Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at a short series of possible decisions to be made for the 2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes lineup.
#4 defenseman — Brady Skjei, Jake Gardiner or Haydn Fleury
I think it is possible that the Hurricanes deal a defenseman this off-season, and I also highly doubt it will be Brett Pesce. The core of the blue line as I see it is a first pairing of Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton and a second pairing anchored by Brett Pesce. The burning question then is who fills the #4 slot next to Pesce. All three candidates have a case. Skjei seemingly was acquired for exactly this purpose. One does not trade a first-round draft pick to add a third pairing depth defenseman. Jake Gardiner was theoretically also brought in for exactly this role last summer. He struggled through half of a season did find a higher gear at about the midway point of the season. Finally, Haydn Fleury emerged in the second half of the season and had a strong playoffs mostly in a third pairing role suggesting that he could be ready to move up the depth chart. Regardless, finding a partner who meshes with Pesce will be critical to keeping the blue line as a strength.
Andrei Svechnikov — First or second line
The question here is not whether Andrei Svechnikov is good enough to play on the first line. The question is whether the team is better off going top heavy or instead spreading out the top offensive players to balance scoring. I really like Svechnikov on the top line. His skill set fits incredibly well with Aho and Teravainen as a player who brings a physical edge and also a propensity to play like a goal scorer and shoot the puck whenever it makes sense. The challenge with that approach though is building a second scoring line. After being fairly quiet in the playoffs, moving Svechnikov to play with Martin Necas and Vincent Trocheck sparked the line. As long as the team is trying to find more sources of offense, I think Svechnikov is destined to bounce around a bit, but there is definitely a case for just building a great first line and making the rest work below that.
On two different dimensions — Petr Mrazek or James Reimer
The two returning veteran goalies could be paired up for three pretty different either/or choices. First, assuming that another goalie is not added from outside (which is possible), who is the starter for 2020-21? With the current group, I think that is fairly straightforward for Mrazek. I think Mrazek is more capable of carrying the heavier workload than Reimer who could be at his best with more of a 1B helping of starts. A very different question is which one could be traded. A couple things could prompt a trade. First, if the Hurricanes want to have the option of protecting Alex Nedeljkovic in the expansion draft next summer, the team will need to get another goalie under contract. That could be accomplished by re-signing either Mrazek or Reimer, but a trade or signing from what should be a busy game of musical chairs for goalies this summer could do the same.
Second scoring line center — Vincent Trochek, Martin Necas or Morgan Geekie
I am on record as saying the the single biggest key to the Hurricanes taking a next step up is building a second scoring line that can boost and balance scoring. No doubt Vincent Trocheck gets first crack at centering that line, but early returns in two short stints in that role were not overly promising. He will definitely get a third try. But I am also on record as thinking that Martin Necas has the highest ceiling of the possible options to center a second scoring line. His natural skill set when he was drafted was exactly that of a playmaking center. Against players his own age in prospect camps and tourneys, he was able to use his skating ability to play with the on his stick through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone and create scoring chances. I still think that is the destiny where he has the highest ceiling. But at the same time, he struggled with other responsibilities in his rookie season center audition and maybe more concerning really looked hesitant at NHL speed with the puck on his stick. So there would be hurdles for him to clear to step back into that role and succeed. Then there is the dark horse Morgan Geekie. He would figure to slot farther down the lineup, but does he maybe just have that ‘it’ factor and just need an opportunity to rise above expectations like he did during his fast NHL start?
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of Skjei, Gardiner or Fleury do you see as filling the #4 slot on defense?
2) What are your thoughts on using Svechnikov on the first line to build the best scoring line possible versus slotting him on a second scoring line to spread the offense and balance the forward lines?
3) For Reimer and Mrazek, do you see either getting traded? If not, who gets the higher 1A quantity of starts in 2020-21?
4) Which of Trocheck, Necas or Geekie do you see centering a second scoring line?