Today’s Daily Cup of Joe is part three of a series.
Today we finally cut to the chase and propose forward lines. Important to note is that even though Rod Brind’Amour proved to be at the high end of the spectrum for patience, things will still invariably change over the course of a long season.
The method to my madness is driven by a goal of using players to their strengths and not over-hoping for players to suddenly become something different. This builds heavily off of how I categorized the players in part 2. Sebastian Aho is probably the team’s only pure playmaking center. He needs to be surrounded by finishers at all times. Jordan Staal is an elite defensive, match up center, but he needs wings who are defensively capable to excel in this role. Arguably Erik Haula’s greatest strength is attacking with pace. He needs players who can keep up to be at the top of his game. Further, players with finishing ability need to be put in slots where they are likely to get a heavy helping of scoring chances.
Top scoring line
Nino Niederreiter — Sebastian Aho — Andrei Svechnikov
As noted above, Aho is by far the team’s best playmaker. As such, he should be flanked by two scoring wings at all times. Teravainen is always an option, but at least to start the season I would like to see if Svechnikov is ready to take another step and if Niederreiter can also benefit offensively like he did when he first arrives. There are a couple risks here. As a top scoring line, this group will be playing against other teams’ first or second best line. In addition to scoring, Svechnikov must also grow defensively. In addition, Aho’s interplay with Teravainen was a significant contributor to gaining the offensive blue line with puck possession and creating space. As the season wore on, Aho did begin to figure out how to use his skating ability to gain the blue line without as much help. If Aho’s line is minus Teravainen, this becomes a watch point. The hope with this line is that Niederreiter and Svechnikov find chemistry, shoot in bunches and score too obviously.
Possible adjustments: This line is a top priority, so if it does not click offensively, the team will need to do something different. If the chemistry and scoring are not there and/or if Svechnikov is not ready for this type of role yet, going back to Niederreiter/Aho/Teravainen is always an option.
Match up line
Teuvo Teravainen — Jordan Staal — Saku Maenalanen
Just as Aho is the team’s best playmaker, Staal is the team’s best match up center. His greatest strength is lining up against the other team’s best and holding them in check. Staal’s weakness has always been that he is a bit light offensively for a top 6 forward. Rated as a top 6 forward, he is below average for both finishing and playmaking. Best is to flank him with wings with good hockey IQ and sound defensive play. Teravainen is an interesting option in this regard. He qualifies as a heady, two-way wing, but also has the ability to provide playmaking from the wing. Maenalanen is farther down most people’s depth chart (and notably still unsigned), but he brings size, skating and capable two-way play. The Holy Grail for this line is if the group excels as a match up line (think Nestrasil-Staal/Nordstrom) but is also able to find a moderately higher gear offensively with Teravainen on the left side. Significant is that though Teravainen can play on either side, I think his playmaking rises on the left where he can better protect the puck.
Possible adjustments: I am not a fan of putting one of the young ‘still working up to NHL speed defensively’ wings on this line, so my set of possible options is smaller than most people’s. I could see Foegele or McGinn as other options at wing, though if Teravainen is moved, I think the line starts to look like an old school checking line that is limited offensively.
Opportunistic scoring line
Ryan Dzingel — Erik Haula — Martin Necas
As noted at the beginning and discussed in the previous sections, I view Haula and Dzingel as comparable in that they thrive in a high pace setting. With two top lines above them, I think a speedy, pressuring third line combined with Brind’Amour’s aggressive forechecking system could be a recipe for a secondary scoring line. Away from the top match ups, I think the line could also be a good starting point for Necas who can also play with pace. If Necas does not prove to be ready, someone like Foegele could also fit. The goal for this line would be to prey on teams’ lesser defenders to the tune of another scoring line.
Possible adjustments: The main thing here is pace. As such, Foegele could bring a different element as a power forward if Necas is not ready yet. The same could possibly be said for McGinn or Maenalanen.
Fourth line specialists with decent depth scoring
Warren Foegele — Lucas Wallmark — Brock McGinn or Jordan Martinook
Wallmark’s line will mostly get what is left instead of being architected with a purpose like the other lines. My projected iteration of this line leans checking line over scoring line. But in the past two years, McGinn and Martinook have both pushed up to 15 goals (McGinn in 2017-18 and Martinook in 2018-19) in similar roles and without power play ice time. And the late season and playoff version of Foegele suggested that he too could have a higher gear offensively. If Wallmark takes a step forward offensively, the line has the potential to generate great fourth line/depth scoring despite not having what I would consider to be high-end scoring ability.
Possible adjustments: The current iteration hopes that Svechnikov and Necas are ready to play higher up the lineup, but if either falters a bit in that role, landing here would not be catastrophic. Wallmark could grow to provide a bit more offense in his second season. In addition, with Brind’Amour mostly inclined to balance ice time reasonably, players on this line could get 10-12 minutes of even strength ice time, and a player like Necas or Svechnikov could also add a heavy helping of power play ice time. As such, I do not view landing here as detrimental to development for Svechnikov or Necas.
What say Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on the lines that I proposed?
2) What changes would you make?