Showed some nice offensive touch. Great chemistry with Franklin and Estephan. He is going to be a driving force of the Canes offense this season. Those who didn’t agree with the Watson move may be surprised with what Millette can do.
Stuart Skinner: Benefited from having some great defense but overall looked solid. Glove-hand was on point Sunday evening. Seemed to smother up most rebounds – a noticeable part of what made him the most impressive goaltender Sunday night. Showed his fantastic lateral movement. Always seemed to get a pad down low along the ice. Made the save of the night on a third rebound shot from the high slot while sitting down. That particular play got the loudest reaction from onlookers.
Tyler Wong: This guy is on a mission. Looked in mid-season form. Was the catalyst for numerous Blue goals. Always had his head up looking for plays. Intelligent guy who plays an intelligent game. Made an amazing backhand deflection at the top of the right circle for a goal. He is a fan favorite for a reason and has shown why in every game I’ve seen.
Ryan Vandervlis: Threw out a couple of big hits and deserves a mention.
Babenko: More and more impressed with (yeeg-or) Egor. Got in on a number of scoring plays. Was one of the key offensive catalysts for Red. Scored a very nice unassisted goal. Also made a great pass through the slot for a Justin Gutierrez tap-in. Drives the net hard and paid for it on one play, crashing into the left side post and Stuart Skinner. Looked a little shaken up but should be alright. I get the feeling that he will be a contributor and should only improve as he grows more comfortable with the North American game. By my count he had four goals Sunday, more than one of which was a solo effort. He and Gutierrez found some chemistry – each having set one another up for a goal or two.
Addison: I get the feeling his is slowly getting more comfortable. He seemed pretty nervous early on in camp (and for good reason). He clearly was feeling pressure and even eluded to it in an interview with Dustin Forbes. I really liked his game tonight. Above all else I was impressed with his skating. He moves exceptionally well. To say he has a bright future is putting it mildly.
Merezhko: I liked his game much more Sunday than any other previous viewings. He is young and big, meaning he possesses some serious potential. Was playing alongside Nielsen. They were really effective against a potent Blue offense. He is on the slower side and can look awkward at times but isn’t a bad skater overall. More of a defensive defenseman. Will need to work on his foot speed if he wants to avoid getting beat wide by faster players. I don’t fully know what to make of him yet. Kisio may be able to use his experience with defensemen to really develop Merezhko’s game (if the language barrier doesn’t prevent communication).
Drayton Thunder Chief: Knows how to make things interesting. Throws some serious checks. Got into it a bit with Atwal the other night and with Reagan tonight. Fun to watch him do his thing.
Jaeger White: Didn’t jump out to me in either a good or bad way except for one sensational behind the back pass entering the zone on a 2 on 1. Nothing came of the rush, but the play itself was really impressive and creative.
Josh Tarzwell: Had a strong game against Red. Was the driving force behind Cody Allan’s goal, showing great determination to drive the zone and get the puck to the slot. Was rewarded with an assist.
Defense: Lots of competition on the Canes’ backend. Since Merezhko is a Euro he will be starting the year with the Canes regardless of camp performance and can be penciled in. Nielsen is going to be the go-to heavy lifter this season. Based on what I saw, I would say Atwal and Reagan are a lock to make the team and potentially be paired together. That leaves two or three open spots to be won between the likes of Pankewicz, Allan, Kennedy, and a number of rookies. This is the most interesting storyline to me as we head into exhibition games.
All in all, it’s been great to see the amount of talent in the Huricanes’ system. While the road ahead is long, and competition will only get stiffer, so far, I think there are some great things to take from training camp. The players expected to produce, have by-in-large, done so. A few guys have exceeded expectations and deserve a longer look which is what you want to see. Tomorrow marks the transition from broad evaluation to intensive decision-making and clear-cut competition for roster spots. We will know much more about the shape this team will take by Tuesday.
Be sure to grab a non-perishable food donation and head down to the Enmax tomorrow evening to catch the Red vs. White game at 6:15. Also keep it locked on the official Hurricanes Twitter account as well as @CanesDomain for news and thoughts tomorrow afternoon as cuts are made.