I am a couple days late, but here are my mid-term grades for the Carolina Hurricanes forwards. I am grading players based on expected role, so Jay McClement gets held to a different set of expectations than Eric Staal obviously.
Eric Staal: B-
I think he has been good overall and pretty consistent in terms of playing engaged power forward hockey. He gets only a modest B- because of his scoring pace which puts him on target for only 50 points. To earn a high B or an A, I would want about 65 points from Eric Staal.
Kris Versteeg: B
He is a tough 1 for whom to figure out what is reasonable for expectations. On the Blackhawks he was a third-liner who recently scored at a 40ish point pace. On the Hurricanes he is a first-liner who gets more power play time. Versteeg has filled an important role as a playmaker, is third on the team in scoring and is on about a 50 point pace. All in all, his acquisition has been a success, but possibly unfairly grading him as a first-liner, I would want a few more points.
Elias Lindholm: C
The biggest thing for a player of his age is to continue to improve. I do not think he has in the first half of the season. He is on pace for fewer points, and more significantly has been at least the same if not worse in terms of sporadic play with some real quiet stretches. I am NOT in the knee jerk reaction ‘trade him now/he’s a bust’ camp. I lean strongly toward patience, but in grading him based on actual play through the first half of 2015-16 not future potential, I think he has actually taken a small step backward from 2014-15. I guess the key (and legitimate) question with Lindholm is whether his role and expectations were just too high entering this season.
Joakim Nordstrom: A-
When he was acquired, Nordstrom was projected to compete for a roster spot probably on the fourth line. If you use that as his benchmark, he has easily surpassed that target. He has been a key part of a checking second line with Jordan Staal. The fact that he is a second-liner with 2 goals and 7 assists in 32 games highlights the Canes struggles to find enough offense, but that is commentary on the team’s forward depth not Nordstrom’s play which has far exceeded what could reasonably have been hoped for.
Jordan Staal: B
In terms of 2-way play, he has lived up to the high expectations that he came with from Pittsburgh a few years back. His line has eaten up minutes against the other teams’ best lines and performed well in this role. And he has provided some offense including a few big goals. Finally, in his role, I do not expect or think he needs to score at an top second line pace, but his roughly 40-point pace is still a bit light which is what pulls his overall solid play down to a respectable B.
Andrej Nestrasil: B+
Nestrasil gets graded very similar to Joakim Nordstrom. Entering the season, he entered as a depth forward expected to make the roster, but not to be 1 of the team’s top players. Like Nordstrom, Nestrasil finds himself on a second line that is playing very well in a checking role and kicking in at least some offense. His 27-point pace is modest but at least something. Like Nordstrom, his grade benefits from him playing a greater role than expected before the start of the season.
Victor Rask: A
As a player who made huge strides in 2014-15, the hope was that he would avoid a sophomore slump and take another step forward, ideally offensively. That is exactly what has happened. Rask continues to play the same fundamentally sound 2-way hockey from 2014-15 but has also boosted his scoring. After scoring only 33 points in 2014-15, he is on pace for 50+ in 2015-16 without compromising on the defensive side of the puck.
Jeff Skinner: B+
Jeff Skinner has improved significantly in terms of his 2-way play, and it shows in the fact that the Canes are about break even for half of the season with Skinner on the ice at even strength which is a huge improvement compared to other seasons. He has accomplished this without completely sacrificing his offense which is obviously important. His 30ish-goal pace is not spectacular but it is respectable and enough if he continues to play a more well-rounded game. The only knocks on Skinner are that he has been limited in his ability to help produce offense past his own goals (only 7 assists sees him on target for only about 45 points despite decent goal scoring) and the fact that the vast majority of his goal scoring came in 1 quick burst.
Phil DiGiuseppe: A-
He transitioned well from the AHL to the NHL. As a player who was not really on the ‘expected to play in the NHL this year’ list in training camp, his contribution has been significant. With none of the other depth forwards (Terry, Nash, Gerbe) really seizing a top 9 spot, the door was open and DiGiuseppe seized it. He has been okay defensively and found some chemistry with Jeff Skinner. His 8 points in 14 games is nearly a 50-point pace, and he has made plays to earn it not just been a passenger. If he returns from injury and continues his current level of play, he will enter the 2016-17 season with higher expectations and therefore tougher requirements grading-wise.
When you average out the 9 forwards grades above, they seem a bit high for a team that is average in the standings and below average in terms of scoring. I think that is largely because 3 of the 9 players (Nestrasil, Nordstrom, DiGiuseppe) are being graded against expectations as secondary role players. If you graded Nestrasil and Nordstrom as second-line forwards for playoff teams, their scoring would be too light. DiGiuseppe would get okay marks as a regular third line forward but probably not an A-.
My hope is to work through all of the players in 3 parts probably with the remainder of the forwards and the goalies up next.