Today’s Daily Cup of Joe is part 2B of what became a three-part series that suggests that the path higher in the standings and up into the playoffs could very well be hiding within the current roster. Part one took a somewhat painful look backward into a 2017-18 season that on average did not see the team improve from the 2016-17 campaign. Part 2A considered a possibilities at goalie and on the blue line for the team to improve from within as young players continue to grow and veterans who slipped in 2017-18 look to rebound. Today’s part 2B considers forwards currently on the roster who could have more to give in 2018-19.
Arguably at the top of the list whose production was down in 2017-18 but rise and be a gain in 2018-19 is Jeff Skinner. Skinner surged late to reach 37 goals in 2016-17 but then fell to 24 goals in 2017-18. At a basic level, the Hurricanes 24th ranked offense would benefit from a rebound and his 2016-17 goal total. But the Holy Grail would be if Skinner found chemistry with a pair of line mates and could boost not just his production but that of an entire line. The questions with Jeff Skinner run the gamut. Could the coaching change be all he needs to reach a higher level? Would he benefit from better line mates, or is he just an independent offensive entity? Would higher scoring actually help his defensive play like in 2016-17 because he presses less to score? Or is he destined to be a good up and down offensive player who never truly rounds out his game to be a good all-around player?
Also from the category of somewhat disappointing offensively in 2017-18 is Victor Rask. After consecutive seasons pushing close to 50 points and potentially on the brink of finding another level offensively, Rask went the opposite direction in 2018-19. He started slow offensively and only found a moderately higher gear offensively after the calendar flipped to 2018. Rask’s respectable two-way play held up reasonably well through his offensive downturn, but with a $4 million salary, he would be really pricey if he becomes an above average fourth-line center (at least by traditional line numbering). The question is whether Rask can find a higher gear himself and/or be lifted by chemistry and line mates. Regardless of how it happens, as the team is constructed right now, it could definitely benefit from a Rask return to mid to high 40s scoring.
Whereas Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask are both players who have produced at a higher level in the past, Elias Lindholm is the case of a player who could still have another level that he has yet to reach. After a slow start as an 18-year old in the NHL, he has grown to become a solid complementary top 9 forward who provides decent depth scoring. After consecutive 39-point seasons prior, Linholm jumped to 45 and 44 points in the past two seasons respectively. The question is whether he is a bit of a late bloomer offensively and still has another level to be reached of if he just what he is at this point in his career.
The fourth line
Predicting exactly who the personnel will be is a crap shoot at this point in time, but regardless of who the players are, there clearl will be room for improvement. In 2017-18, Joakim Nordstrom had two goals in 75 games, Marcus Kruger one in 48 games and Josh Jooris three in 31 games. Even for a fourth line, that simply is not enough depth scoring, especially for a team that lacked a high-end first scoring line. Be it more youth or be it another try at the free agent market, the fourth line has the 2017-18 set a low bar for a new group to do much better in 2018-19.
Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen
To be clear, the Finnish duo had a strong 2017-18 season offensively, so their story is not one of redemption and needed improvements. If they match their 2017-18 mid-60s scoring totals, that would be a solid contribution. But here’s the thing…The team needs to find more offense somewhere. Might it actually be easier to get more scoring out of players who have a knack for it and get a healthy helping of power play ice time versus trying to squeeze a couple goals here and there out of less-skilled players? I do think Aho and Teravainen are capable of being point per game players, but I also think it requires a good complementary line mate. Is it possible that Valentin Zykov who played well with the duo for a short stretch at the end of the season is the answer? Or does the team need to add one more proven scoring forward to help them reach the next level?
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of these players do you see making the greatest leap in terms of offensive production in 2018-19?
2) Are there any other forwards that you think could do enough more to help boost the team offensively?
3) Is it possible to make the gains needed with a balanced lineup that includes a better fourth line and mostly the current group plus infusions of youth? Or does the team need outside help?