Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a fresh look at the Canes forward group from a couple different angles.
A bona fide top line
The recently put together first line of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov has been nothing short of phenomenal. All three can push pace and make plays at high speed. All three think the game well offensively. And all three possess elite skill. The peak version of the Canes has this trio as its top line and enough depth to balance the lines below it. But at least short-term that ability or inability to net scoring from the other lines might dictate how long they stay together as much as how well they play.
Admittedly biased by the fact that he is on a bit of a down note right now scoring virtually nothing (2 goals and 3 assists in 18 games since the start of January) and occasionally looking like he has lost a quarter step in defensive situations and picking up more penalties, I am torn on the long-term role for Jordan Staal. At the top of his game, he is an elite shutdown center but still light on scoring for a second line center. I see two issues with that. First, this season has raised some question on where exactly the top of his game is now and is headed as a 31-year old with three more years on his contract. The bigger issue might be how Brind’Amour prefers to deploy his forwards. Rather than purpose-built lines like “scoring” and “shutdown”, Brind’Amour’s model tends to more aim for balance with different types of players on each line. In such a system, Staal might not be the perfect fit with a scoring wing or two on his sides.
All that said, I think the thing to watch with Staal is the stretch run and hopefully the playoffs. Historically, one of his greatest strengths has been his ability to get stronger at the same time that other players seem to hit a wall physically. On the one hand, Staal has had a slightly down 2019-20 campaign thus far in my opinion. On the other hand, I feel like he is a six-week surge away from demonstrating why he is so valuable despite his modest offensive production. Guess we will see in the coming weeks.
The new additions – Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel, Martin Necas
At one point, the new addition line of Erik Haula, Martin Necas and Ryan Dzingel was a positive third line that was dangerous, reasonably productive and with upside. Fast forward a few months and that gloss has faded a bit. Ryan Dzingel is still trying to find a goal scoring spark and has been quietly playing on the fourth line of late. And after a tremendous start offensively especially on the power play, Erik Haula has slowed significantly. Ryan Dzingel has impressed at times with his unsung passing/playmaking abilities, but his current pace for 12 goals is about half of what he scored each of the past two seasons. Erik Haula scored seven goals in his first nine games with the Hurricanes but has only five goals in 29 games since and a meager one goal and three assists in 17 games since the start of the new year. Martin Necas’ 2019-20 season reminds me a bit of Svechnikov’s rookie season last year. He is quiet at times and still needs to round out his game, but he is sporadically productive and showing the potential to do much more when he does.
Rounding out the center position – Lucas Wallmark
In total, Lucas Wallmark has had a decent 2019-20 season. His scoring is not off the charts but part of that is his ice time, and he continues to be a sound two-way center. Like Staal and Haula, his production has dried up, Wallmark has two goals and one assist since the start of 2020 and has not registered a point in 10 games.
Too much of the same (light on playmaking)?
The Hurricanes centers past Aho deserve credit for being solid two-way players which is a positive, but also maybe the crux of the problem for the Hurricanes forward group. Players like Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Dzingel and to some degree Brock McGinn and Martin Necas benefit from volume of scoring chances. I think it would be fair to say that playmaking has not been a strength of the center group for the 2019-20 season. Through 58 games Staal has 12 even strength assists, Wallmark 8 and Haula 5.
The difficult question is whether they are doing better and some of the wings are just having a tough time finishing or if some of the wings are failing to score because of lack of playmaking.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you make of the recent slumps for the centers and also their generally low assist totals?
2) What are the prospects of Rod Brind’Amour staying top-heavy with the Aho line if they keep scoring even if it is a struggle to muster depth scoring?
3) What other thoughts do you have on the forward group?