If you missed it yesterday, the Daily Cup of Joe article considered all of the trades and free agent signings and build a short list of ‘deals I would steal’ for the Hurricanes.
And I also fired an early strike against what will certainly not be the last of trade rumor/rumblings around Jordan Staal even if unfounded.
The Hurricanes top 9 forwards
My approach to building out forward lines is to first fill out a top 9 with the best players available. From a starting point that had 5-7 legitimate top 9 forwards when Francis took over, by my count the Hurricanes are now up to eight legitimate top 9 forwards – Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm, Sebastian Aho, Justin Williams, Lee Stempniak and Teuvo Teravainen. That is not to say that other players cannot rise up and prove capable as top 9 forwards. In fact, that is exactly what should happen over time as young players develop and step into the lineup. But the eight are the set that I put above the cut line for being proven in an NHL role.
The upshot is that the Hurricanes still have one top 9 forward slot to fill either from within or outside the organization.
Building a fourth line
After building a top 9, next for me is to build a fourth line that considers simple ‘best player available’ but also a need to fill certain roles with penalty killing at the top of the list.
With the re-signing of Derek Ryan, the signing of Josh Jooris and now the trade for Marcus Kruger, the Hurricanes suddenly have an abundance of possibilities for the fourth line.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe and its companion Thursday Coffee Shop will both focus the Hurricanes depth forwards, what they bring to the table and where they might fit in the lineup.
Stopping the opponent from scoring
I wrote Kruger up in much more detail when he was acquired on Tuesday, so I will be brief here. Though he centered the third line in Chicago, I view him as a very good fourth-line center for the Hurricanes. Kruger is light on offense and heavy on defense with the capability to center a good checking line that can hopefully hold its own starting in the defensive zone against scoring lines. He can also help the power play.
Similarly, I profiled Josh Jooris shortly after his acquisition less than a week ago. Jooris looks a bit like Kruger in that he definitely leans defense over offense, can play on the penalty kill but looks to slot as a fourth-liner based on limited offensive upside. As a player who can play center or right wing, Jooris brings some flexibility and another option for a right shot in the face-off circle if desired.
Last but not least in the category of proven checking line forwards is familiar face Joakim Nordstrom. He has been a regular on the penalty kill and a solid player on a checking line of one variety or another for the past two years. In 2015-16, Nordstrom was a vital part of Jordan Staal’s checking line extraordinaire. In 2016-17 along with Viktor Stalberg, Nordstrom helped solidify a fourth line around Jay McClement that struggled during the previous season. The rap on Nordstrom if there is one is the same as the other players in this group. He had a meager 12 points in 82 games in 2016-17 which is on the light side even for a fourth-liner.
Still hoping for upside
The group of players competing for ice time in 2017-18 includes Brock McGinn. McGinn established himself as an NHL regular in 2016-17 and played much of the season in the top 9 to boot. He deserves credit for bring a Nathan Gerbe-like consistency in terms of every shift intensity level game in and game out. And though I would put him a notch below the three defensive players profiled above, McGinn did make progress in that regard from 2015-16 to 2016-17 which is important. The ‘firing on all cylinders’ or ‘putting it all together’ version of McGinn is a model for what you want in a fourth line forward. He is physical, aggressive and brings some jam. He is okay defensively. And he brings some scoring upside. McGinn’s 16 points in 57 games in 2016-17 is not significantly better than the players that I labeled as scoring lite. The burning question for McGinn and this group in general is whether he has another gear now with 78 NHL games under his belt or if it is a case of what you see is what you get.
Phil Di Giuseppe
Second verse same as the first. I am on record as liking Phil Di Giuseppe much more than the average. The reason is because I think he has developed into a very good forechecking and defensive forward, and I still think he has enough skill that there is another gear to be had offensively. He showed reasonable signs of it in 2015-16 when he played on the right side of Skinner/Rask, was pretty solid in that slot and collected a respectable 17 points in exactly half of a season (41 games) at the NHL level. But he failed to start out of the gate, at least scoring-wise, and found his way back to the AHL in 2016-17. Di Giuseppe is very similar to McGinn in that the low end of his range is that of a serviceable depth forward with decent defensive acumen and at least potentially untapped scoring upside.
Worth noting with Di Giuseppe is that he is qualified but not yet signed to a new contract. With 13 forwards already under contract, the possibility exists that Francis has only offered a two-way contract and that Di Giuseppe’s agent balked at it. It is also possible that a combination of Ron Francis and Di Giuseppe’s agent have been busy with other deals that have firmer deadlines. Regardless, he needs to be signed to officially enter the mix.
Aiming for depth scoring from the fourth line
Also under contract is Derek Ryan. Only a week ago, he looked to be a front-runner in a try out for the C4 slot and possibly the catalyst for a fourth line that scored a bit more. With the addition of Jooris followed by Kruger, it is not much less certain where Ryan fits into the plan. My reading of the tea leaves says that Jooris and Kruger represent a preference by Coach Bill Peters to build an old school, checking fourth line. If that proves to be correct and injuries do not open up other opportunities, Ryan is a candidate to compete for the final top 9 roster spot. If he loses that competition, he could fall all the way to #13 and ready depth from the press box. With 29 points in 67 games, if the team wants more scoring of the ‘I actually did it’ variety and not the ‘might be/could be’ potential variety, Ryan is the player who rises to the top.
Early rising for the next wave
Back before the re-signing of Ryan and the additions of Jooris and Kruger, the Hurricanes figured to have at least one if not more roster slots open for youth the seize with a strong training camp.
Though the volume of openings has certainly decreased and the competition increased, there is actually a chance that building out a strong checking fourth line actually makes for a really good opportunity for a young player with offensive upside. My reasoning is that Peters has a good fourth line that he trusts when the game is on the line in the third period to sit behind Jordan Staal’s line just maybe there is more room for a young scorer on the third line that can be emphasized or de-emphasized situationally.
At center, only a week ago many had Lucas Wallmark battling it out with Ryan for the C4 slot with Nicolas Roy and Janne Kuokkanen possibly as dark horses trying to rise up before their time.
In terms of scoring upside from the wing, Julien Gauthier and Aleksi Saarela are lurking behind McGinn and Di Giuseppe if they do not seize the opportunity soon. Warren Foegele‘s offensive ceiling might be a bit lower than Saarela or Gauthier’s, but he is another young player who could be a dark horse to make the 2017-18 opening day roster.
What are the roster battles and how does it all shake out?
Any discussion of picking roster slot winners for the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes should start by noting that the team does still have a need for more scoring. If one of the young guns blows the doors off in preseason and shows signs of being ready to regularly pot goals at the NHL level, all of the pre-made plans are immediately subject to being reevaluated.
But assuming no uprisings from the rookies, I think the most probable scenario goes like this:
* Francis/Peters forge further down the path that they already started down which is building a checking-focused fourth line. That line seems almost certain to be centered by Kruger (if he does not climb into the C3 slot…blech) and also to include at least one if not both of Jooris and Nordstrom.
* I peg Ryan as the current front-runner (assuming no other signings) to win the final top 9 roster slot, but this is also where Di Giuseppe, McGinn or a young gun from the next wave could come into play.
* This is a bit of a wild card could be trading one of Di Giuseppe and/or McGinn if they do not rise up in preseason, it could make sense to part ways with one to clear the logjam at forward and collect value in the form of a draft pick before it evaporates over time like happened with Ryan Murphy.
The hope is to steer the conversation into the Thursday Coffee Shop post, so we have it all in one place, but if someone gets excited and comments here instead, they still get full credit. 🙂