For Saturday, I finished a 3-part series that first looked at the March/April try out players and then finished with a Carolina Hurricanes blog slotting the current players for the 2016-17 roster.
I received a couple inquiries and a couple hate mails for slotting Jeff Skinner (and to a lesser degree Elias Lindholm) all the way down on the third line. An important starting point is to say that I was very impressed with Jeff Skinner’s 2015-16 season. The team does need a bit more from him offensively as probably the team’s top scorer, but any nitpicking on scoring totals was easily offset by the significant strides that he made with his 2-way play.
Initial slotting has openings on top line
In addition, my slotting that has ____/____/____ for the top line is more of a reflection of the type of players that the Canes need to add than some final decision on where Skinner and Lindholm slot. The point is that the Canes really need to add 1-2 top line-capable scorers. Jordan Staal’s line was incredibly good once it got going in early December, but it is simply not a top end scoring unit. For the Canes to boost scoring about its 27th ranking in 2015-16, the team will need to add a scoring line to complement Jordan Staal’s line. And the goal is to add offense, not shift it around. The scoring first line cannot be accomplished by boosting Skinner and others up and then backfilling the third line with light scoring checking line forwards on the third line.
The goal is twofold:
1) Add a playmaking center who is capable of leading/driving a scoring line.
2) Add enough scoring capable wings that who slots on the first line and who slots on the third line is a function of chemistry and who is hot/producing.
The idea is to have multiple options.
–If a young player like Lindholm or Aho suddenly rises up, great. But do not set things up such that they are stuck there for lack of better options regardless of production.
–If Skinner finds chemistry with whoever is added as a playmaking center, great. But the team should have another option for this slot if Skinner does not. Skinner still gets his offensively favorable ice time including on the power play. It is not a demotion but rather the result of a deep team with multiple options for how the puzzle pieces fit together.
Already there on defense
This is a bit of a new concept for us as Canes fans. Too little depth in recent years has driven too few true training camp try outs, but that just changed suddenly on defense. All of Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, Ron Hainsey, Brett Pesce and James Wisniewski have reasonable claims at top 4 slots on defense. With Noah Hanifin’s high end skill and skating, his ceiling is obviously at least in the top 4 if he can improve in terms of defensive acumen in his own end and start to convert what he is already doing offensively into more raw scoring production. That makes for a true try out on the blue line where good players will actually be pushed down into the bottom pairing. This is an incredibly good problem to have and a sign that the team is finally adding depth. The team is not there at forward yet, but if Francis can add a couple scoring-capable forwards this summer, there could at least be a couple things to be sorted out in training camp. That is the first step to the even bigger try out that Francis hopes to see in a couple years as the Canes continue to stock the system with extra draft picks.
So at a basic level, I like the idea of Jeff Skinner winning a first line left wing slot next to a playmaking center, finding chemistry and boosting his scoring by 15-20 points. Even more, I like the idea of adding enough help that there is another option and competition for that top line slot.