A Carolina Hurricanes blog with occasional news about the rest of the NHL.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Canes report card .... part 3 of 5

After taking a day off, I'll continue with parts 3 and 4 of the continuing series of midseason report cards. In the meantime, Carolina has lost their third straight game (all to teams from cities starting with the letter P), and has been shut out twice in a row. Carolina hasn't scored in the year 2007, and will look to end that trend tonight versus the Islanders in the RBC Center at 7:00.

Without further ado, the grades:

# 19 Trevor Letowski (aka "The Big Letowski" aka "The Dude", "El Duderino, "His Dudeness") -- C
There weren't many expectations about Letowski coming in. We knew he would be a third line winger at best and that he would be more of a Josef Vasicek replacement than a Matt Cullen replacement. He's got a ton of energy and like the other "water bugs", he's blessed with speed and elusiveness. The only problem is that he's not as skilled or as confident as Ray Whitney, so he's not going to be much of an offensive threat. Early in the season, he was pasted by the Penguins' Colby Armstrong with a devastating open ice hit. Letowski missed nine games with a concussion, and might have lost what little confidence he had. Presently, he's got 5 (2/3) points, and I suspect that his second half will be better, but I wouldn't expect anything more than 18 points total. With the way things are going injury-wise, he will have no choice but to step up his game. The mitigating factor here is that expectations were low for him. Elsewise, his grade would be much lower.

#22 Mike Commodore (aka "Commy")-- A-
I'm still completely giddy about the way this has worked out for the Canes. After being essentially cast off by the Flames, Commy found a home in Carolina, where defensemen were needed. He saw significant ice time, and surprised many critics by being a solid, dependable defenseman. This season, he's continued to be a very liable d-man, and has been a major player in this "defensemen joining the rush" thing. In fact, he scored a goal this season while the Canes had a two man disadvantage against Buffalo. For the record, that has been the only three-on-five goal in the entirety of the NHL this season.
With 16 (4/12) points, he's already surpassed last season's points total and is on pace to outperform several of the Carolina forwards. Kevyn Adams, I'm talking to you. The only thing I don't like about his game is that he's taking some lazy penalties with too much frequency. He's been in the wrong place at the wrong time for more than one of those delay of game (puck in crowd) penalties.
However, he's almost always in the right place at the right time, whether it's denying an attacking skater a passing lane, or creating a screen in front of an opposing goaltender. We've got him for one more year, and hopefully another renewal after that.

#24 Scott Walker (aka "Remo") -- B+
This has turned out to be a really good trade. Carolina exchanged Josef Vasicek, who once led the Canes in goal scoring for a season (2003-04) for Nashville's all time points and goals leader. For whatever reason, Vasicek wasn't working in Carolina, and I think Nashville freed up some cap space for JP Dumont with this trade. It's gone well. He's got decent speed, great skating ability, good passing skills, a great sense of where his teammates are and where they will be. His d skills aren't that great, but he doesn't put the Canes in harm's way. He's definitely not afraid to throw the gloves down, either. He's just about the only Canes player to avoid injury this season, which was one of the concerns coming in. He's sitting on 26 (12/14) points, and if he can step it up a tiny bit in the second half, he'll be able to reach the 60 (25/35) points that I predicted on the day of the trade.
All indicators are that he's a really good guy to have in the room. One of those guys that all the guys like. Certainly, the fans do.
I haven't been able to discern the results, but Walker played in a charity poker tournament against other NHLers. However much he won all went to the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation, which focuses on children's health, education and helping kids (mostly inner city, underprivileged) get into team sports.

#25 Eric Belanger B
The other player in the "Jack Johnson trade". I have a lot of thoughts about that trade, but that's for another post.
I had no idea what to expect from Belanger. On the day of the trade, I looked at his past numbers and took a shot in the dark, guessing that he'd hit 40 points this season. He probably won't but he won't be far off that mark. He's got some nice moves, and generates some outstanding scoring chances, but he's suffering from whatever Maxim Afinogenov suffered from last season. He just can't finish. He hits posts, crossbars, he's been robbed by phenomenal saves. He's been everywhere but in the net. I think once the Canes get back on the right foot, Belanger will have a good second half, and might end up getting that 40. At his current pace, he'll end with 30 (13/17).
One aspect of his game that I really like is that he can dominate the faceoff circle. When Brindy was out, Belanger was the only one the Canes could trust to go in there and win an important draw. His style, and his stance in the circle are actually really reminiscent of Brind'Amour, so it doesn't surprise me.

#26 Erik Cole -- A-
After a career-threatening neck injury last winter, Cole surprised everyone by returning to the Canes lineup for the final two games of the Stanley Cup Final. He looked good but rusty. While we were all glad to see him, and he played a huge part in setting up the Cup winning goal, there was some debate about whether he should have just taken the rest of the summer off. Coming into camp, there was some trepidation, and the knowledge that he's much more at risk for neck injury than the next guy. For a guy who plays hard and fast, this is obviously something to be concerned about.
Most nights, you can tell that he's having some neck pain, and on some nights, you can see on the bench that he's in a great deal of pain. Still, he plays, and he goes 100%. Last season, he was on fire, headed toward an 82 point season, only to sit out the last 22 regular season games and the first 23 playoff games. This season, he's not far off that pace. He's got 36 (16/20), and when the Canes can right the ship, he'll score in bunches. I figure he'll end with about 78 (35/43) points.
Even when the rest of the team is struggling, and even on the nights when the Canes get crushed, it's a thrill to watch him. He's so fast and so strong and so agile and handles the puck so well. He can turn nothing at all into a breakaway chance.

He's still young and has two more years in Carolina. At some point, which I assume will be next season, he'll be given the "A" when Wesley retires and K-Ads goes on the free agent market.

So there's that.

The Canes will try to (and I predict they will) snap out of this horrible funk tonight. I'll watch the game and do that semi-liveblog thing with open comment thread. After all that, I'll attempt to get part four of the report cards up. Either way, I'll have the whole shebang done by Sunday night.

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