Grading The 2015-16 Canes – The Forwards
After going to my cubicle in the Section 328 World Headquarters and finding Michelle McMahon using my phone and the nameplate changed to “VISITOR”, I realized maybe it has been a while since I’ve written anything for the site, and it’s time to get off my ass and start writing about the Canes again.
And, hey, what better way to do that then by dishing out some letter grades for the players, since that’s simple and people seem to like it. We’ll do this in three parts – I’ll take the forwards and use the English/creative lit method of grading where I eyeball and use my opinion of what I like and don’t like to assign a letter grade. We all know how much Cane-alytics loves the D, so he’ll grade them, I’m sure using a purely mathematical formula that involves the quadratic equation, the pythagorean theorem, and a slide rule that was made in “East Germany”. Derek will handle the grading of the goaltenders in a method that’s veiled in secrecy, but I’m assuming it’s somewhere in-between Cane-alytics method and labeling a bunch of bananas with letter grades and seeing which one a random chimp at the zoo goes to first.
So let’s roll, starting with…
Phil Di Giuseppe
Who knew what to expect from PDG going into this season? A second round draft pick in 2012 (and the team’s first pick that season), PDG had a mixed college career, and his first professional year with the Charlotte Checkers didn’t exactly set the world on fire. The flashes of potential were there, but there’s limited patience for a 22-year-old to convert into a prospect, especially a higher draft pick. The club would have been happy with a second season in the AHL building on what he learned in his first pro year, with an opportunity to challenge for ice time in 2016-17.
What the Canes ended up getting was the player they hoped to get in 2016-17 a season early. Called up after the New Jersey-game-that-will-not-be-discussed, PDG was eased into the lineup, where he became the grinding, ass-in-front-of-the-net presence that the Canes had been lacking for several seasons. After putting up 30 points in 76 AHL games last season, PDG put up 18 in 25 AHL games this season, then added 17 more in 41 games for the Canes. PDG is a streaky scorer and will probably be the player most prone to a sophomore slump next season, but his playing style was sorely needed at this level, and was a key factor to the Canes turning it around in December.
This hurts me to write, because I love Nathan Gerbe. He’s probably my family’s favorite player. He’s a pest on the ice, doesn’t back down, and keeps opposing teams honest when they’re on the power play setting up. He does things that don’t show up on stat sheets well. That said, his stat sheet was rough this year. Seven points in 47 games (yes, seven), and an injury that saw him miss a decent portion of the season. When he came back, he found his ice time greatly reduced, playing on the fourth line, or even a healthy scratch, and it was a fair placement.
I still think Nathan Gerbe is an NHL player. Part of me still wants it to be for this team, but in that fourth line, penalty killing role. He’s a good teammate (ask Noah Hanifin) and a player that fans can get behind. But at this point, he’s not a player that a team can rely on to give regular minutes to. He’ll go into free agency this year looking for a one year, one-way deal worth maybe 800K, and maybe he’ll get it from someone, or maybe he’ll be a PTO somewhere during training camp where everyone will be pulling for him to make the team. I don’t know. 2013-14 isn’t happening again, though.
It’s called a sophomore slump, Elias. “Junior slump” isn’t a thing. Stop trying to make “Junior slump” happen, Elias.
It’s hard to pick on a guy who is still the youngest forward on the roster (not counting a certain redhead client and twelve-year-old Russian that came to visit at times this season), but this guy also has 221 games of NHL experience. It’s not quite a step backward, but 11 goals and 39 points from someone getting 18 minutes a game and who played in all 82 games this season is maybe a little concerning. That said, assists were up, so maybe that’s something to build off of. Coach Peters wanted to see Lindholm in a center role at the end of the season, and maybe that means his future is dishing sick passes instead of being a scoring guy. We want to look back on this season as another necessary step and not the start of a regression. Prove us right next year, Elias.
Brad Malone of early 2014-15 was “why is he even on the roster”, with his zero points. Then Bugsy went off and scored points and the world was confused and cats barked and “make room for trucks” became a thing.
The 2015-16 Brad Malone? That’s the Brad Malone you were expecting last season – not as bad as 2014 Malone, not as good as 2015 Malone. Bugsy got a little more ice time last season because the team didn’t have a player who would do the “dirty work” like parking himself in front of the net. But with PDG and Andrej Nestrasil picking up those type of roles on the team, Malone fell into the hard-checking enforcer role that the Canes may or may not need. Malone saw plenty of healthy scratches this season, threw some questionable hits, but was pretty much the only player on the roster that would stand up and protect others on the roster (Malone had 9 fighting majors this season – rest of the team had two). The problem with that is that you can only defend your teammates if you’re not a healthy scratch, and that happened all too often this season.
McClement is tuna salad at Subway. He’s there as an option, does it without offending many, will occasionally make you sick, but will never make you super happy to have. That’s really a shame, because McClement does a thankless job, taking faceoffs in the defensive zone (and winning them), killing penalties, and not getting on the scoresheet. McClement won 55% of his faceoffs this year, most of them within shouting distance of his goaltender, and was a key part of a penalty kill that was one of the best in the NHL the second half of the season. Hug the man the next time you see him, because he’s doing a good job doing what he does. You should probably ask him first, though.
Admit it. You said “why the hell did we give Riley Nash $1.15 million” too. You assumed he was gone. “Where’s he going to play?” Well, Riley Nash was hurt by your words and used that hurt to play some solid hockey. Whether it was centering a third line or stuck on the wing on the fourth line, Riley went out on the ice, made the most of his limited ice time, and earned his million+. Nasher was 4th on the team in takeaways and rarely gave the puck away (a greater than 3:1 takeaway:giveaway ratio), and on a puck possession team, that leads me to believe that Bill Peters is going to find a way to keep Nasher on the roster another season.
This was going to be Nesty’s breakout year. On a line that clicked, skating well, doing all the right things, the winger had 23 points in 55 games before taking a big hit from Toronto’s Nazem Kadri which resulted in a freak injury and saw him with a fractured vertebra. Fingers crossed that the injury heals and it doesn’t result in a change to Nestrasil’s style, but that remains to be seen. Nestrasil’s style is a physical one, and if he becomes more cautious, then don’t be surprised to see a dropoff next season.
Was the Kris Versteeg deal all about Joakim Nordstrom? It’s possible. While Versteeg was a handy scoring threat that ended up getting flipped at the trade deadline for a high-end prospect, Nordstrom was an unknown quantity – never really getting playing time on a loaded Chicago squad, but unable to be sent down as he’d be claimed on waivers, like his future linemate Andrej Nestrasil was in Detroit. Nordstrom went from being a healthy scratch in Chicago to a legit two-way threat in Carolina. Not saying he’s going to win a Selke anytime soon, but his play was a pleasant surprise, and his line with Jordan Staal and Nestrasil was the best on the team this season.
It’s starting to look more and more like the Hurricanes have something special in Victor Rask. Thrown into the mix last season after only one pro season, Rask scored 33 points in 80 games and cemented his spot in the Canes lineup. This season, he becomes a 20 goal scorer, scoring 48 points in 80 games. Victor Rask is stealing Elias Lindholm’s career trajectory, but we’ll let it slide – just as long as Rask lets Lindy in on some of those secrets. A lot of the Canes potential success in 2016-17 relies on whether or not Victor Rask takes the next step, and I’m excited to see what comes next.
“The Maturation Of Jeff Skinner” sounds like something shown on Cinemax at 11:30 Saturday Night, but it could easily have been the name of the 2015-16 Canes season. Well, except for that Buffalo game, but let’s try to ignore that, k? Skinner struggled last season under Bill Peters’ system and there was a lot of noise about dealing him and whether or not he was “done” as a player. This season, Skinner seems to have clicked, especially after the trade deadline, where Skinner seemed to step up his game a bit. While Skinner led the Canes in goals, he also led the team in takeaways, improving his defensive game. Skinner fell two goals short of 30 for the season, despite playing nearly the last quarter of the season with a team that was decimated by injuries and trade deadline deals. Perhaps most importantly, Jeff Skinner skated in all 82 games this season – the first time he’s done that since his rookie year. Quite the turnaround for a player who was supposedly on the block with no takers last offseason.
It’s important to realize that Jordan Staal isn’t going to be a 30 goal scorer in this league. At least, I don’t think so. That said, this is the Jordan Staal that Canes fans should be happy to see 82 games a season. 20 goals, 48 points, anchoring a shutdown line, and contending for a Selke Award. The trade of his brother did affect him – don’t let anyone tell you differently – but his game was solid at its worst, and great at its best. Next season, once the drama of his brother being dealt fades away (either due to time or because he’s back), he’ll have another very strong season. But don’t count on 30 goals.
[looks at Brad Marchand]
When Chris Terry signed a one-year, one-way contract worth $875K this past offseason, there was some controversy. That one-way contract essentially sent a message that Terry was going to spend the entire season on the NHL roster, and while curious, 11 goals in 57 games the prior season and a history of scoring at the AHL level could be justified on a team that had some scoring issues the season previous. Fast forward to the end of this season, where Terry managed only 11 points in 68 games, and it seems like Coach Peters’ loyalty to Terry was unsubstantiated. Playing fourth line minutes, Terry scored two goals in October, but had only five points (all goals) at the time of the trade deadline. Five.
Terry’s numbers received a boost in March, after the trade deadline, when Terry was given more ice time due to the roster being thinned out by trades and injuries. Terry scored three goals and three assists in March, more than doubling his point total for the rest of the season in that month alone. Terry’s play during the season seemed to adapt to the role that he was being put in – when on the fourth line, he was more of a checking player, and his hits for the season were nearly double his total the previous season. The problem with this is that Terry is a scorer, and not really an all-around player, so to have him in a checking line role doesn’t help anyone. He doesn’t appear to be a good enough scorer at the NHL level to be someone who can be protected in that type of role, so he’s probably going to be a scorer-for-hire at the AHL level in the future. Terry’s a good guy and a good sport (see the Section 328 YouTube channel and see him good-heartedly try to justify putting cheddar and hummus on an Italian sandwich), but I think this will be the last time we’ll see him in Raleigh – at least in a Canes uniform.