We’re tickled to have Cory Lavalette of North State Journal (nsjonline.com, and on Twitter @corylav) to tell us what’s going on with the red and… black? I guess it’s black.
Let’s get it out of the way first. Are you taking care of Our Special Boy (Teuvo)? Because if you’re not…
I think so. You can tell Teravainen is starting to feel more comfortable both on and off the ice. I think it helps playing with a fellow Finn, 19-year-old rookie Sebastian Aho (more on this in a second), even though the two didn’t really know each other prior to becoming teammates. Teravainen is getting chances in Carolina he didn’t get in Chicago, and recently he’s played a lot of center and proven he can handle the responsibilities that come with that.
The Canes are a strange study. They’ve been an analytic darling for a couple seasons now, but were undone last year by poor goaltending. While Ward has improved this year, his .916 SV% is really only league average in this day and age. Is that really enough? Do the Canes think they can get away with that long term and do they think he can even keep that up after what’s gone on the past few years?
Here’s the good news: Carolina has a wealth of cap space to address any holes they have in their lineup going forward. For now, I think they’re happy that Ward has performed well enough to keep them in the hunt. Any games Ward has won, he has earned: heading in to Tuesday’s home game vs. New Jersey, Ward had not won a game when he had allowed three goals or more. That means when he wins, he earns it. Ward is signed for another year, and if he continues his current play for the balance of the year he’ll surely enter 2017-18 as the No. 1. But they have flexibility as the team continues to mature and improve to address the position if needed.
How good can Sebastian Aho be?
I think very good. He’s part of that new wave of talented forwards that finds way to make space for himself. Like Connor McDavid, Aho does a lot of carrying the puck then chipping it to open spaces and racing defensemen to regain possession — a tactic I think we’ll see more and more of in coming years. He’s also, as coach Bill Peters says, “hockey strong.” Yes, he’s slight, but he’s also strong in his core. He wins a surprising amount of board battles and isn’t afraid to make a hit to retrieve the puck. Most of all, he’s immensely creative and has great vision. Furthermore, he’s responsible defensively — Peters has used him several times at the end of game’s when the opposition has the goalie pulled looking for a tying goal. He’s getting better by the game, and he and Teravainen are proving to be a good duo.
We know Justin Faulk might be the most underrated player in the league. Hanafin was a top five pick. But it seems that it’s Pesce and Slavin that have really turned heads this year…
They are Carolina’s top pair and I think they’re easily the most underrated pairing in the NHL. They just don’t make many mistakes, and both are able to contribute in all three zones and in any situation: PP, PK, whatever. The one knock might be that they don’t produce a lot of offense yet, but that is picking up — specifically with Slavin — and I think will continue to improve. Perhaps most importantly, both guys are mature beyond their years and grounded. And Hanifin is just scratching the surface of what he can be — he’s the best skater on defense I’ve seen in Carolina since Bret Hedican. Peters and assistant coach Steve Smith have done a masterful job bringing these young D along.
The Canes have perhaps the most promising blue line in the league. But there’s some cap headaches on the horizon. Can they keep them all together? And can they make the big signing they may need to take the leap to league power?
Their defense is, to me, reminiscent of Nashville’s in recent years. The volume of players they have in the pipeline (Haydn Fleury, Jake Bean, Roland McKeown and more) means they don’t have to keep all of the current defenders to have long-term success. So if an opportunity to trade one to improve elsewhere (like the Predators did when they flipped Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen) they can consider it. If Colorado called about one of the young D and offered up Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog, Carolina has the assets to at least consider it without blowing up their depth. And I don’t think the cap will be an issue. Now, their operating budget might be a different story…