Scott Burnside: Walt, that has been a rocking first month to the NHL season in Raleigh. You must be a good luck charm. And while the old adage holds true that you can't win the Stanley Cup in October it is equally true you can lose it in the opening weeks of the season. The Hurricanes, of course, put themselves in a great spot with their record-breaking start to the season, so let's start with an easy one. Who's your first-month MVP?
Walt Ruff: I don't know about the good luck charm part, but I won't argue with you. The first month of the season has been all that Canes fans could ask for, and more. Perspective is important in times like this, right? If you would have told any player, staff member or fan that the team would be 11-2-0 through the first month, they'd be overwhelmed with joy. In terms of a Most Valuable Player, it must be Frederik Andersen. The cumulative team effort has been fantastic, but where would they be with even average goaltending? His third star of the month honors for October were very well deserved and hopefully his hot hand continues moving forward.
Video: CAR@NSH: Andersen makes save on Tolvanen
Scott Burnside: So, I guess "Freddie" is going to be a good fit. Ha. Ha. Didn't see Andersen starting 11 of the team's first 13 games and being among the NHL leaders in all meaningful goaltending stats starting with wins - nine - but looking ahead after losing Antti Raanta, who came on in relief of Andersen last Saturday in Florida only to be crushed by Ryan Lomberg, it does throw the goaltending into an early state of flux, no? I admit I was surprised that Raanta didn't get more action early on and now the 'Canes will look to balance Andersen's workload with veteran minor pro netminder Alex Lyon. Now Carolina has had good success in recent years with lower profile netminders seizing the moment as Curtis McElhinney did so well in 2018-19. Can Lyon, 28, with only 23 NHL appearances to his credit give Andersen the rest he'll need? My pal Mike McKenna at Dailyfaceoff.com believes Lyon is a capable NHL netminder. But if he falters, pending how long it takes Raanta to get back into the lineup, does this put pressure on GM Don Waddell to explore the goaltending market in-season well in advance of the trade deadline? How do you see this playing out?
Walt Ruff: I think a lot of people were surprised that Raanta only started one game of the initial stretch, but with how good Freddie was playing, how could you take him out? All credit where credit is due to both Brind'Amour and goaltending coach Paul Schonfelder, that had to have been a difficult decision to make going into some of those games and it turns out they made the right call in every single one. Even in the Florida game, you can't pin that on Andersen. In regard to Lyon, who am I to argue with goaltending afficionado Mike McKenna? If there's anybody who knows anything about being in between the pipes, it's him. I was so happy to see Lyon get a shot Saturday and there are a lot of people in Philadelphia that feel as if he never got a fair chance during his time there. If I may say so too, what an outstanding young man. Approachable and kind, he told me of his aspirations to maybe get into broadcasting when he is done, just like McKenna has. I digress, I think it's too early to speculate on if a move will need to be made. Again, you have to see what Lyon can do, right? Albeit before my time with the team, a young man that hadn't really been given a shot in net came through when it was needed most for the club not long ago, correct?
Scott Burnside: Good call by you, Walt. So, lots of folks would say this is a perfect start to the season. But perfect is an illusion, a mirage in the distance, something to aspire to but never to be achieved. You get my drift. So, what are the key areas for this team to focus on moving forward after the first month? For me one of the keys will be discipline. The Hurricanes sometimes lack for that and as I pen this following their win over St. Louis, they are tied for first in the league with 59 minor penalties. Of course not all penalties can be avoided and the NHL has pledged (at least for the moment) to crack down on cross-checking penalties, so that might skew the numbers a bit. But the Hurricanes take a lot of offensive zone penalties and these are penalties that can be eliminated from their game and I would venture must be curtailed if they're going to be a legitimate Cup contender. The fact the Hurricanes have a top 10 penalty kill may help blunt the damage done but I do think discipline is one area that they need to address as we move forward. What about you Walt, is there an area of concern or a red flag for you heading into Month Two of this season?
Walt Ruff: I, and I envision Rod Brind'Amour would too, agree with you in saying that discipline is a big area for improvement in the second month of the season. It's no secret Chicago has struggled out of the gate, but in the Hurricanes' win on Wednesday, November 3, how many other teams WOULD score with eight minutes of third period power play time in a game that was both tied or down by one? They dodged a bullet there but then obviously didn't get as lucky against Florida. But, look at that one on the other end of the paradigm - the Panthers scored three on the power play in the first period. If you take away the Canes penalties (regardless of how correct or incorrect the actual calls were themselves), it's a 1-0 game going into the second. The final 40 minutes of that contest could completely change if those penalties hadn't come to life. I don't mean to sound too knit-picky; it is just one loss after all, but it just goes to show that even that could be different.
Scott Burnside: Walt, okay, so, how about some things that surprised you about this month vis a vis the Hurricanes? I'll start (which makes it easier for me, ha, ha). So pleased for rookie Seth Jarvis. Not only does the 13th overall pick get a chance to stick with the club out of training camp when he does get an opportunity to slide into the lineup he absolutely embraces the moment. Jarvis has even managed to get in quite a bit of power play time, which should also be a big boost to the confidence. Hard on the puck, unafraid to get to the hard areas of the ice, it was a great first impression for the 19-year-old. It's a small sample but in a league where depth is king Jarvis's first impressions bode well for the coming months and years. How about you?
Walt Ruff: That's a fantastic point, Scott. I think Jarvis is where I likely would have gone with this question, so kudos to you for making the veteran play in going first. Thankfully though, there's plenty to love about Ethan Bear thus far. What a welcomed addition on the blue line. He's been logging some serious minutes, especially in the absence of Brett Pesce as of late. I saw a stat not long ago that showed through the first ten games of the season, Bear had 43 offensive zone starts and 119 defensive zone starts. Talk about trust early in a tenure with the team. Evidently it's there between he and defensive coach Tim Gleason, and that's wonderful to see already.
Video: CAR@CHI: Jarvis tallies breakaway goal
Scott Burnside: Totally on board with the Bear appreciation. So much upside there. And sticking with a blue line that underwent a significant metamorphosis with the departure of Dougie Hamilton I have to admit, one of the moments I'll take away from the first month is the night Tony DeAngelo delivered a Gordie Howe hat-trick, a goal, an assist and a fight. Hurricanes' fans responded by chanting his name at PNC Arena. Again, this is a small sample size for a player whose signing by the Hurricanes as a free agent this summer was more than a little polarizing. DeAngelo's history of behavioral issues have dogged him since junior and led to his banishment by the New York Rangers. But his early returns in Carolina have been exemplary both in terms of his production - he delivered 13 points and was a nice plus-11 through his first 13 games - and his connection to his teammates, coaching staff and the fan base. DeAngelo signed a one-year deal with Carolina and he understands this is a make-or-break season for him in terms of rehabilitating his image and paving the way to a long career in the NHL. What do you make of DeAngelo's contributions and his presence on the squad?
Walt Ruff: I made note of this on a recent podcast appearance I had, but I want to be clear that my comments here are going to be in attempt to play it right down the middle. I'm cognizant of what's transpired in Tony's past and I'm also aware of what's going on this season. When Tony does something good and I tweet about it, I have people telling me not to support him. When Tony does something and I don't tweet about it, I have people asking me why I don't talk about him. What I can say is that he certainly has done well on the ice thus far. Especially for being one of the many newcomers of the team. The chants that night caught me by surprise, but on the ice, he certainly brought the juice during that game and the crowd loved it. As someone who hopes to see the team succeed in all facets, I hope that his on-ice performance continues. Away from the ice, in the handful of media scrums that I've been a part of with Tony, he has been kind, thorough with his answers and does not have a lack of confidence. I do believe he understands the magnitude of this year and I hope for all parties involved it continues to go smoothly.
Scott Burnside: Here's a little follow-up, the Hurricanes will be well-represented at the Beijing Olympics in February and I'm wondering if DeAngelo's performance will give some folks at USA Hockey pause when they consider their lineup. Interesting, as I'm penning this four of the top five point-producers among defensemen in the NHL are U.S. players; defending Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, Kevin Shattenkirk,, Seth Jones (who has already been named to the team) and DeAngelo. Hard to imagine DeAngelo ends up among Team USA's top eight given the depth available to the U.S. management team, but if he keeps producing at this rate it will make for some interesting discussion. Any Olympic thoughts as it relates to the Hurricanes Walt?
Walt Ruff: That's a great point about DeAngelo and Team USA, I honestly had not thought about that. You'd have to think Jaccob Slavin and maybe even as a longshot Brett Pesce would be a part of that same discussion too, right? Of course, I understand that the likelihood of all three being on the roster is next to zero, but still to have three potentially in consideration is a testament to the strength of this team. The forward group though? Talk about well represented. Aho, Necas, Niederreiter, Svechnikov and Teravainen are all locks for their respective teams, no?
Scott Burnside: My guess is that Jaccob Slavin will be sporting red, white and blue in February. He has quietly become one of the most respected defenders in the game, in my opinion. Much harder, I think, for Brett Pesce given the American depth and his current injury status. Agreed on the other Hurricanes you mentioned, though. Can Jesperi Kotkaniemi (see below) join that group of talented Finns? Maybe. I'm guessing Jesper Fast gets a hard look for Team Sweden given his versatility. Vincent Trocheck will be on Team USA's radar for sure. And of course Frederik Andersen will be a critical part of Denmark's first Olympic tournament.
Scott Burnside: Here's an easy one Walt. The team leaves tomorrow for their longest road trip of the season. You're going. What's the biggest packing challenge for you and what are you most looking forward to on this epic journey that includes six games five against western-based U.S. teams?
Walt Ruff: At this point in time, I haven't even started packing yet, which is a problem within itself. In fact, the suit I intend to take with is still at the dry cleaners. Talk about cutting it close. Packing for 12 days on the road is daunting. I think the longest I have ever done at any point in my hockey career was four days. I may be in trouble here, Scott. Pending I have a suitcase packed, I'm most looking forward to seeing both Vegas and Seattle during the trip. As someone who has not experienced "The Fortress" yet, I'm incredibly excited to see that building and their game presentation. The same could be said for Seattle. I've heard rave reviews about Climate Pledge Arena, so I can't wait to set foot there.
Scott Burnside: And finally, a two-parter for me, is there a player or part of this team you're looking forward to watching in the next month and what Eastern Conference foe are you most curious about tracking over the next month? Me? I'll go with Jesperi Kotkaniemi. I think Rod Brind'Amour has been patient with the new Hurricane who of course came over via a highly publicized offer sheet accepted by the former Montreal Canadien. He's a natural center but is still learning the NHL game at the wing and has played, at times, with Finnish countrymen Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen but also been moved down the lineup as befitting a player who has three points in 11 games. I think this month will be important for finding a nice spot for the 21-year-old to get into a nice rhythm and find a comfort zone. And as for another team, how about Florida? The Panthers along with Carolina have established themselves as early Titans of the East but they've had to adjust to life under interim head coach Andrew Brunette who took over after Joel Quenneville was forced to resign in the wake of the Chicago Blackhawks current investigation. Can Brunette, a highly respected hockey man who has a wide range of experience since retiring as a player, keep the Panthers on their current arc? Interesting times in South Florida to be sure. What say you, Walt?
Walt Ruff: Kotkaniemi is a great pick, Scott. There seems to still be folks overlooking that two years ago he spent time in the American Hockey League and last season he started over in Finland before the NHL season began. He still needs time. I'm sure the team would love to see more out of him, but were any of us exceptional in our careers at 21 years of age and in our first year at our second place of employment? As the married folks say, "love is patient, love is kind". Let's continue to show some love to Jesperi and hopefully good things will come. As far as watching another team goes, can I give you the cop out answer of just keeping tabs on the Metropolitan Division as a whole? I mean, it's hard to expect Pittsburgh and the Islanders to stay where they are presently in the division for long. Those are two organizations with talent and strong cultures. But who jostles where when those two inevitably come up? It's already shaping up to be a murderers' row in the spring for this batch of teams.
Scott Burnside: Great work Walt and good luck with that suitcase. Enjoy Vegas and Seattle - but not too much - and can't wait to do this again next month.
Walt Ruff: Glad you're on our team, Scott.