Today’s Daily Cup of Joe continues on the same path in looking at the Canes big off-season decision #3 considering the forward group.
Assessing the group
Across the three positions, I would say that the forward group is where the Hurricanes were still most a work in progress during the 2018-19 season. That is not in a negative way. Strides were made during the 2018-19 season, and the prospect pool at forward is promising. Further, Andrei Svechnikov and Warren Foegele held down NHL roster spots as rookies. Sebastian Aho’s move to center was a success. And Brind’Amour’s forechecking system demonstrated the ability to generate offense with intensity in both the regular season and playoffs. But in total, I think the group is still a player or two short in terms of raw offensive fire power and enters at least the third consecutive off-season ideally needing an offensive catalyst type center for a second scoring line.
My sorting breaks the Hurricanes forward group down into three categories. First are three players (Aho, Teravainen, Svechnikov) who slot on first or second scoring lines noting that Svechnikov is still growing into this role especially away from the puck. Then the Hurricanes have three players (Staal, Williams, Niederreiter) who are capable complementary players on a first or second line. Ferland would also slot here if re-signed. And Staal in an ideal world is a 2B center who leads a checking line that sits behind two higher-end scoring lines. Then my math says that the Hurricanes have a good collection of six players (Foegele, McGinn, Wallmark, Martinook, Maenalanen, McKegg) who ideally slot on the fourth line on a good team with a deep offense. These players are capable of playing on the third line especially to fill in for injuries, but if the entire third line is built from this group as it was at times in 2018-19, it starts to look like a fourth line in terms of scoring production. Worth noting is that rookies Foegele and Wallmark do have upside. After an odd regular season with fireworks at the beginning and end but a lot of quiet production-wise in between, Foegele was every bit a capable top 9 forward in late in the season and in the playoffs. And Wallmark scored at the AHL, so there is potential for him to take a step up in a second season.
But in avoiding building the 2019-20 roster based on too many might be/could be’s, I think the potential is there to improve significantly by adding maybe just one proven scoring forward.
The job description
The idea would be to add a player like Aho who can be a driver/catalyst that boosts a whole line and becomes the centerpiece of a second scoring line. If the team added a high-end scoring center, the lineup changes significantly. Aho and the added player drive two scoring lines. Staal slots neatly in a 2B role with checking as a priority and less scoring demands. And Wallmark suddenly becomes a fourth line center. In that slot, his 10 goals and 28 points are very good production. Equally significantly, adding another offensive catalyst should boost scoring for whichever other two players slot on that line. Finally, such a player would bring yet another option to try to right the power play.
The player who jumps out as perfect for this role is Matt Duchene, but as a top target this summer, he will cost a small fortune. Artemi Panarin could bring the same catalyst capability from the wing. As a team that was rebuilding but made significant strides in 2018-19 by making the playoffs, the team is in uncharted territory. In addition, the team collected a chunk of change from seven home playoff games and maybe more significantly from the increased advance sales for 2019-20. So to say for certain that the Hurricanes would not play in this market ignores the fact that we really do not have any history with the current situation with Tom Dundon.
Patience versus action
As noted above, forward is the position where the Hurricanes have the most help on the way from the prospect pool. Martin Necas was originally slotted to provide offensive help at the NHL level for the 2018-19 season but did not prove to be ready. He went on to have a good season offensively at the AHL level. From the last look at him in the NHL last fall, his challenge at least in terms of playing his natural center position will not be raw scoring but rather his ability to round out the rest of his game. In an ideal world, a good organization just lets a player like Necas develop until ready and then makes room when appropriate. Though Brind’Amour seems more comfortable with players that match his forechecking style, the team has a couple other potential offensive contributors at the AHL level who could at least help add more fire power for a third line.
So the question is whether the team can get by for now and wait for help to rise up from the AHL level or if the wiser move is to make an upgrade or two this summer.
Where I land
I would add at least one higher-end offensive player this off-season if at all possible, though my preference would be to do so via a trade for a player who has term on his contract at a reasonable price. The Hurricanes are in a good position to put together an aggressive package for the right player. Per yesterday’s article, perhaps they part with a defenseman. In addition, they have extra draft picks, a couple good forward prospects and the set of reasonably desirable depth forwards. I will save the ‘naming names’ part for closer to the frenzy leading up the 2019 NHL Draft, but if the Hurricanes are willing to spend fairly aggressively to do it, there could be a couple decent trade options.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you lean toward continuing with the current group possibly with help from the AHL-level prospects? Or do you instead think the team could benefit from adding a higher-end forward or two?
2) If you vote for adding a player or two, would you be looking more for a finisher or a puck distributor? Or possibly just opportunistically adding the best player available for a modest cost?