If you missed it yesterday, see where readers landed in a poll and I landed in the article for the next captain in my article about Justin Williams decision to step away from hockey at least for the time being.
With Williams out of the picture and only a Saku Maenalanen decision likely left to finalize the forward group within the organization, today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers player by player thoughts on building lines.
The primary thing with Aho is to make sure he is surrounded by players who can benefit from his playmaking. Aho more than any other player on the team boosts his line mates ability to score. Micheal Ferland benefited early in the season. Nino Niederreiter rode a hot streak through the middle. And Justin Williams finished strong playing with Aho. If at any point Aho’s wings seem to hit a lull for too long, it is time for next man up to benefit from the scoring opportunities Aho generates. As such, he should primarily be flanked by players who can excel at putting the puck in the net. That group could include Niederreiter, Svechnikov, Teravainen and possibly Dzingel or Necas rising up.
Teravainen has shown chemistry with Aho. The sometimes issue with Teravainen is a propensity to too much look pass first. On a line with a couple finishers, that could be okay, but when he plays with Aho he needs to play with the mentality of a player whose bread and butter is scoring 35 goals. Too often he does not. Worth noting is that his game can be fairly different depending on which side he is playing on. Playing on his off side on the right, he does have a propensity to shoot a bit more receiving passes in his wheel house, whereas on the left side his natural tendency is to look to distribute the puck. Because of those tendencies, I much prefer Teravainen on the right side if he plays with Aho since it seems to boost his propensity to shoot at least marginally.
Niederreiter with and without Aho showed pretty clearly what Niederreiter is which is a capable complementary scorer who does not generate a ton on his own without help. With that skill set, he looks like a completely different player playing with Aho versus say Staal. On a line with two grinders, I think Niederreiter mostly becomes a grinder whereas with a playmaker his combination of getting to the right places and having decent finishing ability shines through. So I think ideal is to make a conscious effort to get Niederreiter on the ice with at least one playmaker.
As a 19-year old who made strides only late in the season defensively, I like Svechknikov in a role that rates high for chances to finish and ideally low for defensive responsibility. Translating that to Canes personnel, I do not like Svechnikov with Jordan Staal. Staal just is not a playmaker, and especially if the Hurricanes can build a second scoring line behind Aho, Staal could again take on a match up role. That defense first/offense lite line is not where I see Svechnikov best utilized. The challenge will be finding a favorable slot away from Staal for Svechnikov and few other players whose offensive game is ahead of their defensive game.
I like Jordan Staal doing what he does best which is eat up a as many as possible of the hard match up minutes. The issue a couple years back was that the team was light on scoring and needed more offense than Staal’s skill set provided. At least to start, I like the idea of pairing Staal with players who are above average in terms of defense and situational IQ and stacking two other lines with scoring. So this is a vote in favor of players who are heady two-way players or at least lean defense. Teravainen is an interesting option as a playmaker who plays solid two-way hockey as are defense-leaning players like Saku Maenalanen and Brock McGinn.
Assuming he back to 100 percent mobility or close after a serious leg injury last season, the ignition for Haula’s game is his speed and attacking style. As such, he should benefit from being paired with other players who can match pace. Fortunately, the Hurricanes have a good number of options in that regard. Necas and Dzingel match as far as skilled players who can push pace, and Foegele or Maenalanen could fit as aggressive power forward forecheckers but with speed. As a player that other teams will likely defend as the third center, I think the key is flanking Haula with speed that makes for an attacking line that can opportunistically score against other teams’ secondary defenders.
I put Dzingel in the same category as Haula and would not at all be surprised to see them on the same line because of it. Both players have the ability to score and can push pace. As noted with Haula, that is a great formula for an opportunistic attacking line. With Dzingel, he leans offense over defense, so I would not see him fitting on Staal’s line if it is in fact used as a match up line.
After a tough go of it at the NHL level at the center position to start the 2018-19 season, Necas rebounded nicely and rose from that base at the AHL level mostly playing right wing. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Necas will play wing at the NHL level to start if he sticks. As much as it pains me to see a player with the potential to be a playmaking C2 moved away from the center slot, I think this makes sense. He just was not there in terms of the constant decision-making and positioning for a center defensively, and his speed and agility fits well in a role where he can just pin his ears back and forecheck with someone else sorting things out behind him. At least initially, I think ideal would be to steer Necas away from heavy defensive responsibility. That likely means a third or fourth line role initially. The issue could be that Necas makes two young scoring types (counting Svechnikov) who ideally get roles with less defensive responsibility. There are only so many minutes and slots where you can shelter players a bit. So I like Necas away from Staal and his match up responsibilities and probably on a lower line that used opportunistically. Obviously, he has upside from there and should play his way up the lineup as he earns it.
McGinn is a Brind’Amour type of player in the truest sense. I see McGinn as the type of player who ideally gets pushed down to the fourth line with a heavy helping of penalty kill minutes but also as a player who can be used to spark the top 9 when there are lulls and a physical forechecker might be able to jump start things. With my preference for finishers alongside Aho, I do not see McGinn there and think he fits best either on Staal’s match up line or otherwise on the fourth line.
Foegele will be an interesting player to watch early in the season. His book end rookie season features a fast start in preseason to seize a roster spot, then a long stretch of modest hockey at least in terms of scoring production and then a surge late in the season and into the playoffs. The Foegele from the vast majority of the middle of the season is a capable modern age fourth-liner who can skate, defend and score at least some. The Foegele from stretches late in the season and parts of the playoffs was a physical catalyst who could bring a forechecking power forward component that complements a couple skilled scorers. As such, I could see Foegele falling back into a depth role on a lower line or I could see him rising up to bring some bang to a scoring line. Like a few other players, I see him as more of a ‘pin your ears back and go’ forechecker than a read/react type player.
Wallmark had a strong rookie season in an understated way first stepping into Victor Rask’s spot and then later admirably filling in for Jordan Staal. That second leg of Wallmark’s 2018-19 season established him as a trustworthy center capable of playing in any situation. The question with Wallmark is whether he has a higher gear offensively. If he does not, he still represents quality depth at the center position. But if he does find offensive upside in his second full NHL season, he could be a key component for scoring balance to the bottom of the forward group. He really can play with any type of wing, but I view him as a player who is capable offensively but more complementary than catalyst. As a fourth line center, Wallmark will mostly get leftovers after crafting the other three lines, but I ideally he gets at least one skilled/scoring type to see if he can find a higher gear offensively.
If one had to rate the Hurricanes forwards for 2018-19 for goal production relative to role and expectations, I actually think Martinook could have a strong case for outperforming his baseline/expectations by the widest margin. Martinook averaged a modest 14:29 of ice time, saw virtually no power play ice time and mostly played away from the team’s best offensive forwards. In that depth/checking line forward type of role, Martinook netted a big 15 goals, all at even strength. I think the key for Martinook is to recognize what he is which is a great heart and soul type of player who feels the pulse of the game and has the ability to boost the bench when needed. As the Hurricanes improve, I think that ideally slots in a depth role on a fourth line.
After spending much of the 2018-19 season at the AHL level, Maenalanen finally received an extended try out at the NHL level and rose to the occasion. His modest eight goals in 34 goals screams fourth line, but somewhat in the same mold as Foegele , Maenalanen is a big body who can skate and bang bodies. Significantly, I think Maenalanen has a bit more read/react in his skill set which could make him a decent defensive complement to Jordan Staal. The 2019-20 season will only be his second in the NHL, so perhaps he has another gear offensively, but my read on him from 2018-19 is that he just does not have the scoring instincts or ability to be more than a defense-leaning complement. So I see him as a fourth-liner or possibly a fit for Staal’s line if it leans defense.
Importantly, with Williams departure it now takes Maenalanen who is unsigned to reach 13 forwards. That creates an opening for one of the high upside players from Charlotte to impress and seize a slot in preseason. Clark Bishop is also a known quantity who maybe has a low ceiling but is also safe and solid.
Tentative plan is to follow this up with thoughts on actual line combination tomorrow.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Who has additional or different comments on individual Canes forwards?
2) What would be your top priority for slotting a few of the Canes forwards?