Through seven games, the Carolina Hurricanes have compiled a 3-3-1 record and along the way have also offered a reasonable glimpse into what the 2017-18 team looks like.
Maybe not surprisingly after finishing 20th in the NHL in scoring for the 2016-17 season and then not adding anyone who I would put in the category of being an offensive catalyst, one of the things gradually rising to the forefront through seven games is the team’s intermittent struggles scoring-wise. The Hurricanes have had a couple big games offensively but have also now been held to only one goal in four of seven games and have fallen to 29th out of 31 teams at only 2.3 goals per game in a league that has seen scoring increase thus far.
The range of possible means to address the scoring struggles range from making a big trade on the extreme end to doing nothing but being patient on the other end of the spectrum.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe will work in the middle and offer a couple possibilities to boost scoring largely within the confines of the current lineup.
1) Put Sebastian Aho in a position to play with the puck on his stick more
I apologize to anyone who is sick of this theme that was here, there and everywhere on Canes and Coffee last week.
For me it is simple. I rank Sebastian Aho only behind Jeff Skinner in terms of the potential to be a dynamic offense generator. And for a team struggling to score, I therefore want Aho in a role that most gives him the opportunity to thrive and best gives him the opportunity to utilize his natural skill set.
A starting point is understanding Aho’s natural skill set. He was a center when drafted, and he was also a center when he rose rapidly up the depth chart and NHL prospect rankings lists even before setting foot in the NHL. Playing for the Finnish U20 team, Aho was a pure puck distributing playmaking center playing between Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi on what was easily the best and most dynamic line in the U20 tourney. In that role, Aho played center, spent a ton of time with the puck on his stick in the middle of the rink and earned his pay by distributing the puck to scoring wings.
Fast forward to today and Sebastian Aho is playing left wing, and maybe more significantly, he is playing on a line with a center in Jordan Staal who leans heavily toward playing with the puck on his stick. Arguably Jordan Staal’s greatest ability as a player is to win a puck in the defensive zone and/or receive it from a defenseman and then transport it from the defensive zone to the offensive zone. Given the role of Staal’s line and also skill set, that puts Sebastian Aho in the role of a wing on a checking line and again, maybe most significantly, in a role in which he primarily plays without the puck. He is not bad in this role, but my bet is that his higher gear includes playing in a role that suits his skill set.
And worth noting is the short burst of highlight reel-worthy plays that Aho made in the first few games almost unanimously included Aho carrying the puck in transition before feeding a team mate for a grade A scoring chance.
There are two ways to accomplish this within the Hurricanes lineup with one slightly more drastic of a change than the other.
Less drastic: I would give Aho ice time with Victor Rask and whichever right wing is deemed the best finisher. I lean toward Justin Williams. From playing with Jeff Skinner, Rask is a center who is comfortable playing without the puck on his stick which ideally gets it on Aho’s stick more where he can provide playmaking from the wing. In addition, I view Rask as being a significantly receive/shoot finisher than Jordan Staal and therefore likely to finish more of what Aho creates. I similarly think that Williams is a better finisher than Lindholm and also has a heady ability to read situations and potentially find places to shoot from.
More drastic: The bigger move would be to move Aho to his natural center position where he can play in the role that attracted the Hurricanes interest and then led to his rapid rise post-draft. Derek Ryan is not thriving right now, so he could either be scratched initially or moved to right wing.
2) Give Jaccob Slavin a trial on the power play
By my estimation, Jaccob Slavin is one of the team’s two or three best players right now. He has even show sporadic ability to generate offense and score despite being a defenseman. With scoring being the team’s biggest need right now and the power play sputtering at times despite middle-ish production, why not try Slavin on the power play.
A resulting issue is navigating the shift coming out of a power play. Currently, Peters is using Slavin/Pesce with the fourth line coming out of power plays. That shift is an important one because it almost certainly features the other team’s top scoring line and can be a significant momentum shift when the opponent kills off the power play and then tilts the ice in the shift that follows. But with scoring being an issue, I would at least try it and then go with Hanifin/Pesce coming out of the power play if Hanifin is the player bumped to make room for Slavin.
3) Get Janne Kuokkanen or an AHL scoring-capable player into the lineup
With Brock McGinn bumped up into the top 9 currently, my math says that the Hurricanes are icing four forwards who are limited offensively including McGinn and the fourth line. I would consider getting Kuokkanen back in the lineup or possibly calling up one of the red hot forwards in Charlotte also looking for an offensive boost.
Despite being only seven games into the season, I would also be exploring external options to upgrade the scoring, but I will save that for another day.
What say you Caniacs?
1) What other changes might boost the offense?
2) What do you make of Sebastian Aho’s suddenly quiet play after a couple decent games to start the 2017-18 season?
3) How aggressively would you be pursuing external scoring help?