Despite the Hurricanes winning ways that continued on Tuesday in Nashville, I opened this week by suggesting that there was a lurking problem at the center position.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe revisits that situation from a couple different angles.
Why such a big reaction to three preseason games?
Many might consider declaring a problem an overreaction to a handful of preseason games. Sebastian Aho has always started slow, and Martin Necas is young will no doubt be learning a bit as he goes.
But that said, I do think the situation is at least worth watching for a couple reasons. First, my concern with Aho stems not from a couple of scoreless games but rather from my assessment that he looks uncomfortable in the role. In his ice time thus far, he looks not interested in carrying the puck through the middle lane and into traffic. I think that could prove problematic in a way bigger than a couple slow games. Similarly, my issue with Necas’ game thus far is just how raw he looks in so many facets of the game. Certainly, he will continue to improve, but I now think rounding out his game could take some time.
The shorter version is that I think some of the issues with both players’ games are more lasting than a simple slow start.
Could things just turn for the better?
I think especially in the case of Aho that the answer is yes. After a slow start (for both actually) separated, I am eager to see Aho and Teravainen reunited in game action this weekend. Neither’s ability to advance the puck is predicated on a power forward type of skill set to make space at the offensive blue line. Rather, they seemed to mesh well navigating offensive zone entry late last season by working as a tandem. So might the version of Aho that plays with Teravainen just suddenly look more comfortable in a center role? I think the possibility is there.
With Necas, I think my biggest concern with him is that he has not looked as dynamic as I would have hoped offensively. My hope for him entering training camp was that he would look NHL-ready offensively which would offset the deficiencies in other parts of his game as a 19-year old. That could still happen, and the biggest thing with Necas is just how early he is in his development such that he could suddenly make large strides once he acclimates and settles in.
What would I do?
The other question that follows from Monday is what I would do given the situation. With Victor Rask on the shelf long-term, the team is short on options internally such that the team might be forced to push forward with the current group at least initially for lack of a better option.
What I would do is this…
Stick with Sebastian Aho. Based on his level of play as a playmaking center at lower levels, I have to believe that he has the skill set necessary to be a good NHL scoring line center. How long it will take to get there is maybe a bit in question right now, but I do not think much has really changed with Aho’s capability. Especially with lack of other options right now, I would reattach him to Teravainen and invest the time to let Aho figure it out.
Watch Margin Necas closely. I think Martin Necas is a more difficult situation to sort out. Not too far in the Hurricanes rearview mirror is a mistake pushing Elias Lindholm up into the NHL based on summertime talk that trumped actual on-ice readiness. Also in the rearview mirror is the failed development of the defensive part of Jeff Skinner’s game after a strong start scoring-wise skipped CHL and AHL time in lieu of a jump straight to the NHL. I think it makes sense to give Necas some kind of regular season NHL audition, but I also think it is critical that the objectively assess whether that is the best thing for his long-term development.
Build around Lucas Wallmark. If the team is playing to win and not just develop players in October like it should, I see Wallmark as more any situation ready than Necas. As such, I would consider building a trustworthy line around him such that it can be used behind Staal’s line especially on the road.
Not add less than what the team has. One question that comes up is whether the Hurricanes should consider adding a center from outside the organization. I would consider a trade for a legitimate top 6 center if the price was right, but I would not bother adding a low-end depth center. I just do not see such a player as being an upgrade over just winging it with the youth. And if the team wants to start swap in a depth center, best would just be to move Jordan Martinook into that slot versus adding a similar player to the mix.
Eager to see what Brind’Amour does this weekend
With only two preseason games remaining and a roster that should shrink again by then, this weekend’s line combinations and usage should provide a good indication of what Brind’Amour is currently thinking in that regard.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How do you see the center position shaking out for opening night?
2) On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being no concern at all and 10 being very concerned, how do you feel about the Carolina Hurricanes’ center position right now?