Last week, I posted an article that attempted to tally the Hurricanes 2018-19 goal scoring simply by listing and totaling goals for the current lineup of 18 skaters.
That all changed on Thursday when the Hurricanes announced that the team had traded Jeff Skinner for prospect Cliff Pu and three draft picks.
As I said in the comments for that article, I think math that just subtracts 25-30 goals for Jeff Skinner overstates the problem. Someone else will fill the roster spot and a spot in the top 9 which should be good for at least 10 if not 15 goals. Further, Skinner’s departure frees up a bit more power play ice time that should net a few more goals for whoever gets that ice time. So if he is replaced internally, I view Skinner’s departure as a loss of 10-15 goals.
I am also on record since early July as believing that a domino effect was likely with Justin Faulk being traded to add a scoring-capable forward to replace Jeff Skinner before Skinner was traded for futures. The order would obviously be different, but I still think that is quite possible. I revisited that in some detail in Monday’s Daily Cup of Joe.
Regardless, Skinner’s departure sets a new landscape in terms of setting Carolina Hurricanes forward lines for the 2018-19 season. Here is my early projection for how I think it shakes out.
Top scoring line – “If it ain’t broke (sic), don’t fix it”
The core: Sebastian Aho/Teuvo Teravainen
The line: Valentin Zykov or Micheal Ferland / Sebastian Aho / Teuvo Teravainen
When I read articles and talk with people on Twitter, I continue to be surprised by how many people think the starting point should include separating Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. During the 2018-19 season, the two were unmistakably a case of 1+1=3 which is exactly what a team is aiming for when building lines.
Don’t overthink it and try to go galaxy brain.
The team has an offensive combination that was very good together for the entirety of the 2017-18 season. The aim should be to figure out which player most complements the Finnish duo and in the process tries to help them take the next step up into the point per game range.
Though neither is what one might consider a pure first line NHL talent, the team has two players whose skill set fits very well with Aho/Teravainen. Aho and Teravainen both create offense and move the puck well. An ideal third for this line would add a power forward element to the line with the ability to forecheck and cough up pucks, be effectively offensively without the puck and bring a physical crease-crashing presence to the line. Valentin Zykov is nearly exactly this as is Micheal Ferland who was acquired from Calgary.
Again, the goal is to build the best scoring line possible, so if someone else fits better in training camp, he would be considered. I also think that if the opportunity presents itself, using Faulk to add a proven scoring wing for this line could change the equation one more time. But as of right now, I think Ferland and Zykov possess good complementary skill sets and are the front runners win this slot in the lineup.
Top defensive/match up line – “Play Staal to his strengths”
The core: Jordan Staal / Justin Williams
The line: Warren Foegele or Phil Di Giuseppe or Micheal Ferland / Jordan Staal / Justin Williams
Aho/Teravainen spent about three-fourths of the 2017-18 season flanking Jordan Staal before Aho was moved to center and Finnish duo departed. Despite playing the majority of the 2017-18 on a line with two scorers who were clicking, Staal finished the season with a modest 19 goals and 46 points even as Teravainen and Aho were vaulting into the mid-60s for points. To be clear, I think Jordan Staal is a good player and fits well on a winning team. But his role is that of the anchor for a defense-leaning line that sits opposite a true top scoring line.
The tremendous run that Staal had a couple years back flanked by Joakim Nordstrom and Anrej Nestrasis shows just how capable Staal is at least on the defensive side of the puck even just with capable, responsible depth forwards and a bit of chemistry. As such, there is some flexibility in terms of who plays with Staal, and it might even work that he takes what is left after building out other lines. That said, I like the idea of pairing Staal with Justin Williams and then adding speed and forechecking capability on the other side.
At 36 years old Williams is not what he was 12 year ago when he paired with Rod Brind’Amour on a lights out checking ling that also scored at a high rate. But Williams still brings every shift intensity, top-end awareness and knowing what it takes to be successful playing against the NHL’s best. I also think that the trade off giving away a bit of mobility but boosting hockey IQ and decision-making could be a perfect fit for including Warren Foegele in a role where he can play to his strengths as an aggressive forechecker and skating force with Staal and Williams both capable of playing a read and react game behind him.
The future and second scoring line – “The time is now”
The core: Martin Necas / Andrei Svechnikov
The line Phil Di Giuseppe or Micheal Ferland / Martin Necas / Andrei Svechnikov
For a team that was sub-par in terms of scoring in 2017-18 and lost a top scorer last week, a bit more offense will need to come from somewhere. Arguably the greatest potential comes from two young players in Necas and Svechnikov who project to be top 6 scorers at some point. In what is definitely a young man’s game, it is not out of the question for players like Necas and Svechnikov to just rise to the occasion instead of growing into it.
One line of reasoning is that the team needs to support the rookies by separating them and pairing each with more experienced players. While I do think it is possible that Svechnikov gets an audition next to Aho and Teravainen and possibly even wins the slot, I think the default is to pair the two rookies together.
It is just a hunch until we see him in action as a head coach, but I think one of the things that will emerge early in terms of Brind’Amour’s coaching style is a propensity to challenge players to rise up. In Peter Laviolette fashion, no longer will it be about setting modest step-wise goals and trying to play safe rather than be sorry. Instead, with young players who have high ceilings like Necas and Svechnikov, I think that Brind’Amour will either put them in roles that challenge them if he thinks they are ready or he will otherwise give them time to develop with big roles at a lower level in Charlotte. Specifically in the case of Necas and Svechnikov, Brind’Amour will offer some support by being a bit selective with match ups at least early on.
But I also think we see some changes too. The run of starting expected centers at wing to let them grow into the NHL game will end, and Necas (and Aho as noted above) will develop to be a center by actually playing center. I also think that Brind’Amour will pick his spots to challenge Necas/Svechnikov and will be patient and understanding when they hit some growing pains. And I also think as they hopefully earn it that Brind’Amour will seek to follow successful challenges with bigger challenges and a push to excel as soon as possible not based on some predetermined schedule.
Ideal would be to have a solid all-around left wing to pair with the duo, but the team is light in terms of that skill set. If he can find the scoring version of himself that appeared only briefly in March for the 2017-18 season, I think Phil Di Giuseppe as a player who can skate with the kids, has enough puck skills to do more than just forecheck and brings a nice complementary skill set as a player who can both forecheck and defend. But at the end of the day as I draft the lineup, I think the left wing slot is the one that could most turn into a game of musical chairs until working combinations are found.
The backstop with more offense – “Seeking solid with more offense this time”
The core: Jordan Martinook or Brock McGinn / Victor Rask
The line: Jordan Martinook / Victor Rask / Brock McGinn or Phil Di Giuseppe
With the goal of opportunistically playing match ups a bit with Necas and Svechnikov, having a second defensively capable line to sit behind Staal’s especially on the road could be critical. The team tried to do this last with a veteran checking line extraordinaire. But the trio of Joakim Nordstrom, Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris missed. With nothing for any kind of catalyst to generate offense, the fourth line was decent defensively, but when you score absolutely nothing it just does not work. In today’s NHL where good teams are able to score 12 players deep, trying to break even by never giving up goals is a losing proposition.
If playing with depth forward caliber talent, Victor Rask’s scoring upside is limited, but it should still be much higher than what Kruger contributed last season. Then when you pair him with Jordan Martinook, the hope is that the fourth line can both score a bit more and also provide strong contributions to the penalty kill that stumbled some in 2017-18. The options are multiple for the other wing position, but most likely this line features a try out for whoever is not assigned to a higher line and is left.
Brock McGinn possibly playing on his off side is one possibility if he does not win a higher slot, but so are players like Di Giuseppe, Foegele and Ferland. Regardless of how lands there, the goal is to fill a couple penalty kill slots and improve scoring over 2017-18.
A few side comments
* I think Valentin Zykov’s situation could be an interesting one. He definitely gets a chance to keep his March 2018 slot next to Aho/Teravainen. But if he does not win that, it is not impossible that he falls all the way out of the lineup.
* If Warren Foegele does get a chance to audition next to Staal, it will be interesting to watch how Brind’Amour balances the upside of young legs and aggressive play versus the inevitable growing pains that Foegele would endure playing in that role against the league’s best.
* As much as I like the Canes youth, I think adding a capable scoring left wing to play with Aho and Teravainen could be a game changer. My view is that Aho and Teravainen will need help from a third line mate to take the next step up from already impressive mid-60s point totals to the next level as point per game players. Max Pacioretty would easily do the trick as would Brandon Saad.
* With Aho still transitioning to center and Necas starting there as a rookie, I do not see room for Lucas Wallmark though he immediately comes into play if the Hurricanes have an injury at the center position.
Early shot at building lines
Addition / Aho /Teravainen (alternates for “Addition” in order are Zykov and Ferland)
Foegele / Staal / Williams (if Foegele does not look to be ready, then McGinn and Di Giuseppe are plan B front runners)
Ferland / Necas / Svechnikov (McGinn and Di Giuseppe offer a similar forechecking presence on the left side)
Martinook / Rask / McGinn (In true try out form, whichever wings earn these slots get them)
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of my pairs (Aho/Teravainen, Staal/Williams, Necas/Svechnikov, Martinook/Rask) do you agree with? Which would you do differently?
2) What do you see as the best way to utilize rookies Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas, Warren Foegele and Valentin Zykov to hopefully maximize their 2018-19 development and also the team’s playoff hopes at the same time?
3) What do you like for line combinations and why?