Today’s Daily Cup of Joe is part 2 of 2 identifying question marks/watch points for the (current) Hurricanes roster.
Part 2 covers the forwards.
The starting point is considering the forward group from the beginning of the 2018-19 season to what the team has now.
Who is in? Who is out?
As of now, out are Justin Williams (please come back!), Micheal Ferland, Valentin Zykov and Victor Rask (who started the 2018-19 season on injured reserve).
In are Nino Niederreiter who was added midway through the 2018-19 season and also Erik Haula.
Weighing the changes
At a simple level, the net is a two for two swap of Williams and Ferland for Niederreiter and Haula. On the surface that might be a modest downgrade in terms of raw production. All four of those players are capable of playing in the top 6 forwards as complementary type players.
But bigger picture for the Hurricanes is that the team was a bit light offensively at times during the 2018-19 season, and that was with offensive leaders like Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Justin Williams healthy. An injury or two to the wrong players could see the Hurricanes on the wrong side of being able to score enough after climbing in the second half of the season to 16th out of 31 in terms of goal scoring.
Personally, I have mixed feelings on the current group. I am on record as preferring that the team add one higher-end offensive catalyst to drive a second scoring line. That seems unlikely to happen at this point. In that regard, I think the single greatest area for potential improvement was not addressed. To be fair, obtaining legitimate first or second line offensive catalysts is difficult and fraught with high risk contracts.
There are positives too. Brind’Amour’s system proved capable of generating offense with aggressive forechecking even if it was sporadic. And there is a legitimate case to be made for the Hurricanes improving offensively simply from a young group continuing to improve.
Line by line look at the Hurricanes centers
When I net it out, I think the biggest risk/watch point for the forward group is mustering enough scoring. If I go line by line with the centers, it goes like this. (Note Haula can play center or wing, so it is possible that he slots on the left side of a different center.)
Sebastian Aho — legitimate first or second line scoring center. He better not miss significant time because the team will be hurting without him (see below).
Jordan Staal — great match up/checking line center, but measured solely for offensive production as a top 6 forward, Staal is sub-par and a minus in terms of boosting line mates production. That works fine if you can give Staal’s line a role and offset the offense with another scoring line.
Erik Haula — Especially coming off of a serious leg injury, Haula is a bit of a wild card. Further, is the the 55-point player on a magical 2017-18 Vegas team? Or is he the player who has scored at less than a 40-point pace in every other season of his career? The former could be a starting point for a decent second scoring-focused line. The latter looks like more Jordan Staal-ish depth scoring.
Lucas Wallmark — Wallmark looks good slotted into a C4 slot, as even his modest 2018-19 production is enough there. The question is whether he has a higher gear yet entering only his second season at the NHL level.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How do you feel about the current set of Carolina Hurricanes forwards?
2) To what degree do think the team can rightfully rely generically on ‘young players getting better’ to boost the offense from within with players like Andrei Svechnikov, Warren Foegele, Lucas Wallmark and AHL reinforcements boosting the offense a bit?
3) What do you see as risks/watch points for the forward group as it stands now?