On recent television broadcasts, Carolina Hurricanes color guy Tripp Tracy has been raving about the team’s depth. His assertion is based on the volume of players recently recalled from Charlotte and now in the NHL lineup. In the sense that the team has back filled NHL roster spots, Tracy’s comments are reasonably accurate.
But when I assess NHL depth, I view there as being 2 kinds.
Depth within the NHL roster
First is depth of quality players within the NHL roster. This is what happens when a team has good players getting pushed down to the third or fourth line because there just are not enough spots. It is also what happens when a team gets scoring across 3 or even 4 lines. This kind of depth primarily comes in the form of players who are proven at the NHL level. I think this is the most important form of depth as it is used regularly to find sparks and also to supplement scoring from a team’s top scorers.
In this regard, I think the Hurricanes roster that general manager Ron Francis has built still has a ways to go. Francis did add a couple of experienced NHL players over the summer, but he also subtracted some. I wrote about the transition from 2015-16 to 2016-17 in part 1 of my season preview. At forward the Hurricanes lost top 9 forwards Kris Versteeg and Eric Staal and also cleaned house in terms of depth forwards. Francis added Lee Stempniak who I would consider to be somewhat equivalent to Kris Versteeg but probably a notch better. Francis also added talented but still developing Teuvo Teravainen and also Sebastian Aho from the prospect pool. He also revamped the fourth line with Viktor Stalberg and Bryan Bickell (who is not on injured reserve with multiple sclerosis).
When you net it out, I think the Hurricanes roster at forward is trending in the right direction, but the trade deadline through the summer saw about the same amount of subtraction as addition.
More significantly, the desired results of ‘within the roster’ depth, namely depth scoring, has really not materialized. The Hurricanes have been able to muster scoring from the Skinner/Rask line and to some degree whatever wings have been paired with Jordan Staal. But the team really has not found a third line combination that has clicked and produced offensively. And while the fourth line has held up its end of the bargain scoring-wise, I do not see those players as being any kind of long-term solutions on a higher line.
Whether it is by the current young players rising up, new ones arriving or Francis making an addition or 2, true depth that sees 11-12 players truly capable of being more than an injury fill in in the top 9 has yet to be realized.
Just because players are called up out of necessity (playing with less than 20 obviously is not an option) does not mean a team has depth. Depth is realized when those players can step into the NHL lineup and contribute scoring-wise and helping drive wins. The Hurricanes are not there yet.
Depth outside the NHL roster
I think the Hurricanes score somewhat better in terms of depth ‘outside the NHL roster.’ This is ready depth at the AHL level with enough NHL experience that the players are known quantities when recalled. For this less important form of depth, I think the Hurricanes are making faster progress.
On defense, the Hurricanes are now 8 players deep with players with a reasonable amount of NHL experience with Ryan Murphy playing in Charlotte and 7 experienced players at the NHL level.
The same is true at forward. The Hurricanes were able to reach to Charlotte to recall Phil Di Giuseppe, who has a decent chunk of NHL experience, this week. The team is also building NHL run time for Brock McGinn and Derek Ryan right now.
The Hurricanes are getting to the point where they will be able to fill at least a couple roster spots from Charlotte with players with NHL experience.
The Holy Grail
The Holy Grail for NHL depth is not so much being able to recall serviceable but non-difference-making players from the AHL. The Holy Grail is having too many top 9 capable forwards or too many top 4 capable defensemen to fit them all into those roles. In that regard, the Hurricanes are progressing in the right direction, but are not there yet. I would call Ron Francis’ effort in terms of building both kinds of organizational depth at about 65 percent.
What say you Canes fans?
Do you think I am underestimating the team’s depth currently? Or do you agree that the team still has a ways to go in terms of having more than 9 players who would be top 9 forwards on playoff-capable teams?
Do you think the current prospect pool offers a fast enough path to having depth within the roster, or do you think Ron Francis still needs to add a few players from outside the organization?
What other thoughts do you have about the Hurricanes “depth” right now?