We love the preseason, simply because of what it means: It’s a fresh beginning, a new start to a new season and a chance to forget last year. For every team but Tampa Bay, the goal moving forward is to do better than the previous season. And even for them, I suppose, they can try to do what they did again, but do it better -- somehow.
But the preseason is also a dangerous time to be an overzealous fan. Teams are often playing prospects, half-lineups, backup keepers and most of them haven’t fully installed the systems yet that they’ll use in the regular season. Because of this, goals, assists, big plays and even lines and special teams combinations can be deceiving.
With that in mind, here are what are sure to be some popular overreactions from Tuesday night’s Hurricanes preseason 3-1 win over the Lightning (those aforementioned Cup champs who, incidentally, dressed exactly four players who played 30-plus NHL games last season):
Jesperi Kotkaniemi ... What a pickup!
This may turn out to be true in the long run, despite his astronomical cap hit this season. When the Canes submitted an offer sheet for the former Montreal Canadiens forward, they had to make it one that would force the Habs’ hand. And did it ever.
He said all the right things along the way, all the while hinting that perhaps the Canadiens didn’t give him a chance to develop like he felt they should have. He believed that so much, he said it twice.
Tuesday, in his first appearance for the Canes, Kotkaniemi wasted little time making his presence known, converting a one-timer on a slick feed from Vincent Trocheck on the first power play of the game to give the home team a 1-0 advantage. He looked good. He looked fast. He was aware. And he was in the right place at the right time.
He added a second point -- an assist late in the first frame -- on the power play, helping set up Teuvo Teravainen for his first goal of the preseason. Kotkaniemi was playing the point alongside Tony DeAngelo on what was the top power play unit of the night for the Canes.
But, let’s slow down here. The young man they call “KK” had just 20 points in 52 games a year ago. His top NHL output is 34 points in 79 games as an 18-year-old rookie in 2018-19. He also took a penalty late in the first period, a hooking penalty of the lazy variety.
Look, could he ultimately be a great player? Scouts thought so. He was drafted No. 3 overall for a reason. Is he already a great player? I mean, he’s in the NHL, so he’s already in the top 1 percent. But don’t expect his output Tuesday night to be an everyday occurrence in the regular season.
This power play is unstoppable!
Piggybacking on the previous item, trying to gauge anything about the Canes regular-season power play from Game 1 of the preseason would be ill-advised. Without Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas and more than half of the team’s NHL-ready defensive group, trying to discern anything from this power play is futile.
That said, the power play as assembled Tuesday played well, and will likely help coach Rod Brind’Amour in deciding how to put things together down the road. Kotkaniemi, Trocheck and Teravainen looked good out there together, and it appears as though DeAngelo will get a chance to run things on at least one of the power play units this season.
But unstoppable? Let’s consider the opponent here, also: Mikhail Sergachev, Jan Rutta, Ross Colton and Mathieu Joseph were the only four players skating for the Lightning who skated 30 or more games in the NHL last season. Even assuming all of the team’s NHL-ready players were on the PK (they weren’t), they’re hardly preeminent penalty killers. It’s good that the power play looked good, but it’s not necessarily a harbinger of things to come.
Frederik Andersen is going to win the Vezina!
In most fantasy hockey circles, Andersen is slotting in among the Top 10 goalies taken. He’s been a steady performer for a Leafs team with higher expectations than they’ve had results the past five years. Andersen has been solid if not spectacular, posting 30 wins three times.
It was obvious last year that he and the Leafs were no longer a fit, which led him to sign with the team that originally drafted him (and let him walk).
He was sharp, Tuesday, for sure. He made 35 saves on 36 opportunities, including a pair of great stops in the first period on a Tampa power play, and a stellar glove snag midway through the second on a defensive lapse in front.
His lateral movement was good. His puck awareness was on point, and he appeared to communicate well with his group of defensemen, despite never have played in a game situation alongside any of them.
But let’s pump the brakes on anointing him. Let’s not forget that, while he’s apparently the No. 1 here, he’s sharing the crease with Antti Raanta, a former top prospect in his own right and at the very least a solid backup. And Brind’Amour likes to play the hot goalie, and also rotate his keepers to keep them fresh. Not a bad strategy, but a tough recipe for any goalies with Vezina aspirations.
And, also, let’s consider the quality of the shots Andersen faced Tuesday.
The kids look great, and they’ll make the final roster!
Jamieson Rees was not out of place. Jack Drury probably deserves a roster spot. Stefan Noesen held his own. (Seth Jarvis is still nursing an injury.) The Canes could probably build a roster that could compete with the bottom half of some NHL rosters.
But none of those players have a realistic shot at the roster, unless they seriously outshine some of the veterans, and there’s not much anyone can do about it unless the Canes are willing to part with some veterans, or those veterans are willing to take an assignment to AHL Chicago. Of the Canes’ 13 rostered NHL forwards at the moment, 11 are on one-way deals, meaning they’d have to clear waivers if they were sent down. One of those other two, though, is Matrin Necas, and we know he’s not going anywhere.
That means any of the “kids” who are dreaming of making the roster will have to outshine not only all of the other rookies, but also at least one or two established NHL players. That’s the downside to having a deep and NHL-tested roster. Could any of those mentioned here do it? Sure. But it’s not nearly as easy as it would have been had the team not signed Jordan Martinook. Or Derek Stepan. Or Josh Leivo.
The future is bright for the Canes, but the future isn’t now. Yet.