The fact that the Hurricanes need to improve offensively is not a secret of any kind. The team has been prone to dry spells scoring-wise and currently ranks 23rd in the NHL for scoring.
Logic suggests that the Hurricanes need to add more scoring punch in the form of a forward or 2 who can serve as an offensive catalyst. I said as much in part 3 of my Carolina Hurricanes’ trade deadline preview on Monday.
By no means am I backing down from my assertion that the Hurricanes need to add at least 1 difference-maker at the forward position before the start of the 2017-18 season. But I actually think the greatest potential catalyst for more offense lies on the current roster in the form of untapped offensive potential from the team’s young defensemen.
Carolina Hurricanes are light on playmaking from the back end
When you rank Metropolitan Division teams for even strength and shorthanded assists from defensemen, it goes like this:
Blue Jackets 79
Certainly, there is an element of better offenses helping boost defensemen’s assist totals, but I also think there is some legitimacy in saying that the Hurricanes young blue line underperforms in terms of generating offense. It is not surprising. Priority 1 in terms of establishing a foundation in the NHL should rightfully be to be sound defensively.
The Hurricanes young blue line
Jaccob Slavin leads the Hurricanes defensemen with 13 even strength or shorthanded assists. The top defensemen on most teams are at or above 20 even strength assists. Brett Pesce who is getting a bunch of ice time playing with the Hurricanes best forwards has only 10 even strength assists. I noted the offensive part of Slavin and Pesce’s games in a January 18 article that offered ‘room for growth’ for both players. After Pesce come Justin Faulk and Ron Hainsey clocking in at 9 even strength assists each. Finally, Noah Hanifin who was labeled as a player who could generate offense with his skating and puck-carrying ability has on 9 even strength assists.
The good news is that I think there is significant potential for more. The 3 sophomore defensemen (Hanifin, Slavin, Pesce) skate well and are decent passers. I think it is just a matter of getting comfortable enough that they can begin to slow the game down and when the time is there make quick assessments of options to play the puck forward instead of making the simple and safe play to move the puck sideways or to a short, safe pass into the neutral zone.
I have written about this a couple times. Jaccob Slavin is just now starting to find that comfort and calm that enables him to assess options past the first, safest and most obvious play. He is more regularly starting to hit forwards at the far blue line for partial breakaways. Brett Pesce’s offensive game is a little bit different in that he is most advanced at figuring out spacing and finding soft spots to shoot. The next leg up for him is to start hitting the net more often which will boost his scoring not just from more goals but also from more assists on rebounds and deflections. Finally, Noah Hanifin has significant upside by virtue of his skating ability but just is not at the stage yet where he can slow the game down regularly enough to find options past the first layer with the puck on his stick in the defensive zone.
Hurricanes’ fans like to talk about the team’s blue line as a strength. I am as high on its future as anyone, but I do not think it truly becomes an advantage until it matures and becomes not just decent defensively but also a catalyst offensively.
What say you Caniac Nation?
Is it possible that the next leg up offensively comes not so much from a big addition at the forward position but instead from maturation of the offensive abilities of the young blue line lifting scoring across the board?