Continuing on an offseason mantra that said the Canes needed to add more playmaking to boost scoring, yesterday I suggested that Ron Francis may have actually done more of this than one would think after seeing only Kris Versteeg and checking forward Joakim Nordstrom added at forward. The short version of that post is that Ron Francis is trying to boost scoring by adding more playmaking from the blue line. You can read that post HERE.
When one looks at the Hurricanes lines as constructed now, the Versteeg/EStaal/Lindholm line looks like a line capable of scoring at a top 6 type level. Kris Versteeg brings a mix of playmaking and goal scoring. Eric Staal has high-end goal scoring potential if he can find a groove. And Elias Lindholm is a good young all-around player on the rise. I am not thrilled with the Skinner/Rask/Terry line because I worry that it does not provide Jeff Skinner with enough playmaking help. With the current lines, Peters spends the limited amount of that currency on the Eric Staal line. I would argue that at forward in terms of creating scoring chances for line mates, Versteeg ranks #1, Lindholm ranks #2 and has some upside as a growing player and that whoever is third is fairly far behind. Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner are gifted offensively but are more finishers than playmakers. All of Jordan Staal, Victor Rask and Riley Nash are solid 2-way centers but none is even of the Niklas Backstrom type let alone skill level. But I digress…At a basic level, the third line seems to possess enough fire power to provide decent scoring depth by virtue of Jeff Skinner alone if he can refind his goal-scoring touch.
That leaves a second line of Gerbe/JStaal/Nash. I think this line is built to be a great checking line. Whatever the norm is for allowing goals lining up against the NHL’s elite lines (and they will definitely see some in the Metropolitan Division), I think they will beat it. And given the Canes overstock at the center position, I voted to try Riley Nash in real game action last March. That did not happen, but when Eric Staal moved back to center about a week ago, my wish came late. I think his game translates fine to that position. He has above average straight line speed, is solid defensively and generally sorts things out well. But if you stacked him up against a list of 29 other NHL second line right wings, his scoring potential would come in light. I think similar is true for Nathan Gerbe who is a good NHL hockey player but probably slots much lower than second line of top NHL teams. And even Jordan Staal who I like as a second line center would probably rate below average for scoring potential amongst second line NHL centers. And of the three, I do not think I would not classify any of the 3 as true playmakers. Ironically, I think an ideal role offensively for any of the 3 might be similar which is to play good all-around hockey and then chip in offensively by going to the front of the net and finishing some when the puck shows up. But when playing against elite scoring lines shift after shift, it is generally a losing proposition to just hope to hold them down without enough ability to match them scoring-wise.
In my estimation, for this line to work it must somehow score at a rate that is higher than 1+1+1=3 especially when you consider the natural level of scoring chances that they might create. So is there a possible path to this happening? And what is it? I think it looks something like the BBC line of years past. That line was probably light on raw playmaking, but they were good defensively, played a strong puck possession/cycling game that kept them in the offensive zone and out of danger and were good at getting both bodies and pucks to the front of the net either by throwing the puck there themselves or otherwise feeding the point and crashing the net. I think that same brand of “play a bunch in the offensive zone” formula combined with creating scoring chances off the forecheck are the recipe that must work for the line to be net positive on a regular basis.
At least in preseason, there is reason for optimism. The line has been pretty good at playing exactly this game and has notched 2 goals and a decent number of other chances from separating opponents from the puck on the forecheck.
It is a tall task, but if this line can eat up minutes against the other teams’ best lines, hold them down a bit and match them reasonably with some hard hat and lunch pail scoring and not use up any of the limited playmaking resources in the process, it makes it somewhat easier to build the other lines. There is more raw offense and playmaking available to try to maximize Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal’s scoring and also more favorable match ups to play against.
The line mates are likely to shift over the course of the season, but as long as Jordan Staal is separated from Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner, I think this same theme will continue. And I think it could be key to finding enough goal scoring from an offense that is light on sure thing offense heading into the season.
What say you Canes fans? Can a line of Gerbe/JStaal/Nash continue to create enough forecheck/blue collar offense with limited playmaking help?