With the Hurricanes’ offense and scoring seized up right now at an incredibly inopportune time, I have been thinking big picture about what the Hurricanes’ lack at the forward position. First, I think it is important to recognize that things are not quite as bad as they seem right now. Even with his recent slump, Skinner’s scoring pace is still better than last season’s. Sebastian Aho has transitioned quickly to the NHL and should only improve. Elias Lindholm is not scoring a ton, but he has taken a step forward as this season has wore on.
But amid the positives, the Hurricanes are still short by a 1-2 top 9 forwards, and as I wrote when I detailed forward situation on February 9, the Hurricanes are really seeking 1-2 higher-end forwards not #7 or #8 types who could complement a few elite players. On the blue line, the Hurricanes desperately need to find a way to solidify the second pairing which at least for 2017-18 could actually require Francis to add short-term help on the blue line despite the volume of players in the system at that position.
Since it is so hard to obtain legitimate top 6 scoring forwards without paying a king’s ransom, there is some amount of opportunistically considering anyone who can be had for a reasonable price even if not perfect. But for today’s Daily Cup of Joe, I am going to come at it instead from the angle of identifying specific types of players that I think could be round out the Hurricanes’ lineup and complement the players who are already there.
For Jeff Skinner
I am torn on what to pair with Jeff Skinner. With a goal scoring wing, general logic usually says that a playmaking center works wonders for creating more scoring chances and maximizing the goal scoring ability. But I am not so sure that is the case with Jeff Skinner. He has generally created his own offense and has a preference to generate his scoring chances either with the puck on his stick or from the crazy shots when he finds it there and fires before the goalie knows what is happening. Like any scorer, he would benefit from line mates who drive possession into the offensive zone, but I am not sure a pure playmaking center would really boost his scoring totals that much. Since his magic with Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu years ago, Skinner has played his best with Victor Rask whose skill set is not that of a pure playmaker but rather as a smart player who is comfortable playing without the puck.
I think Jeff Skinner’s scoring totals could benefit from 2 things. First is having a forward who can match Skinner’s pace such that when Skinner enters the offensive zone with the puck on his stick, the Canes are 2-wide which makes for more room for Skinner to operate and more things for the defense to sort out instead of converging on him. This is what Phil Di Giuseppe brought to the Skinner/Rask/Di Giuseppe line last winter. Di Giuseppe had enough speed to cross with Skinner or at least right behind making more options. I also think an ideal complement for Skinner could be a power forward type of right wing cut from the Wayne Simmonds’ mold – a player who goes to the net and benefits from playing with someone who shoots a lot (like Skinner) and also scores without needing to play with the puck on his stick. In the system, Julien Gauthier could become such a net crasher who finishes in close, but it is hard to say when he will be ready and at what level of play.
For Sebastian Aho
As of late, Sebastian Aho has been playing pretty well with Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm, but I still think too much of his playmaking is wasted by the fact that neither Staal nor Lindholm is an elite finisher. Aho has shown enough of a knack for finding soft spots and finishing shots such that 25 or more goals is completely within reach for him, but I still think his greatest skill set is his playmaking ability with the puck on his stick. I think Aho’s scoring potential is maximized on a pure scoring line that includes at least 1 if not 2 line mates who can finish at an elite or near elite level but is well-rounded enough to also generate scoring chances for Aho. This is the Matt Duchene play.
I really think that somehow adding just 1 true top 6 scoring forward who meshes with Aho could boost the entire offense. It would take some pressure off of Staal’s line to score. And it could bump Skinner/Rask down to the third set which gets Skinner on the ice more against lesser defensemen who can struggle to defend him 1-on-1 especially on the rush.
As an aside, I also wrote yesterday that I would like to see Aho with Rask. The simple reason is that I think Rask is a step up in terms of finishing ability and just might be a better fit for Aho scoring-wise than Staal or Lindholm.
For Justin Faulk
To be clear, I am not saying that Francis should go spend a fortune adding a long-term top 4 defenseman. It is reasonable to think that the Hurricanes can find such a player in their current prospect pool. But none of the candidates have shown they are ready (I guess March could change that), and I think entering the 2017-18 season wishing and hoping that someone else does a Pesce/Slavin and just jumps into the top 4 is risky.
Instead, I could see Francis opportunistically adding a veteran top 4 who has only 1-2 years left on his contract. I think the job description is a proven left shot defenseman who skates and defends well. Mobility is important, but there is no incredible need to create offense. The player is ideally a sound and reliable stay-home defenseman who complements and supports Faulk’s preference to jump up into the play offensively. I think Francis looking for that steady complementary player like Bret Hedican, Glen Wesley or Dennis Seidenberg from the Hurricanes’ past.
I have sort of started to pull together some ideas for trade deadline coverage, and you can bet that these 3 needs will be considered in a wish lift for Ron Francis for late February or more likely during the summer.