Today’s Daily Cup of Joe has a mix of Canes lineup considerations as the team prepares for the playoffs.
Morgan Geekie’s play over the past few games has been eye-opening. He has turned the makeshift fourth line into a scoring threat with his playmaking. Brind’Amour seems to have a preference for sand paper and grit at the bottom of the lineup, but why not that with a bit of scoring? All of Jordan Martinook, Cedric Paquette and Steven Lorentz who have logged minutes in the C4 slot bring more in terms of the physical element, but none of that group brings much in terms of playmaking. Without playmaking in the center slot, the line figures to be very limited in terms of scoring. If the Canes can get healthy at the forward position, can Brind’Amour have his cake (wanting a physical fourth line) and eat it too (getting bit more offense) by putting Geekie between a couple grinding wings? If Brock McGinn gets pushed down to the fourth line, he is well above average in terms of finishing ability for a fourth-liner. Jesper Fast also has a nose for the net. I do not think slotting Geekie on the fourth line matches Brind’Amour’s ideal vision for that line, but is he the best option for a fourth center if surrounded by the right players?
My appreciation for the importance of Brady Skjei to make the blue line work has grown considerably by watching the team play without him. The version of the Hurricanes that first made the playoffs under Brind’Amour had great depth defensively. Calvin de Haan who had been capable as a #4 defenseman during the front part of the regular season, he was pushed to #5 once things settled out in the second half of the season. But he played some in the top 4 when Hamilton hit a rough patch in the playoffs. And beyond that veteran Trevor van Riemsdyk who was having a solid season could also have been serviceable in the #4 slot if injuries necessitated it. Fast forward to today, and I am not sure any of the Canes defensemen past Skjei would prove good enough in a top 4 role for an extended run in the playoffs. Jake Gardiner looked much better early in 2020-21, but he has not refound that level since returning from injury. Jake Bean has long-term upside as an offense-leaning defenseman at least in the third pairing, but he has struggled on the defensive side of the puck of late. Newcomer Jani Hakanpaa has hit the ground running and maybe is a bit steadier defensively than the other two options, but I think he would be overslotted in a regular top 4 role. In my opinion, the player who maybe had the best chance of stepping into a higher role was Haydn Fleury. Fleury is a bit like Skjei in that his game is not as consistent sound as ideal, but he is physically capable of skating against higher-end NHL forwards, and with Brett Pesce to help has a high enough ceiling that it is possible. I continue to think that adding Hakanpaa was a positive move, but as I said previously I think the potential error was giving up Fleury instead of a mid-round draft pick. People continue to talk about the Hurricanes blue line depth, but I think that looks backward in time a bit and overstates the team’s ability to back fill a top 4 slot if needed.
Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov
The key to depth scoring in the playoffs could rest with finding good slots for young guns Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov. Both players have very high ceilings offensively, and both have also played stretches in 2020-21 when they were every bit of a bona fide top line scoring forward. But players are still very young at 22 (Necas) and 21 years old and have had stretches where they drifted a bit. If Brind’Amour can find combinations that maximize their productivity, the Hurricanes are deep in terms of goal scoring. If the reverse is true and both players are quiet offensively in the playoffs, the team suddenly looks a bit shallow offensively.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Once the Hurricanes have a full slate of forwards available, would you still consider slotting Morgan Geekie in the fourth line center slot aiming for a bit more offense? If not, who do you like that slot?
2) Do you agree with my assessment of the importance of Brady Skjei (and really all of the top 4 defensemen) to build out a capable top 4 on defense? Which, if any, of the other options (Gardiner, Bean, Hakanpaa) would you consider capable of stepping into the #4 slot?
3) Once the Canes are healthy, where would you slot Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov to maximize their playoff productivity?