On Wednesday, the biggest chunk of free time I had was minus my PC but with paper, so today’s Daily Cup of Joe goes a bit old school scribbling out how I see the Hurricanes forward lines as of right now.
The Holy Grail for building out the forward lines such that the team has two relatively equal scoring lines each with a catalyst/driver who generates scoring chances for his line mates. Then an equal but differently-purposed line led by Jordan Staal would be used as a math up/checking line. Finally, the hope would be to push some good players who can score some down to a fourth line that can put up decent offense for a fourth line.
My assessment is based on how players performed during the 2018-19 regular season. No doubt the Hurricanes have some young players and prospects who have upside relative to what they produced in 2018-19. But I think there is a difference between “betting” on improvement versus “planning” for what is likely to happen. As the Hurricanes learned quickly last year with Martin Necas, it is difficult to project what rookies will do, so best is to count them as wild cards who can provide upside.
The shorter version is that my building of the 2019-20 roster does leave some room for rookies to seize spots, but this is more of a bonus wild card than the summer plan.
The current status
With the the aim of building two relatively equal scoring lines, my math says that the team is currently two players short. Sebastian Aho figures to center one of the two scoring lines and qualifies as a catalyst/playmaker. Teuvo Teravainen showed himself capable of scoring at a top 6 rate with Aho but maybe more significantly to some degree without him. Nino Niederreiter is more of a complementary player than a driver, but he has enough hockey sense and finishing ability to be a capable complementary top 6 scorer. Finally, though his production was a bit short in 2018-19, I am hoping for a step up and am counting Andrei Svechnikov.
That leaves the Hurricanes two players short of filling out the top 6 as I envision. I think it could be possible to fill one of those two slots from the promising prospect pool or even just a depth forward filling a role. But to truly have two relatively equal scoring lines, I think the Hurricanes need at least a single player who is a legitimate offensive catalyst ideally in the form of a center.
Jordan Staal is then slotted to lead a top match up/checking line. Especially if this line is not forced to become a primary scoring line, the team has enough options to build out this line from players that it already has. All of Warren Foegele, Saku Maenalanen, Brock McGinn and and possibly Jordan Martinook are maybe a bit light offensively but have the necessary skill set to play alongside Staal on a checking line tasked to play against the league’s best. If Justin Williams returns, he could slot on this line or possibly one of the two scoring lines.
That leaves Lucas Wallmark to center a fourth line that is competent defensively and has the potential to outscore its role. Just like with Staal’s line, I think the team has enough bottom half of the roster depth to build out a capable line that probably outscores the average for fourth lines.
Then below that the Hurricanes have two kinds of depth. First, the team has the competent, ‘system’ depth that Rod Brind’Amour mostly opted for when he needed reinforcements during the 2018-19 season. That group includes Greg McKegg, Saku Maenalanen, Clark Bishop and Patrick Brown. Second, the team has a group of promising prospects who bring more scoring upside and the potential to fill a top half of the roster slot. That group is led by Martin Necas and also includes Morgan Geekie, Julien Gauthier, Janne Kuokkanen and possibly Andrew Poturalski (if re-signed).
The net and the need
When I net it out, I like the Hurricanes ability to fill out a capable match up/checking line around Jordan Staal. I also like the team’s ability to build out a scoring positive fourth line and have some depth behind that in case of injuries. But where I think the team falls short is having enough bona fide top 6 forwards whose offensive production matches that level.
I really think it just takes a legitimate top 6 playmaking center to push things into place. That player would hopefully be the catalyst for the second scoring line. Such a player would also bump Staal out of a scoring slot and push Wallmark down to the fourth line where he goes from being ‘meh’ for scoring to above average. If a playmaker who is added can drive a second scoring line, it also just reduces what is required from the two lines below.
The wild cards
As noted in the disclaimers, ideal is not to put the cart ahead of the horse for rookies and count on them to fill top slots. Better is to have them earn their way up into the top of the lineup when they are ready. In that regard, the Hurricanes do have a number of players with potential to do better in 2019-20. 2018-19 rookies Lucas Wallmark and Warren Foegele have the potential to improve their production. Foegele actually picked up the pace in the playoffs suggesting that maybe he has a higher gear as he develops as a player. Wallmark too could have a higher gear after a full year in the NHL to settle in. Further, Martin Necas grew as a player in Charlotte in 2018-19 and has the potential to be ready for a step up to the NHL for the 2019-20 season. Then the Hurricanes have a couple AHLers past Necas. I think ideal for these players is to not count on them for too much but to be sure to get some of those players auditions in higher slots when players earn it and/or injuries make openings.
What say you Canes fans?
1) If given the same task how would you create the current version of the Hurricanes’ forward lines?
2) What do you think of my assertion that the Hurricanes currently have two openings for top 6 scoring forwards but that adding one higher-end playmaker might be enough?
3) To what degree would you allocate roster spots to be won by the AHL prospects in training camp?