After two competitive games over the weekend against Nashville and Winnipeg (KP Kelly has a game summary of the Jets game in Charlotte here), the Hurricanes will make their first trip to Manitoba to play the Winnipeg Jets tonight before rounding out their pre-season in back-to-back fashion against Columbus and Nashville on Friday and Saturday. The team arguably played one of the best games of the pre-season in Charlotte on Sunday, with several former Checkers scoring goals (Zac Dalpe, Riley Nash and Jerome Samson). There should be a round of cuts either before the game tonight or after the game tomorrow morning, depending on how the coaches feel about their current roster and how long they want to keep around some of the younger kids for the Winnipeg game. Expect Derek Joslin to come back from illness during tonight’s game and see him paired with Jamie McBain with Brian Boucher starting in net and Justin Peters or Mike Murphy backing him up. I would also expect a younger line-up against Winnipeg, as it will prove to be a good test for the players who are trying to gain a roster spot to put everything out on the ice while the team is on the road. According to Chip Alexander of the News and Observer (Twitter: @ice_chip), there will be 29 players playing tonight, excluding captain Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Joni Pitkanen, Tuomo Ruutu, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Chad LaRose and Tim Gleason, who will not be making the trip. He also mentions that head coach Paul Maurice isn’t sure if Ryan Murphy will play, as he wants Bryan Allen and Derek Joslin to get some play time.
From the two games that I have seen over the weekend, I have been very impressed with two of the Hurricanes’ young defensemen in Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk. I brought a good friend of mine to both games and said to him quite often, “You know, you can always tell when Murphy has the puck,” which is something that can’t be said about most of the other of the Canes’ defensemen. The major thing that I noticed about Faulk is that he’s extremely difficult to knock off of the puck and is not afraid to shoot the puck from the point. There have been several years in the past where Caniacs have pleaded with defenseman to shoot the puck more, but I don’t think they’ll ever have that complaint with Faulk. If you looked at the Hurricanes a few years ago, you would say that they would have been shallow in depth defensively. Now, due to trades and draft picks, one would argue that the defense is the deepest it has been in years.
At the end of the day, the coaches will have an extremely tough decision to fill in some of the remaining roster slots at the forward or defensive positions. According to head coach Paul Maurice, there are two to three forward positions that are open to be filled in as well as potentially a defensive spot. Both Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk are making a great case to make the team this year, especially since Murphy, who is only 18, would have to be sent back down to the Kitchner Rangers if he does not make the cut. League rules state that you have to be 19 to play in the American Hockey League. Faulk, 19, played in Charlotte last year during the end of the season and their playoff run, so if he doesn’t make the cut this year, he would be sent down to play for the Charlotte Checkers. It will be extremely important for the both of them to play very well during the remaining pre-season games. They have both been pretty impressive to fans and coaches so far, but if they have one bad game, that could be the one that gets them cut.
Topics: Alexei Ponikarovsky, Brian Boucher, Bryan Allen, Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes, Chad LaRose, Charlotte Checkers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Derek Joslin, Eric Staal, Jamie McBain, Jerome Samson, Joni Pitkanen, Justin Faulk, Justin Peters, Mike Murphy, Nashville Predators, Paul Maurice, Riley Nash, Tim Gleason, Tuomo Ruutu, Winnipeg Jets, Zac Dalpe