RALEIGH, NC - As we continue to dissect the projected roster that the 'Canes will skate Thursday night against the Islanders, today leads us to defensemen.
Breaking Down the Canes: The Forward Group
While the pairings will almost certainly change throughout the course of the season, recent practice pairings have led us to believe that this could be these could be the duos for the regular season opener.
Pair 1: Jaccob Slavin - Tony DeAngelo
Pair 2: Brady Skjei - Brett Pesce
Pair 3: Ian Cole - Ethan Bear
Extra: Brendan Smith
Beginning with the top pair, the emergence of Jaccob Slavin as one of the league's most stable defensemen is expected to continue this year. Entering his seventh season as a pro, the alternate captain just doesn't have any real holes in his game. He's responsible defensively, moves the puck well and doesn't take penalties, as exemplified by being named the 2021 recipient of the league's Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. He isn't going to lead the league in scoring by a defenseman, but that's not necessary, especially if Tony DeAngelo can produce the way he did during the 2019-20 season.
Totaling 53 points in 68 games, DeAngelo certainly has fuel to his fire for a bounce back year. Eager to make good on his newfound opportunity, "Tony D" is hoping to demonstrate that the Canes management made a worthwhile decision in bringing him aboard.
While DeAngelo is expected to quarterback one of the two power play units for the club, another member of the defensive group that could anchor the other unit is Brett Pesce . Due to a highly discussed departure from the blue line this off-season, there is a vacancy for someone to showcase what they can offer on the man advantage and to date in training camp and preseason action, it's been #22. Also entering his seventh season as a pro, it almost seems as if "why not" is the lead rationale behind him getting the chance. He's shown what he can offer playing in a full-time NHL role for the past few seasons and with a strong offensive output during the shortened 2020-21 campaign, the right-handed shot appears to have the ball in his court in terms of seizing the role.
Paired with Brady Skjei at five-on-five for almost the entirety of camp, the Canes 2020 deadline acquisition is hoping to show a little more in his first 82-game campaign with the club. Totaling 10 points last year, the former first round selection of the New York Rangers once had 39 points in a season and feels confident he can get back within reach of that ballpark again.
Rounding out the group, Ian Cole is quite an anchor to be holding down the third defensive pairing. A grizzled veteran that brings an element of toughness, the pairing of him alongside fellow newcomer Ethan Bear is very suitable combo. Bear, who has only played two full seasons in the NHL, has shared numerous times already that he is a huge fan of Brind'Amour's systems and can reinvent himself here in Raleigh, if he so chooses. One of the standouts from all of the leadup to this Thursday's game, Bear's offensive output has led the attraction, recording a hat trick in the team's Red-White scrimmage and scoring in the club's preseason finale against Nashville. Cole, a smart player in his own right, will do just fine and holding down the defensive responsibilities, affording Bear that privilege to jump up into the play when seeing fit.
So, with all that being said, balance appears to be the word that comes to mind.
The offensive specialists are present, the responsible defenders are also in the mix.
And if something goes awry, Brendan Smith is a very formidable "next man up". With parts of ten seasons experience in the league, he could slide in on just about any combo.
For a team that's built with speed, skill and the ability to score up front, the blue line sure does have a nice batch of complimentary pieces and trustworthy workers as well. Also similar to the forward group, the majority of the defensive batch has inspired belief that their best hockey is yet to come, which is all the more exciting.
Two days to go, y'all.