Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele looks to make NHL this year in Phoenix

Turn back the calendar to twelve months ago. At this time last year, Miami University senior Andy Miele was preparing for his final season with the Redhawks in hopes of capturing a capturing an national title. But unlike most respected players in the junior or collegiate ranks, he wasn’t sure that he’d have a home when his final season was complete. You see—this is the life for an undrafted collegiate athlete.

Little did Miele know last summer that he was about to embark on one of the more dominant CCHA seasons in recent memory. All it took was 24 goals and 71 points in 39 games to get the attention of NHL scouts and general managers. The Hobey Baker Award didn’t hurt either.  In the previous year, he was a point-per-game player—but no one was prepared for the breakout season Miele was about to drop on the hockey world. By the time he was done, he had the teams from all over the league bidding for his services. So at the end of the day, it wasn’t surprising when he chose to take his services to… Phoenix?

In hindsight, Miele’s choice to play in Phoenix shouldn’t be so surprising. For undrafted free agents, one of the most important aspects when choosing a destination is available opportunity. Is there an chance to make the big club at a particular position? In Phoenix’s case, there was a bit of a void at the center position. But it’s been more than just opening for Miele. It’s been the right fit as well.

“I love the staff here in Phoenix,” Miele explained. “It’s been great—it’s a great group of guys. But the opportunity seems to be what caught my eye the most. That’s what you need to look for: the best opportunity to play. I felt like that would be in Phoenix.”

Even though Miele tore though the CCHA all the way to the Frozen Four last season, there was a fairly large reason why he wasn’t originally drafted when he was eligible to be claimed at the Entry Draft. More specifically, there was a “small” problem. The Michigan native is listed at 5’8” and 175 lbs, but the 5’8 listing is unquestionably on the generous side.

If a player with his skill and heart was put in a body that was 6’2,” 210 lbs, he would have been a first round draft pick. Like most vertically challenged players, overcoming questions about his size isn’t anything new.

“It’s been pretty much the same throughout my whole life,” the Hobey Baker winner shared. “People just saying I can’t do it just because of my size. People always think that’s going to hold me back, but that’s just motivate for me to prove people wrong. I do it for myself and I do it to prove people wrong. I’ve had to do it my whole life—it’s nothing different, so it’s not like I’m jumping into something that’s unexpected.

“I’ve always played gritty my whole life. I love to mix it up with guys and get in the corner and play a little bit of a physical game. I feel like that can separate me from other little guys. The determination out there is huge for me.”

source: Getty ImagesObviously for a player to prove scouts wrong that only see his size, he has to make up for it in other areas. Like Miele said, he doesn’t shy away from the tough areas of the ice and doesn’t hesitate to battle to when the game calls for it. The quick comparison for most when they hear about a talented (yet small) offensive dynamo is to go to the Martin St. Louis card. Yet in Miele’s case, there are better comparisons out there.

Phoenix assistant GM Brad Treliving sees a different NHL center with the most similarities: “He reminds me little bit of Derek Roy in Buffalo. He sees people around him. He has the ability to make people around him better. I’m really intrigued to see him with the NHL players [in preseason games]. Some people are going into holes, he can create space. When people talk about [smaller players like] Gerbe or St. Louis, the one thing I say is that those guys have dynamic speed. [Miele’s] quick, but I wouldn’t call him a dynamic skater. But he has the vision.”

There’s no question that Derek Roy is some pretty good company for a guy who is still battling for a spot on an NHL roster. But we’re also talking about a player with world-class skills who has already represented the United States at the IIHF World Championships. For his money, Miele has a different player comparison in mind—one that will hit much closer to home for Coyotes fans.

“I’ve been watching Ray Whitney a lot and I love the way he plays,” Miele said. “I feel like we play a lot of the same style with being a playmaker and really being very strong on the puck. I feel like I want to model my game after him.”

Not surprisingly, he also said he’d like to have the same kind of longevity as Whitney. But before he can jump into a skates of a 39-year-old veteran, Miele understands that the pro game is a completely different animal—both on and off the ice.

“The whole game is different—especially from college,” Miele admitted. “You have to think faster, you have to move faster. Everything you have to do is faster. The work ethic is unbelievable. My first practice, Shane Doan was out there, when everyone was off, working on his stride. The guy’s been in the NHL for how many years? You can never think that you’re at the top of your game and you can’t get better. There’s always something you can improve on. You can always get stronger or fix something in your game. That’s something you always have to do.”

If he’s looking for a mentor to show him what it takes to succeed in the NHL, his captain in Phoenix is one of the best examples in the league. And just like his captain, Miele knows that he’s going to have to have a well-rounded game if he wants to make the NHL roster and stick around for a while. That may mean initially taking on a role that he’s not as familiar with. With Daymond Langkow, Marty Hanzal, and Boyd Gordon taking up three center spots on the roster, Miele may be asked to start his career in a bottom-six role to start his career. Traditionally, those roles are reserved for energy players—not prolific scorers.

“In college, I believe my sophomore year; I think I was a 3rd liner,” the eager Miele confirmed. “But in college it’s a little different—you can roll three ‘skill’ lines. But I have no problem getting the puck in and working the corners, and throwing my little weight around. I’ll do whatever I have to do to be up with the Coyotes. If they want me as a third liner, I’ll do that. I don’t care.”

He sounds like just about any other potential rookie hoping to break into the NHL. The difference is that Miele’s skill, ice-awareness, and vision make him a potential YouTube star on any given night. Teammate Brett Hextall summed up his ability when he simply said, “his skills are pretty outrageous.” The next step is to show the Coyotes management that he can display the dynamic offense on a nightly basis while doing all of the little things that are expected of an NHL center. If the rookie camp and early preseason game are any indicator, he’s going to make it tough on Don Maloney and Co. to send him down to Portland.

Scott Darling will be the key to the Hurricanes’ season

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

A few numbers to keep in mind about the Carolina Hurricanes as they prepare to enter the 2017-18 season:

  • Over the past three seasons only one team in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings — has allowed fewer shots on goal per game than the 27.3 allowed by the Hurricanes. An impressive number, especially given how young their defense has been during that stretch.
  • Despite those low shot totals the Hurricanes are only 19th in the NHL in goals against. The are the only team in the top-eight in shots against that finished outside of the top-12 in goals against and the only one that has not made the playoffs at least once. Two of those teams have made the Stanley Cup Final at least once. Four have made the the Conference Finals at least once.

So how is a team that is so good at suppressing shots so bad at preventing goals and winning games?

Goaltending.

They are hoping that newly acquired goalie Scott Darling, getting what will be his first chance at a full-time starting job, will be able to help fix that issue.

Over that same three-year stretch mentioned above, Hurricanes goalies — a revolving door made up of Cam Ward, Eddie Lack, and Anton Khudobin — have not managed a save percentage that placed them higher than 26th in the entire league in any one season. That is a pretty significant problem and it has been, perhaps, the single biggest factor in the team’s lack of success on the ice. No one position in hockey can impact the fortunes of a team more than a goalie. Carey Price has taken an average Canadiens team and made them a contender. The opposite has been happening in Carolina.

Let’s just look at this past season as an example, when the duo of Ward and Lack finished with a .904 mark, with Ward (playing in 61 of the games) leading the way at .905.

If the Hurricanes had been able to replace Ward’s performance with a league average number (in the .912 range) in his 61 starts the Hurricanes would have allowed 12-14 fewer goals right off the bat. A league average duo across the board would have cut close to 20 goals off the board over 82 games. That is a potentially significant swing and Darling is the newest goalie that will get a chance to make it happen.

Darling spent the past three seasons serving as Corey Crawford‘s backup in Chicago and playing at a level that made him one of the league’s best No. 2 goalies. Among the 58 goalies that have appeared in at least 60 games over the past three seasons Darling’s .923 save percentage has him sixth in the NHL behind only Carey Price, Matt Murray, Antti Raanta (another backup getting a chance to start this season), Devan Dubnyk and Braden Holtby.

The test for him is whether or not he can maintain that level of play — or anything close to it — when he is counted on to be the No. 1 goalie that gets the top teams every night.

If he can be, the Hurricanes are going to have a great shot to end that eight-year playoff drought given how good their defense already is and how many young, talented forwards they have in their lineup.

If he is not, it will probably be more of the same — a promising young team that just seems to keep falling short in the regular season.

Poll: Will the Hurricanes be a playoff team this season?

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

It has been eight years since the Carolina Hurricanes qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Since then they have gone through three coaches, numerous roster constructions and a still ongoing rebuilding effort.

For the past three or four years it seems as if the Hurricanes have entered the new season as a popular sleeper pick to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, and things never quite seem to work out for one reason or another (recently goaltending has been a big reason). Those expectations are back once again this season.

They had a pretty strong finish to the 2016-17 season with an 11-5-5 mark down the stretch and have an impressive young core of players in place, mostly on their defense that is stacked with a ton of already good — and very underrated — players all under the age of 24, with several of them now locked in to long-term contracts. Up front Jeff Skinner is one of the NHL’s best goal scorers, while Sebastian Aho and Victor Rask are looking like two of the best young forwards in the league. They attempted to complement that young core this summer with some pretty significant veteran additions, including Justin Williams, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Marcus Kruger and Scott Darling.

Their young players are still at an age where they have room to improve, and they made some significant additions around them (and do not forget Jordan Staal, who is still a really good player even if he carries a huge contract). Will those improvements be enough to help the Hurricanes make up eight points in the standings and get back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season?

Under Pressure: Bill Peters

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Bill Peters is a pretty good hockey coach. In his three years behind the Carolina Hurricanes’ bench his teams have always played hard, they have been competitive, they have seen great growth from their young core of players during their rebuild, and they have consistently been one of the top possession teams in the league. There are a lot of positives and a lot of reasons for optimism for what might be there in the coming seasons.

One thing there has not been: A trip to the postseason. There hasn’t been one in Carolina since the 2008-09 season as three different coaches have been unable to reach the playoffs during that stretch. So it hasn’t necessarily been just a coach thing.

It doesn’t seem that Peters is starting the season on the hot seat, and general manager Ron Francis recently gave his coach a vote of confidence heading into the season saying exactly that.

“I think Bill Peters is one hell of a hockey coach, so I would not put him on the hot seat and in that category. Not at all,” Francis said this week, via the News & Observer. “This is guy who has shown he’s a hell of a coach with a very young team. I don’t think you hold him accountable for missing the playoffs the last couple of years, based on the situation we were in and what we were trying to build.”

All fair points, and he specifically points out the playoff drought and what the team was going through.

But professional sports is still a bottom line business, and eventually results will begin to matter. Especially after the offseason the Hurricanes had that saw them bring in Justin Williams, Marcus Kruger, Trevor van Riemsdyk and goaltender Scott Darling who can hopefully fix the team’s biggest and most glaring weakness in most recent years (the goaltending position). Combine those additions with a promising young core, led by Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm and that defense and expectations are going to start to build.

Peters has also been given a leash that most NHL coaches do not get. Over the past 30 years I found only 12 other examples of coaches that coached a single team to three consecutive non-playoff seasons.

  • Three of those coaches (Terry Crisp, Curt Fraser and Rick Bowness) were coaches of literal expansion teams that were just entering the league.
  • Seven of them were fired just after the third non-playoff season.
  • One of them (Ron Wilson) was fired late in what would have been the fourth consecutive non-playoff season.
  • Wayne Gretzky was given four consecutive non-playoff seasons in Arizona before he was no longer behind the bench. His replacement, Dave Tippett, was given five consecutive non-playoff seasons after some early initial success with the team. That run ended this offseason when he mutually agreed to step away from the team.
  • Lindy Ruff made it through three non-playoff seasons in Buffalo in the early 2000s and managed to stick with the team for another eight years. But his playoff drought followed four consecutive playoff seasons, including three years where the team advanced to at least the second round and one year where they won the Eastern Conference.

The bottom line with Peters is this: A good coach that probably isn’t to blame for the team’s recent lack of success, but given the shelf life of coaches in the NHL and how few of them get to stick around for this many seasons without the playoffs, and the offseason additions made by the front office, the team is going to have to start winning. Soon.

It’s Carolina Hurricanes day at PHT

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The Carolina Hurricanes have been building up some buzz ever since Bill Peters helped transform a young core into an impressive possession machine.

Even so, whether you blame it on goaltending or some other factor, the Hurricanes haven’t made it to the playoffs since the 2009-10 season.

Management took measures to make some key upgrades in the off-season in order to break that slump.

Logically enough, Carolina searched for an answer in net, trading away Eddie Lack and boldly handing a four-year, $16.6 million contract to Scott Darling. With that, they’ll mix the future (Darling) with the past (Cam Ward) as their goalie duo.

Speaking of the past, the Hurricanes also brought back a vestige of their Stanley Cup victory, acquiring Justin Williams as a UFA. They added some additional championship experience by bringing Marcus Kruger into the mix, too.

Some of the biggest transactions come down to keeping players in the fold. The Hurricanes made it clear that, along with Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin figure into their long-term plans with substantial contract extensions.

Of course, the biggest decision may come off the ice, as the Hurricanes’ ownership situation remains fuzzy at the moment.

Switching gears, it’s easy to see why people are so excited about the Hurricanes. Aside from a Williams here and Lee Stempniak there, this roster is brimming with young talent, including players whose peak years are likely ahead of them.

Still, at some point, potential needs to make way for production. PHT will examine where the Hurricanes might be headed in 2017-18 on this fine day.