Monday’s Daily Cup of Joe offered short player by player notes on all 10 defensemen and goalies currently on the Carolina Hurricanes roster.
Tuesday’s Daily Cup of Joe turns to the forwards:
Jeff Skinner: In times like these where Skinner hits a slow stretch in terms of scoring, I never underestimate the progress that he has made since the beginning of last season in terms of still competing and holding up his end of the deal in other aspects of the game. That said, the Hurricanes could use another burst of scoring right now from Skinner who has only 1 goal and 1 assist in his last 9 games and has seen his scoring pace dip just below 60 points (still a decent number).
Jordan Staal: He is playing well, and his line is leading the way. That said, I think there is still a higher gear to be had. The basic formula of Staal’s play driving possession into the offensive zone and Aho making goals happen once the puck gets there has worked. Elias Lindholm playing the hockey of his career has contributed too. But in the past few games, there have been at least 3 chances where Aho fed the puck to Staal in a good scoring position and not much happened. There was the missed connection on the 2-0 rush and a couple other plays that saw Staal have trouble receiving and shooting. Of all of Staal’s strengths which are plenty, having great hands and finishing ability is not near the top of the list. What stands out most on the missed scoring chances is that Staal is generally in the right place and doing the right thing but could do better readying his feet and his stick such that if Aho puts the puck in his wheelhouse (which I think he will more often than not), the result is a quick receipt and release of the puck on net. That ability for Staal and also to some degree Lindholm to finish is what takes that line and Aho’s game to the next level.
Victor Rask: Even more than Skinner, Rask has been incredibly quiet of late. I think ‘Minjaben’ summed it up pretty well in his comment in the Coffee Shop on Monday describing his play as “forgettable in most areas” and “not glaringly bad, but very little contribution…” Rask has now gone 9 games without a point, basically the same stretch over which Skinner has only 2. After being temporarily bumped down to play with Tevainen and McGinn, he found his way back to the Skinner line. If the duo stays together, refinding a scoring touch will help balance the offense.
Elias Lindholm: He is by far and away playing his best hockey as a Hurricane. Despite Tripp’s claims that “he has the best release on the team” (at some point that needs to be defined by beating goalies regularly), finishing ability has been elusive for Lindholm. But along the way he has really started to excel as a passer and playmaker especially from his office at the side of the net. In 11 games since the beginning of January, Lindholm has only 1 goal but has 11 assists. I will gladly take Lindholm’s level of play right now, but if he could boost his goal scoring, he hits another level altogether.
Sebastian Aho: Despite being 19 years old, he is the Hurricanes best offensive player right now. Jeff Skinner has the ability to reclaim that title with his next scoring burst, but at this moment in time it is Aho who is most driving play. He had 5 points in 3 games last week including 4 goals, but per my comments above on Staal, I really think the total could have been more like 10 had Lindholm and Staal finished a couple more good chances.
Lee Stempniak: He is another player whose general play has been good but who also has more to give offensively. Stempniak competes on the walls and plays a gritty brand of hockey night in and night out, but there is upside from the 2 goals that he has scored in his last 15 games. (Note that he does have 5 assists to boost his scoring pace to a decent not great 40ish point scoring pace).
Brock McGinn: He has had 1 phenomenal burst offensively and oh what a burst it was when he had 4 goals and 3 assists in a week earning NHL star honors. But other than those 3 games, McGinn has only 1 goal and 5 assists in 32 games. While I like McGinn’s play, I think he is overslotted as a regular in the top 9.
Teuvo Teravainen: Now 50 games deep in his time with the Hurricanes, he has been about as advertised. He is a capable scorer, but somewhat like in Chicago, he rises and falls night to night leading to sporadic offense and a 46-point pace that is solid for a third line forward. He has nearly half of his points (12 out of 28) in big multi-point games. The current version of Teravainen is solid top 9 forward who can provide depth scoring. The higher level for him is to more consistently be a difference-maker on more nights when things do not just click easily.
Derek Ryan: I go back and forth on whether I lump Ryan with Brock McGinn or create a different category for him. Like McGinn, he has been serviceable in a top 9 role and produced some offense. But also like McGinn I am not sure he is as an every day top 9 forward on a team that is strong and deep at the position. McGinn I think slots nicely as a fourth-liner who maybe bumps up when he hits a hot streak or the coach wants to shake things up with some energy. Ryan’s 39-point scoring pace (projected over 82 games) is decent depth scoring. He fits as a depth forward who is capable on the power play, can spark an ailing offense and is a nice injury fill in if a skill player goes down, but I am not sure it is in an every day role.
Viktor Stalberg: He has proven to be a heady, under the radar pick up by Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis. With 8 goals, Stalberg has already chipped in as much clutch offense as one could reasonably hope for a fourth-liner who sees limited minutes, limited line mates and no power play time. If you adjust his 8 goals for limited minutes, limited offensive situations and a heavy helping of penalty kill time but not power play time, any kind of scoring per 60 minutes type of stats are simply incredible. He is both solid defensively and dangerous with his speed in transition on the team’s league-leading power play. And his defensive play and speed have helped solidify a fourth line centered by Jay McClement that struggled last season.
Joakim Nordstrom: He grades out similar to Stalberg though with a bit less offense. He similarly gets credit for being part of a fourth line that is pretty reliable and also for being a key component of a great penalty kill.
Jay McClement: I started the season firmly in the camp that said that the Hurricanes could do better in the C4 slot and was intrigued when the team kept Lucas Wallmark around for the preseason finale. But I have to say that in his role, McClement has had a reasonably strong he season. Like Stalberg, he has a couple clutch goals and has been part of the strong penalty kill. He is still a minus player, but speed on his wings has significantly boosted the fourth line relative to the 2015-16 when it was a significant liability. I still think the path forward as the forward ranks become deeper is to ice a fourth line with more scoring upside, but given the personnel available in the here and now in 2016-17, McClement has done what has been asked of him.
Ty Rattie: After 2 short stints totaling 5 games, Rattie has found himself back where he was in St. Louis which is as a healthy extra. With Phil Di Giuseppe playing well in Charlotte and Andrej Nestrasil also working to rebuild his game there, Rattie could be destined for another trip on the waiver wire sometime this season not so much because he played poorly but because he did not excel to the point where he staked a claim to a spot in the lineup.
Shorter version: I think the Canes could use more production from Rask, Skinner and Stempniak right now. As good as Aho/Staal/Lindholm has been, I think an entirely different level is possible if Staal and Lindholm can get on the same page as Aho and receive/finish better. McGinn and Ryan have filled in admirably, but I am not sure either is really an every day top 9 forward. Kudos to the fourth line for leading the penalty kill and also chipping in their fair share of clutch depth scoring.