[This is part 4 of the “Handicapping the 2015-16 Canes” series. I go into a little bit more detail by position in parts 1-3, which can be found here: Goalies, Defensemen, and Forwards.]

After a lot of discussion (and two rounds of cuts, which were made after I wrote parts 1-3), we should have a somewhat clear idea of who is going to be playing where come opening night. But there still are a few spots up for grabs, and for those not making the big club a trip to Charlotte isn’t guaranteed. As of October 1st, here’s my best guess as to how the Canes organization is going to look.

Carolina Hurricanes (NHL)

FORWARDS (14)

Gerbe, Nathan
Lindholm, Elias
Malone, Brad
McClement, Jay
Nash, Riley
Nestrasil, Andrej
Nordström, Joakim
Rask, Victor
Ryan, Derek
Skinner, Jeff
Staal, Eric
Staal, Jordan
Terry, Chris
Versteeg, Kris

There are (as of October 1st) 15 forwards left in camp, which means all but one of them is going to make the team. I still believe that there were only four spots up for grabs here when camp opened (see yesterday’s post), and Brad Malone and Chris Terry impressed enough last season that it would have taken a poor camp for them to get cut. Joakim Nordström is promising and new, and I could see him getting claimed on waivers in a situation not unlike how the Canes got Andrej Nestrasil last season if he were to be exposed.

That leaves one spot up for grabs between 28-year-old NHL rookie Derek Ryan and impressive prospect Brock McGinn. I’m going with Ryan over McGinn just because McGinn benefits more from being sent down and playing regular 1st/2nd line minutes than grabbing the 14th slot on the main roster. Ryan has already done his time (albeit overseas); while the Checkers would likely benefit from him being sent down, Ryan isn’t going to benefit any. I was surprised that neither was active for last night’s home preseason opener against Washington.

DEFENSEMEN (7)

Faulk, Justin
Hainsey, Ron
Hanifin, Noah
Jordan, Michal
Liles, John-Michael
Murphy, Ryan
Wisniewski, James

I’m probably less certain here than I am anywhere else in the roster, and that has changed a great deal from the beginning of camp. When camp started, I saw six of the seven slots essentially set, with the only real battle being whether Michal Jordan could take the 6th slot (and some AHL veteran taking the 7th), or if Noah Hanifin would be given the keys to the kingdom and push Jordan to the 7.

My, how things have changed.

AHL veteran-types (Rasmus Rissanen, Danny Biega, Keegan Lowe) were cut early. After the second round of cuts, four players with a grand total of five games of professional experience were still around, doing battle with those original six that seemed so secure. The four main veterans aren’t going anywhere, but now I’m not so sure Ryan Murphy‘s job is locked down. He still can be sent down (no really – trust me), and Coach Peters seems intent on making sure that Murphy earns his slot. Oddly, I think Jordan is more secure than Murphy at this point, because of the six non-multi-millionaire defensemen left in camp, he (like Ryan) fits into a 7th defenseman/backup role best. I’m still playing it safe and assuming Murphy makes it with Hanifin (who I think is as close to a lock as the four veterans) and Jordan taking the 7th slot, but Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are breathing down his neck. Slavin has looked impressive at times, but was brought down to earth last night by Alex Ovechkin, while Pesce has been very solid and might have the edge over the two.

And no, I’m not seeing this as Haydn Fleury’s year. There’s too many other good prospects playing well to force him onto the NHL roster for a full season, especially if he can’t get sent to the AHL. Patience – there will be a spot waiting for him next season.

GOALTENDERS (2)

Lack, Eddie
Ward, Cam

But you knew that already.

Charlotte Checkers (AHL)

FORWARDS (11)

Boychuk, Zach*
Brown, Patrick
Di Giuseppe, Phil
Hensick, T.J.*
Karlsson, Erik
McGinn, Brock
Sandlak, Carter
Shugg, Justin*
Sutter, Brody*
Tolchinsky, Sergey
Woods, Brendan

*cleared waivers

Those forwards who didn’t make the Canes during camp will end up in Charlotte, with the exception of Lucas Wallmark, who will play overseas this season. Sergey Tolchinsky, T.J. Hensick, and Erik Karlsson will be making their Checkers “debuts” this season*, while the rest spent at least half the year in Charlotte. Rounding out the Checkers depth will be Kyle Hagel, who played for the Checkers last season and was named “AHL Man of the Year” for the fifth straight year for his service to the community, and Matt Willows, an undrafted free agent who recently finished his college career as captain of the University of New Hampshire Wildcats squad. Both are contracted to the Checkers and not the Hurricanes, and are not eligible for a callup unless the Canes (or any other NHL franchise) offers them an NHL contract. Familiar face Jared Staal is also in Checkers camp on a PTO, and has a good shot of making the squad if the Checkers elect to go with 14 forwards.

DEFENSEMEN (6)

Biega, Danny
Carrick, Trevor
Lowe, Keegan
Pesce, Brett
Rissanen, Rasmus*
Slavin, Jaccob

The Checkers last season, due to injuries or callups, often found themselves scrambling to dress 6 defensemen, turning often to mid-season PTOs and the ECHL for help (but not Austin Levi, who even the Everblades didn’t want, so that should tell you something). This season, the Hurricanes wealth of defensive prospects leaves the Checkers with perhaps too much of a good thing. Charlotte will have nine defensemen in camp – seven from the Canes organization, as well as Jake Chelios and Justin Agosta, who were signed by the Checkers. With only room for seven blueliners (unless the Checkers want 8 and go with 13 forwards, which seems less likely), two players aren’t going to make the Checkers and are likely headed to the ECHL. While I think it’s possible that all seven of the Canes players could make the Checkers, I’m thinking that the Canes would rather have their prospects playing regular minutes in the ECHL than sitting as a healthy scratch in the AHL. The odd man out here seems to be Tyler Ganly, who isn’t projected to have tremendous upside and is entering his first professional season. Last season’s Checkers probably would have loved to give Ganly ice time, but this season it seems less likely. The six above should see the majority of the playing time, with Chelios (who spent some time in Canes camp) filling the 7th d-man role.

GOALTENDERS (2)

MacIntyre, Drew*
Tirronen, Rasmus

The Checkers have four goalies in camp, which if it seems like a lot – it is. Drew MacIntyre will go into the season as the starter and mentor to whatever player wins the backup job in camp. Whomever loses will end up in Florida, where the Everblades have no goalies in camp, so the starting spot is open there. I could see Rasmus Tirronen and Daniel Altshuller both seeing time in Charlotte this season, though I’m leaning towards Tirronen getting the backup Charlotte gig to get Altshuller more starting time in Florida.

Florida Everblades (ECHL)

DEFENSEMEN (1)

Ganly, Tyler

Again, this isn’t a knock on Ganly – it’s an attempt to get him regular ice time when he’s got four AHL vets and two guys trying to make the NHL squad in front of him in Charlotte.

GOALTENDERS (1)

Altshuller, Daniel

Altshuller had a shaky pro start last season in the ECHL, pulling an .881 save percentage in 14 games as a backup. Altshuller was coming off a very good season in junior, so it’s possible regular playing time is all he needs. He should get that opportunity in Florida, where Anthony Peters (yes, Justin’s brother) will be his backup. Peters was signed by Charlotte and is there 4th goalie in camp, but is unlikely to land the Checkers backup job.

Junior Hockey

DEFENSEMEN (2)

Fleury, Haydn [Red Deer - WHL]
McKeown, Roland [Kingston - OHL]

McKeown is already with Kingston, while Fleury is still in Canes camp. As I mentioned above, there’s too many good prospects at his level to justify keeping him out of junior and burning a year of his ELC. Is he too good for junior? Yeah. Should he be playing in the AHL this season? Sure. But since he can’t, let him go back to junior, compete for a championship with Red Deer, and shoot for a gold medal for Canada at the World Junior Championship.

GOALTENDERS (1)

Nedeljkovic, Alex [Flint - OHL]

There was some concern when Nedeljkovic didn’t show up on the Canes training camp roster, with good reason – the goalie had offseason hip surgery which caused him to miss development camp and essentially guaranteed that he’d be returning to junior this season.

Overseas

FORWARDS (1)

Wallmark, Lucas [Luleå HF - Sweden]

Wallmark was in Canes training camp this year and showed some flashes in the Red & White game at the Canes Carnival, but he was loaned back to Luleå HF in Sweden. Unlike fellow Swede and Canes prospect Erik Karlsson, who struggled to get meaningful minutes with his SHL team last season, Wallmark is expected to see regular ice time this year.