Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a shot at slotting the current Carolina Hurricanes forwards based on players’ level of play during the 2019-20 season in a Hurricanes uniform.
A couple key disclaimers — First, for a few of these players, the sample size is very small. While I am not giving credit where it was not earned in short stretches, I also readily acknowledge that these players could quickly play to a higher level in 2020-21. Second, the 2019-20 version of the team that will largely remain intact was good enough to make the playoffs and compete reasonably well. So even if the roster is imperfect and not able to legitimately fill all of the top slots, that is not to say this is not a good hockey or one incapable of making the playoffs.
Disclaimers aside, my aim is to be a tough but fair grader on where players slot based on performance not so much what they might do if they find a higher gear.
Top 6 forwards — Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov
Whether it makes sense to top load the lineup with Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov united on a true top line or possibly move Svechnikov elsewhere to help balance scoring, all three of these players legitimately fit somewhere in the top 6.
And that really is all if I am going off of 2019-20 play and being fair.
Players with the potential to play up into top 6 group
The most significant player in this group is Vincent Trocheck. He was obtained via trade very specifically to add another scoring center. If he proves unable to do that, the Canes become very top heavy scoring-wise and without much for second-tier help.
Though he is now more than a full year of hockey removed from it, the peak version of Nino Niederreiter has the skill set to be a good complementary player who can finish. Whether he can re-find the level he played at when seemingly shot of a cannon upon arrival is unclear.
I am long on record as thinking that Martin Necas presents the greatest upside as another scoring line center but admittedly has probably even more question marks and risks than other options.
Third line-capable — Martin Necas, Vincent Trocheck, Jordan Staal
Though both Trocheck and Necas are listed as possibilities above, I think this is where both legitimately slot based on 2019-20 play. Trocheck could be fine as a light-scoring, checking line center though that would be a disappointment. And though Necas lacked every-game consistency, even the inconsistent version of his offensive production fits on a third line. Jordan Staal is on my early season watch list to see if he is in decline or capable of a modest bounce back at least in terms of defense and puck possession such that he can be at least a scoring-light, great checking line center.
Players with third line potential
Ryan Dzingel has scored enough at the NHL level to suggest he can provide good depth scoring even if his game is maybe not as multi-faceted as other players. But in 2019-20, Dzingel never really clicked for an extended stretch, so he is a bit like Niederreiter as a player who has the potential but no guarantee of taking on a bigger role.
To me, Warren Foegele and Brock McGinn are similar players with a similar role. Both are capable of being complementary players in the top 9 even if their scoring production is a bit light. The key for either is being able to create enough disruption doing the dirty work on the forecheck and in front of the net to not be a production drag with scoring-capable line mates. Both can fit in the top 9, but ideally the Hurricanes forward ranks get better if they can force McGinn and Foegele down the depth chart.
Solid fourth-liners — Jordan Martinook, Morgan Geekie, Brock McGinn, Warren Foegele
Joining McGinn and Foegele as solid fourth-liners who are mentioned above are Jordan Martinook and Morgan Geekie. Martinook is a reliable positive as an ignition switch to help boost the team when needed. The cut line for him is his scoring potential. He scores at a good clip and has the potential to be a spark plug for a higher line for short stretches but in my opinion does not have the offensive skill set to be a regular on a higher line. Geekie is more of a wild card. He has few more tools in the bag offensively than the rest of this group. At a minimum that makes him an above average fourth line center who can also play on the second power play unit. The question is whether his mobility is enough for a bigger role at the NHL and if so whether he can develop and slot higher.
Netting it out
As I have written in a couple other places coming at it from slightly different angles, I think the most significant thing for slotting the forward group is the second center slot. If Vincent Trocheck can find chemistry with a wing or two (Svechnikov?) and become a driver for a second scoring line, the team becomes more balanced offensively. That also makes it possible to slot Staal as a third line center and be able to live with that line being a little on the light side in terms of scoring production.
I think the Holy Grail is getting two duos clicking offensively. Most likely is Aho/Teravainen, so that leaves Trocheck as the most likely option for a second center with Svechnikov, Necas, Dzingel and Niederreiter being options for a second. If the team can find those two sets of two, it might be possible for Brind’Amour to mix and match to find hot hands for thirds on each of those lines.
What say you Canes fans?
1) From how I slotted the players (based on 2019-20 play), which do you agree with? Which do you disagree with?
2) What combination of two or three players do you think has the greatest potential to form a second scoring line to balance the offensive production?
3) Of the players whose ceiling is higher than their 2019-20 play (Dzingel, Niederreiter) or who are not prototypical skilled scorers (McGinn, Foegele), which do you think could take a step up and play a bigger role offensively in 2020-21?