Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a quick batch of Canes notes with a lineup focus.
The center position and Erik Haula as a key
A strength of the forward group right now is the depth. Brind’Amour trusts the fourth line in pretty much all situations and the team is finding decent scoring depth across all four lines. Though injuries of any variety could upset that apple cart, I think the key could be Erik Haula. Losing any of the centers could have a negative impact, but with Haula missing time already do to his knee injury, he seems to be the biggest risk. If he were to exit the lineup, there is a domino effect. For as well as Lucas Wallmark is playing right now, I like Haula better between Ryan Dzingel and Martin Necas. Further, I think Jordan Martinook, who seems to be a preferred choice to move to center when injuries occur, is more effective at wing. Further, with Justin Williams now in the mix at the NHL level and Julien Gauthier scoring the AHL, I think the Canes have better ability to back fill an injury at the wing position.
Jake Gardiner as a key on defense
At the risk of jinxing him, Jake Gardiner has recently been a regular in the top 4 next to Brett Pesce and has not stood out noticeably in doing so. After a rough start in a Hurricanes uniform, that is exactly what one would hope from Gardiner. He does not need to be spectacular defensively. He just needs to be steadier than he was early in the season. I increasingly think Gardiner is the key to the blue line. Joel Edmundson had a run where he filled the slot next to Pesce, but in the long run I think he is better-suited for the third pairing. His game in terms of generating offense and advancing the puck just does not have as much upside as Gardiner. The transition is still in its early stages, but there are at least signs that Gardiner is ready to step into #4 slot that he was probably penciled into by coaching and management when he was acquired.
A last trade chip?
Related to the two items above, I think it is likely that Don Waddell keeps what would likely be his last trade chip in his pocket right up to the trade deadline. Though there is always room for improvement, I think the Canes right now have question marks more so than specific needs. If Gardiner continues his upward trend and everyone stays healthy, the current set of seven looks pretty solid. If instead Gardiner stumbles again, I could see Waddell making a move to shore up the defense for the stretch run and playoffs. Similarly, if Haula and everyone else stays healthy, the Canes are now 13 deep at forward with a pretty good early trade deadline addition in Williams. But if Haula’s injured leg acts up on him again, I could see Waddell making a move to add another center. Right now, I think best is to watch how things unfold over the next couple weeks and let that dictate actions, if any, at the trade deadline.
Sebastian Aho with more to give
Through 45 games, Sebastian Aho is on target for a whopping 41 goals and 73 points. The point total would be down from 2018-19, but the goal total is a huge one in today’s NHL. Despite productivity similar to 2018-19, I think Aho potentially has a higher gear. Though he has racked up points at a high rate since a slow start, he really has not had an extended stretch where he was every-game dominant like he was in 2018-19. I have recently noted that Aho has had that extra gear in terms of mobility in many recent games and could be on the verge of a break out. It is not that his current scoring pace would necessarily be a negative, but I just think there is more.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you see as the key(s) to the forward part of the Canes lineup? Do you similarly see Erik Haula and his previously injured leg as a key to the team’s depth?
2) Is Jake Gardiner rounding into form? If he reverts back to struggles earlier in the season, can the Hurricanes still make the blue line work with the big three and probably Edmundson slotting up again?
3) If one goes with the assumption that the Canes have one trade move possible, what would you do with it, and when would you consider using it?
4) Despite being on a scoring pace pretty similar to 2018-19, does any else agree that Aho could have a higher gear in terms of more regularly being a bit more dominant?