Before reading my thoughts on Canes forwards lines, check out the return of the ‘The Coffee Shop’ HERE where you can vote in polls and share your thoughts on the Carolina Hurricanes 2020-21 forward lines.
Without going into details on specific line combinations, I shared some thoughts on the subject in two recent articles.
First, in an article entitled, “The two most critical slots in the 2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes lineup”, I noted Vincent Trocheck who figures to center a second scoring line as a key too the team’s success.
Then in an article entitled, “Key players for reading Rod Brind’Amour’s preferences for building 2020-21 forward lines”, I suggested that how Brind’Amour deploys Andrei Svechnikov, Jesper Fast and to some degree Ryan Dzingel/Nino Niederreiter will offer some insight into his strategy/preference for building his forward lines.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe digs into the details of building forward lines to at least start the 2020-21 season.
The starting point at the center position
The starting point is assuming that the centers to start the season will be Sebastian Aho, Vincent Trocheck, Jordan Staal and Morgan Geekie. As long as Geekie hits the ground running again in training camp and of course barring injuries, I think this is a pretty safe bet. With Teuvo Teravainen seemingly anchored in at wing (and very effective in this role) and previous center depth now gone from the organization (Lucas Wallmark, Nicolas Roy, Victor Rask, Erik Haula, Janne Kuokkanen), the Hurricanes are not nearly as deep for center options as a couple years ago. With a set of three established veterans and Geekie looking capable, that is not necessarily a problem. But as I wrote awhile back, I do think the center position has more questions than in recent years. For reasons noted below, I would be surprised to see the Hurricanes start the season differently from these four down the middle.
Noting Martin Necas as a wild card (for later)
With that most likely and also logical starting point noted, I will also give a nod to the potential future. I am on record multiple times as believing that the Holy Grail for the Hurricanes offensively is if Martin Necas can develop into a medium to higher end playmaking center to match his skill set. As a draftee, that is exactly how he projected, and the latent skill set is still there. He has both straight line speed and maneuverability to make space and gain the blue line with the puck on his stick. And at lower levels, Necas showed an ability to generate offense playing with the puck on his stick.
But playing center at the NHL level comes with a number of extra responsibilities and the ability to make a number of situational reads more so than a wing in a forechecking-focused system. In a short audition at the center position to start the 2018-19 season, Necas was clearly in a bit over his head. After seven games at the NHL level, Necas headed to the AHL where he thrived as a right wing. Aiming to build upon that success, he started the 2019-20 season at right wing and had a solid rookie season at the NHL level. While I think it completely makes sense to build on success with the still very young Necas playing wing where he has a bit less responsibility, I also think the highest ceiling for him impacting the Hurricanes success over the next years would be if he could, like Aho, find his way back to center and be a difference-maker offensively in that role.
So as the season progresses, I will be watching to see if Necas can both build confidence and round out his game defensively. At the same time, I would be watching for either an injury or team struggles at the center position to create an opening that opens the door for a second audition in the middle.
But starting from the almost certain beginning, below are my thoughts on building lines around Sebastian Aho, Vincent Trocheck, Jordan Staal and Morgan Geekie.
I set two priorities for the beginning of the season.
Priority 1A is to get Vincent Trocheck going leading a secondary scoring line behind Sebastian Aho’s. Trocheck failed to launch twice in a Canes uniform once upon arrival at the trade deadline and then again in the playoffs. Given the brevity of both stints and the oddness in general of the season circumstances after Trocheck’s arrival, it would be premature to read any finality into these results. But that said, it is something to note heading into the 2020-21 season. With Staal’s line destined to be scoring-light, Trocheck’s 22-point pace (for 82 games) in his 15 games with the Hurricanes in 2019-20 would leave the Hurricanes short on scoring depth. Because of that, I think surrounding Trocheck with some offensive help early in the season to help him launch is critical.
Priority 1B is to get Jordan Staal going out of the gate. Jordan Staal uncharacteristically struggled defensively during the front part of the 2019-20 season uncharacteristically taking obstruction penalties and just not being his usual self winning pucks in the defensive zone and pushing play into the offensive zone. Though it might even be in a slightly reduced role, getting Staal playing at a high level is critical to making the Canes a deep team.
Those priorities dictate how I would build Carolina Hurricanes’ forward lines at least to start the 2020-21 season.
In an ideal world, the Carolina Hurricanes would surround Aho with Teravainen and Svechnikov and have a bona fide top scoring line capable of matching up with the NHL’s best. But again, it comes back to my priorities. At least short-term, I would consider giving up the premium top line to start the season with the hope of accomplishing two things. First is my priority of giving Trocheck the best chance possible to start well with Svechnikov on his wing. Second is to try to reignite potential untapped offense in another forward. Because of that I would leave the proven pair of Teravainen and Aho together, but I would give the other wing position to someone other than Svechnikov. Whoever looks most ready to rebound out of Nino Niederreiter or Ryan Dzingel could be a candidate. A more aggressive move could be to bump Necas up to see if he could be a finishing right wing on that line.
By no means is the goal to keep Svechnikov away from Aho/Teravainen. He should still see ice time with them on the power play, and if the team needs a goal late, it would make sense to give Svechnikov some shifts with the top duo.
Ryan Dzingel or Nino Niederreiter / Sebastian Aho / Teuvo Teravainen
Per my priorities and a couple past articles, I think getting Vincent Trocheck going offensively early in the 2020-21 season is important to the team’s overall success. As such, I would try to get him as much help as possible at least early in the season. Svechnikov could be that help. Trocheck/Necas who were mostly stagnant in the playoffs seemed to get a quick jolt when Brind’Amour shuffled lines and played Svechnikov with them. I prefer Svechnikov on the right side where he has honed his craft and has developed a set of tools, but he probably slots on the left side on this line.
Andrei Svechnikov / Vincent Trocheck / Martin Necas
Priority 1B is getting Staal off to a better start even if it is in a slightly decreased role from a few years ago. More significant than how much Staal plays or how big his role is is how effective he is in it. In that vein, one of the things I will be watching closely is to see if Brind’Amour considers building more of a checking-focused line around Staal. In his two years as a head coach, Brind’Amour has shown a strong preference for offensively balanced lines over purpose-built lines. Brind’Amour has regularly skated players who were inexperienced and/or offense-leaning with Staal versus trying to build an air tight checking line around him. Rather than Nestrasil/Staal/Nordstrom pre-Brind’Amour, he has seen the likes of offensive rookies like Svechnikov and Necas and offense-leaning veterans like Dzingel with the hope of coaxing more scoring out of the line. Might Brind’Amour change tactics a bit and pair veteran defensive stalwart Jesper Fast with Staal and either Foegele or McGinn thereby giving up a bit offensively but in the process building more of an old school checking line? It goes against Brind’Amour’s preference but might make sense and also demonstrate Brind’Amour’s ability to adjust to situations and personnel versus following a rigid playbook.
Brock McGinn or Warren Foegele / Jordan Staal / Jesper Fast
Geekie started his NHL career with a huge bang, scoring in bunches. It seemed like more, but it was only two games with a whopping three goals and an assist before the pandemic prematurely halted Geekie’s literal launch into the NHL. Geekie was competent but less spectacular when the season resumed with the playoffs. He registered only a lone assist with no goals in eight playoff contests but significantly did not look overmatched or in over his head in big games. Based on that and to some degree the departure of center depth noted earlier, the fourth center slot is his to lose. Only in a case where Geekie struggled mightily early on might Brind’Amour default to Martinook as a fourth line center. Geekie showed decent chemistry with Martinook in his auditions, but with Geekie’s offensive ability the potential is there to have more finishing on the fourth line if the team can pull penalty killers from other lines.
Jordan Martinook / Morgan Geekie / open competition from who’s left (McGinn/Foegele/Dzingel/Niederreiter)
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you agree with my assumption that the four centers are mostly penned in already?
2) What, if any, priorities/goals would you consider when building lines?
3) Feel free to discuss your line combinations here too, but hope is that line combination discussion will be in today’s Coffee Shop post with the polls.