The Hurricanes dropped both the games on the weekend; 2-0 on Friday to the Ice and 2-1 on Saturday to the Hitmen. While the ‘Canes dropped both those games, they didn’t play that bad at all. On Friday, they finished the game tied in shots with the Ice at 27-apiece. While in the game on Saturday they controlled many parts of it and started off on the right foot with an early Jamal Watson goal. The pair of losses dropped the Hurricanes to 2-4 in the preseason, but the record certainly does not tell the entire story.
The two victories for the Hurricanes came on August 29th, a 2-1 come-from-behind shootout win over the Prince Albert Raiders and a 5-2 triumph over the Medicine Hat Tigers on September 10th. While the losses came on August 30th, a 5-2 loss to the Regina Pats; a 5-3 defeat to the Calgary Hitmen on September 5th in Coaldale; and the two losses this weekend in Crowsnest to Kootenay and again to Calgary.
Despite the 2-4 record, there has been a lot of positives to draw on when you look at the play that the team has put forth on the ice and some shining stars on the roster itself. The ‘Canes have played pretty well in most of their games, with a strong compete level that has kept them in the games – the largest goal margin in a loss was three goals.
In the six preseason games, the Hurricanes scored a total of 12 goals, with an average of 2.00 per game, and while that number certainly is not enough to win many hockey games, consider that forwards Riley Sheen and Reid Duke only appeared in one game and that Giorgio Estephan missed the entire preseason due to injury and won’t be returning for a few more weeks. Essentially, that’s a top line missing from the lineup, which once inserted, you have to assume goal scoring will go up drastically.
While the goal scoring was down a touch in the preseason, the goals against was drastically down from the 4.97 average given up during the 2013/2014 hockey season. In the six exhibition games, the Hurricanes surrendered a total of 17 goals against – an average of just 2.83. Defensively the Hurricanes have been much better under the tutelage of new assistant coach Bryan Maxwell who has also drastically improved the penalty kill which only gave up just one power play goal on 21 times shorthanded – a kill percentage of 95.2% which was second in the entire Western Hockey League during the preseason. Really good when you consider the ‘Canes had the worst penalty kill last season killing off only 69.8% of the penalties taken.
The team has been good during the preseason, and so too has some individual players. Offensively, Tyler Wong, Jaeger White and Carter Folk shared the lead in points in exhibition play with four points each – Wong and White each shared the lead in goal scoring with three goals each. Wong, who will be entering his third full season with the Hurricanes is one of the returning players expected to carry a large load offensively along with the likes of Jamal Watson, Reid Duke, Riley Sheen and Giorgio Estephan once he returns from injury.
Jaeger White has really impressed as a 16-year-old forward. Three goals and four points in the preseason in six games was impressive, but it’s the complete game that the young Medicine Hat product possesses. Many times, White has been one of the better, if not the best, Hurricanes forwards during the six warm up games – and that was playing with multiple different line combinations.
The other players that impressed me offensively was Taylor Cooper and Pavel Skumatov. Cooper is also a three year veteran but will be entering his first full year with the Hurricanes after being acquired midway through last season from the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Ryan Pilon trade. The 19-year-old looked very good during training camp and practice, and was very good in the three games he appeared in skating on a line mostly with Wong and Watson – Cooper picked up two assists in three games.
Pavel Skumatov looks like he could be a dynamic scorer with the ability to be a game changer. During the six games he dressed in, the Chehov, Russia native scored once and added two helpers but was very dangerous. There were countless times where out of nothing the 17-year-old would create a scoring chance and once those chances start becoming tallies, he could be a player that may be able to contribute like a Nikita Scherbak who led the Saskatoon Blades last year in scoring with 28 goals and 78 points last season.
While some other forwards to watch will be the third overall selection in this past years CHL Import Draft, Nikita Milekhin and tough guy Carter Folk. Milekhin will be good, it’s just a matter of time. The 17-year-old had 21 points (13g-8a) in 26 games last year with Dynamo Moscow. The biggest objective for the Krasnogorsk, Russia native will be adjusting to the North American style game, but once that comes, look out as the skill will then take over.
The other forward to watch out for is tough guy Carter Folk. The Regina, Saskatchewan native will be entering his second season in the Western Hockey League, but first full season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes after being acquired last year from the Seattle Thunderbirds. Folk, who had just five goals and nine points in 50 games last seasom, had an impressive training camp and preseason. The 18-year-old had four assists in the six games in exhibition play for the ‘Canes while seeing some power play time and skating in the top six forwards. Even if Folk doesn’t slide into the top six once everyone is back and healthy, it just helps the Hurricanes depth at forward with him being in the “bottom six.”
Defensively, the Hurricanes will once again need to rely on the veteran skaters – Nick Walters, once back from the Columbus camp, assuming he’ll be back; as well as Tyler Bell, Griffin Foulk, Lenny Hackman Kade Jensen and Bryton Sayers. The Hurricanes also have some younger defenseman that may impress. Andrew Nielsen, Thomas Lenchyshyn and Brandon Kennedy have all had really good camps.
As we all know, the best defense begins with a strong goaltender, and it seems that the Hurricanes are in good shape to have a solid duo manning the pipes this season. With now 15-year-old goalie, Stuart Skinner who will turn 16 on November 1st and Zac Robidoux who was picked up from Medicine Hat in a trade on the first day of camp. Not only will the two of them solidify the most important position in hockey, but they add good size and athleticism in goal. Skinner, who is 6’3, 193lbs and Robidoux who checks in at 6’3, 205lbs, will likely split time to begin the season unless one of them takes the reigns as the number one keeper. The only thing that might work against the tandem is inexperience as the two of them have a combined total of six WHL starts – not a large sample size, but if the preseason is any indication, they should be able to hold their own.
Heading into the season opener on Friday against the Medicine Hat Tigers, the Hurricanes currently sit with a total of 28 players on their roster after re-assigning defenseman Connor Rokosh and goalie Jonny Hogue, and releasing forward Reid Nemeth over the weekend.
As it stands, the ‘Canes are carrying two goalies, nine defense and 17 forwards:
#31 Stuart Skinner
#35 Zac Robidoux
#2 Griffin Foulk
#3 Nick Walters
#4 Tyler Bell
#6 Thomas Lenchyshyn
#8 Bryton Sayers
#22 Lenny Hackman
#23 Kade Jensen
#24 Brandon Kennedy
#28 Andrew Nielsen
#5 Tyler Wong
#7 Jaeger White
#9 Giorgio Estephan
#10 Nikita Milekhin
#11 Taylor Cooper
#12 Pavel Skumatov
#14 Dexter Bricker
#15 Michal Holub
#16 Reid Duke
#17 Jamal Watson
#18 Steven Alldridge
#19 Riley Sheen
#20 Ryan Vandervlis
#21 Miles Warkentine
#25 Carter Amson
#27 Carter Folk
#29 Zach Goberis
While they have 28 skaters currently, that may change, especially once injured players return. Listed as injured are Estephan, Alldridge, Sheen, Sayers and Jensen. Time lines for injured players are undisclosed.
On paper, it looks like the Hurricanes will be a competitive team and will be much better than a year ago. However, time will tell on whether things come together in the right way and we will soon begin to find out as the 72-game marathon for playoffs begins Friday at Enmax Centre against the Tigers.