Early in the season especially, stats can be misleading. A player who picks up a couple of ‘didn’t really do much’ type of assists in a single game is suddenly on target for an 80-point season, and a player who played 2 great games and hit a couple posts can be on target for a 0-point season. But over the course of the long NHL season, point totals tend to be pretty fair relative to offensive play.
In that vein, I wanted to put forward a few Canes players who have looked good and seem certain to bust out if they continue on the same path:
–Eric Staal. He does have 1 goal, but I think even that significantly understates his level of play. He has played very well behind the end line in the offensive zone winning, protecting and distributing pucks. He has regularly gone to the front of the net and even had at least mixed success in avoiding his natural tendency to give up the screen to go for a tip from the side. He also has 12 shots on goal plus a couple posts. He has just generally been good in my opinion and is due for a big game if he can stick to it.
–Kris Versteeg. He does have an assist to his credit, but I think he has been better than that dishing the puck through 2 games. Best guess is that he plays with Eric Staal again on Tuesday, so just maybe the 2 bust out together. He continues to be quick with the puck. I am on record as saying he has a big season, beats his career high in assists and is a difference maker for the Canes on the power play and on a scoring line. I stand by that based on what I have seen through 2 games despite only the lone assist so far.
–Eddie Lack. He did what he needed to do in training camp to be ready and also to win ice time. Cam Ward was rightfully named the starter for the home opener when both players finished strong in training camp, and I was not against giving him the opener start especially since his first outing in Nashville was okay. But Eddie Lack will get his turn on Tuesday, and my wild guess is that he makes a statement and a claim to more ice time.
–Jeff Skinner. I have beaten the drum repeatedly about Jeff Skinner (and Eric Staal) needing playmaking help to get more receive/finish scoring chances instead of having to create everything themselves. With only 1 Kris Versteeg to go around it is tough. But despite not being a pure playmaker, Elias Lindholm brings some of that and also experience and chemistry with Skinner. Just maybe, he likes being back at center and can skate, create and pass from there to help get Skinner a few more dangerous shots. Even if he does not, offensively through 2 games, I think Skinner has offered a decent version of his “buzz around the offensive zone and find/fire pucks from anywhere at any time” brand of hockey that nets intermittent scoring even without help. I am on record as thinking that there is a wide range for his goal scoring potential for help versus no help, but either way I think he could bust out at some level.
–Elias Lindholm. To be candid, his game has been disappointing through 2 regular season games. He has not been horrible, but he just has not been noticeable for more than an occasional shift here and there. He makes this list not because of level of play so far but rather because of an interesting change of scenery. If the lines from Monday’s practice hold up, he finds himself back at center, next to Jeff Skinner and also on a third line that could see favorable match ups at least in the remaining home game on Tuesday before the annual NC State Fair road trip. A line shuffle that sees Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm get going without using Kris Versteeg to do it would be progress toward finding something that makes the Canes 3 lines deep.