Hurricanes’ Bright Future on Display in First 2 Preseason Games

The NHL is back, y’all.

The Carolina Hurricanes continue to be an absolute force in the preseason, winning their first two games over the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers comfortably. The latter tilt was particularly impressive, considering they headed to Sunrise, Florida, with very few NHL regulars in the lineup and handled a Panthers squad carrying most of their regular-season lineup by a score of 5-2. It showcased the team’s impressive depth and young talent on the rise.

There are a handful of takeaways worth mentioning as the regular season draws closer. The small sample size of preseason games makes it dangerous to draw any strong conclusions, so here we’ll just look at general aspects of the team rather than claiming who is going to win the Hart Trophy or score 100 points. Nonetheless, we can gauge where things stand less than two weeks before opening night.

There’s a Whole Lot of NHL Talent in the Hurricanes’ System

The Hurricanes didn’t dress any skater who is a complete lock to be on the opening night roster – the one exception is free-agent signing Ondrej Kase. After that, it’s a good bet that Calvin de Haan and Derek Stepan will make the team, even though both veterans are technically on professional tryouts (PTOs) at the moment. Similarly, Jack Drury is a good bet to fill one of the open center spots, and Dylan Coghlan, more on him later, looks like a legit piece on the back end.

Beyond them, though, well… the Hurricanes have a difficult lineup to crack. While youngsters around the league are vying for an NHL role, instead, the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League (AHL) will be getting a large influx of legitimate talent at the outset of the season.

Vasily Ponomaryov Shawinigan Cataractes
Carolina Hurricanes prospect Vasily Ponomaryov, with his junior team, the Shawinigan Cataractes (Photo: Olivier Croteau)

Jamieson Rees looks the part, as he did last preseason before a late-camp injury slowed him down. He could fill a role at some point if called upon; he’s a serious pest to play against, is excellent at winning board battles and creating turnovers, and consistently made plays in the offensive end. The Hurricanes just need to see a step forward from him, and his vision and hands have shown up early on.

Similarly, Vasili Ponomarev’s name has been brought up time and again by the staff and media. He contributes in every area, plays the two-way game that Rod Brind’Amour will love right away, and scored a goal against the Panthers. He may be ready for the NHL sooner than expected, but a top-six role with the Wolves is in the cards for now.

That’s not to mention other prospects on display this preseason, who might be a bit further away, such as Alexander Pashin, Noel Gunler, and the speedy, wicked-shooting Justin Robidas. All have shown flashes of promise and will be fun to watch develop.

Related: Hurricanes Training Camp: Roster Predictions, Surprises, Gardiner & Bear

The Hurricanes’ depth is impressive. They can dress four quality lines that can contribute in every area and are equipped with a laundry list of players that the team will be comfortable throwing out if and when injuries come up. It’s an envious position to be in and further proof of how well-positioned this organization is for the long haul. We’ve been talking for years about the organization’s drafting, and another wave of homegrown young talent is knocking on the door.

Raanta, Andersen Razor-Sharp Early

Frederik Andersen proved the Hurricanes were right to move on from Alex Nedeljkovic last season. While Nedeljkovic is still a promising young goaltender with the potential to backstop the Detroit Red Wings for a long time, it’s highly unlikely they’d have gotten the same production last season had he been pressed into the workhorse, #1 role that Andersen carried a majority of the year.

However, injuries have always been the bugaboo for both Andersen and his backup, Antti Raanta. The injury bug reared its ugly head late last season; luckily, Pyotr Kochetkov was ready to step in and bore the weight admirably. Nonetheless, the Hurricanes, as a Stanley Cup contender, want Andersen and Raanta to be “the guys” this season – because they’re veterans who likely give the team the best chance to win consistently, and also because Kochetkov getting a full season in Chicago as the #1 is likely best for his development.

Frederik Andersen Carolina Hurricanes
Frederik Andersen, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If there were any concerns about rust, lingering injuries, or a decline, the first two games have brought a bit of a relief. Andersen wasn’t tested a ton (which, let’s be real, isn’t atypical behind the Hurricanes’ blue line), but looked quick and steady, which is now expected from the big Dane. Meanwhile, Raanta played the first two periods in Sunrise before giving way to newcomer Zach Sawchenko and stopped 20 of the 21 shots. He made a flurry of stellar, athletic saves, in the second period, many of which came in big moments that could have swayed momentum. After a phenomenal run in the playoffs last season, Raanta seems to be picking up right where he left off.

It bears mentioning that many people expected Raanta to get the full 60 against Florida. However, he got up a tad slow on one sliding save while doing the splits. It’s plausible that with a big lead and only a handful of preseason games, the team wanted to get Sawchenko some run and not risk anything, but with Raanta’s injury history, it’s always worth watching when something like this happens. Hopefully, it was just precautionary, and/or trying to get a look at Sawchenko, but it’s something to keep an eye on for the next week or so.

Coghlan Off to Hot Start

I made a point to not really dig too deeply into any one player because of all the disclaimers about small samples and preseason performances mentioned throughout the post. However, I think it’s fair to make an exception for Coghlan, the “throw-in” on the Pacioretty deal, who has been the talk of ‘Canes Twitter through two games.

As mentioned multiple times throughout the summer, there is a role to be filled on the Hurricanes’ blue line, both on the third pairing and as the second power-play unit’s quarterback. As one of just two players (Jalen Chatfield being the other) to play in both preseason games, it seems Coghlan is staking his claim early on. I’ve highlighted him this summer as potentially a bigger prize than initially expected from the Vegas deal, and with four power-play assists, a steady diet of blocked shots and all-around solid defensive play, and better passing ability than expected, I’m about ready to declare him RD3 to open the season already.

The skill he’s shown seems legit, as he’s made a handful of beautiful outlet and seam passes through the center of the ice. Coghlan is a pretty big kid at 6-foot-2 and over 200 pounds, but moves well for his size, to boot. Things can certainly change, but a third pairing of him and de Haan seems to be a wonderful fit of offense and defense in a depth role. His shooting ability is also a weapon, as two of his helpers came off his heavy shot, one a deflection and the other a rebound. He doesn’t need a ton of time to get it off, either, but with serious power on it all the same.

Dylan Coghlan, Vegas Golden Knights
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dylan Coghlan, with his former team, the Vegas Golden Knights (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

There was a collective groan when Max Pacioretty went down from the entirety of the Hurricanes fanbase and for good reason. However, even in the time between the season opener and around the All-Star break when the sniper returns, there is growing faith that the Hurricanes will get a good deal of production from the trade, anyway. Two games obviously do not make a season, but it’s tough to envision getting off to a better start to his Carolina career than Coghlan has thus far. Early returns point to yet another savvy pickup from the front office.

Roster Continues to Round Out

The Hurricanes today announced a second round of cuts, with Robidas and Patrik Hamrla headed to their junior squads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and Pashin, David Farrance, Joseph Labate, and Blake Murray headed to AHL camp with Chicago. The roster still stands at 43 players, so there is a long ways to go, but it’s becoming clearer which players the team wants to continue to get eyes on.

There are a handful of veterans we’ve still yet to see, such as Jaccob Slavin and Brent Burns, and many position battles are likely to come down to the wire, such as the bottom-six offensively and third pair on defense. Things can, and likely will change as the season draws nearer, but it’s clear that this Hurricanes team is going to be a lot of fun to watch yet again.

Preseason hockey is a fun time to get a glimpse of the future, in many instances a first chance to see some young players who will play important roles down the line. For the Hurricanes, that future remains very promising, and some of those youngsters appear to be closer than initially expected. I don’t envy having to make the decisions on the best 18 guys for opening night, because those options are aplenty. Nevertheless, it’s an awfully good time to be a Hurricanes fan.


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