First, it is important to note that any assessment of the 2016-17 Hurricanes roster right now is an interim assessment. Even a single big move could significantly change the make up of the team. And last summer did save his biggest move for early September.
That said, we are entering the slow part of the NHL offseason, so taking a look at the current roster and potential line combinations from it even if it is early and subject to change quickly based on how players look together on the ice.
1A: Scoring line — Jeff Skinner / Victor Rask / Lee Stempniak
Jeff Skinner’s improved 2-way play in 2015-16 seems to have him primed to finally take a regular spot in the top 6 without being too much of a liability defensively when the points are not coming in bunches. Victor Rask is not a pure playmaker but is a solid all-around play who is positionally sound. And Lee Stempniak brings a balanced game with decent finishing ability. This line will be undermanned on paper compared to some of the lines it would face in a top 6 role, but it must compete at that level for the team to be successful.
Key things to watch: How does Stempniak fit with Skinner and Rask and how does the chemistry look? Rask is not the purer playmaker that Stempniak had in Cammalleri last season and Skinner often commands the puck. If this combination gets a look, I am watching closely to see how Skinner and Stempniak work together.
1B: Checking line — Andrej Nestrasil / Jordan Staal / Joakim Nordstrom
This line was the Canes best line from early December through the end of February when the team rose of the standings before an Andrej Nestrasil in late February derailed things a bit. Lines will change throughout the season, but I see no reason why Bill Peters will not go back to this at least to start the season.
Key things to watch: First is to check that Nestrasil looks 100% recovered from his fairly serious broken vertebra injury. The other thing is to see if this line can pick up right where it left off or if the magic has dissipated with the layoff.
3: ??? line — Teuvo Teravainen / Sebastian Aho / Elias Lindholm
With 2 new players, it is difficult to know what to expect from this line if it happens. Sebastian Aho projects as the potential playmaking offensive center that the team lacks and will get every chance to seize that role, but it is impossible to say how quickly and successful his transition to the NHL level will be in his rookie season. Teuvo Teravainen and Elias Lindholm are very similar in that they are both heady young players already with significant NHL experience but have yet to find the higher gear that makes them more than a serviceable third-liner. Interesting is that Peters could actually try any of these 3 players at center though I think Aho makes most sense to get the first try.
Key things to watch: Can 19-year old Sebastian Aho step right into the NHL and be the type of catalyst that the team needs offensively and pull Teravainen and Lindholm with him? This is another line of 3 players who have yet to play together, so an early read on chemistry and style of play is something to watch.
4: Checking line — Phil Di Giuseppe / Jay McClement / Viktor Stalberg with Bryan Bickell as the extra
Last season, the fourth line in general and Jay McClement struggled at even strength both in terms of scoring and maybe more significantly at keeping the puck out of their own net. McClement’s limited mobility played a significant part in that, so playing him with Stalberg who can flat out fly and Di Giuseppe who proved to be pretty sound defensively last season will hopefully help. The trio or possibly with Bryan Bickell instead has the makings of a pretty strong cycling and puck possession line if it can get the puck into the offensive zone with control.
Key things to watch: First and foremost is the preseason tryout. I think it is reasonably safe to put McClement in the center slot because none of the other options are really centers, and I also think that Stalberg is likely to seize a spot in the lineup. Past that Di Giuseppe and Bickell will battle for roster spots on the fourth line or possibly even higher. Past that, I will be watching closely to see if the revamped fourth line can defend better through the neutral zone which was a big problem last season.
What say you Canes fans? Who is the fourth center past Staal, Rask and McClement? Can Sebastian Aho hit the ground running in his transition to the NHL? Who does Lee Stempniak fit with best? What are the line combinations that you would look at first in training camp in the fall?