Despite the fact that the 2016-17 season just ended, we are in the early stages of assessing the 2016-17 season at Canes and Coffee and also starting to look forward to the 2017-18 season.
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Last week’s Carolina Hurricanes press conference with Bill Peters and Ron Francis offered some clues as to how Peters sees the current forwards fitting into the lineup. (If you were away for spring break, you can find my thoughts on the press release in 2 parts — Part 1 & Part 2.)
I usually steer clear of trying to build the roster until a bit later in the offseason and closer to when it all happens in June and JUly, but understanding where Peters sees Lindholm (RW) and Aho (LW) at least short-term started me thinking about how the current players fit into the mix for the 2017-18 opening day roster.
Important caveat: The aim at this early stage is to fill out a top 9 for forwards and then a fourth line up front, and then a top 4 on defense followed by a bottom pairing. At this early juncture, I will not get bogged down with line combinations/who plays with whom within the 4 sets.
Hurricanes forward lines – Top 9 (7 slots filled)
Left wing: Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho.
Center: Jordan Staal, Victor Rask.
Right wing: Elias Lindholm, Lee Stempniak. (I am in the minority from what I have read elsewhere, but in my article about the expansion draft, I wrote that I think Francis will actually protect Stempniak over 1 of Di Giuseppe or McGinn.)
Other: Teuvo Teravainen. Best bet is that he slots at left wing, but he could play any of the 3 forward positions.
So for the sake of filling slots, I see it like this:
Aho / _____ /______
Teravainen / Staal / Lindholm
Skinner / Rask / Stempniak
That leaves 2 of the top 9 slots to be filled either internally from the depth forwards below or from outside of the organization during the off-season.
Hurricanes forward lines – Building a fourth line (3 slots potentially filled)
The Hurricanes suddenly have significant capable depth with at least some experience at the NHL level.
Centers: Lucas Wallmark, Derek Ryan (would need to be re-signed).
Wings: Joakim Nordstrom, Phil Di Giuseppe, Brock McGinn, Andrej Nestrasil (would need to be re-signed).
I really like that set of 6 as a starting point for building a fourth line that is reasonably capable defensively like an old school fourth line but also has the ability to contribute offensively.
The next wave of Hurricanes prospects (5 players trying to seize a slot)
I am on board with the Bill Peters plan that votes against “hoping” players are ready and instead puts them in roles “knowing” they are ready. Tactically for me, that means not entering training camp counting on or projecting players with little or no NHL experience to step into a significant role at the NHL level. But at the same time, that means giving them the opportunity to rise up when they are ready whether that be sooner or later.
The collection of Hurricanes players with top 9 potential but no (or incredibly little) NHL experience includes Julien Gauthier, Nicolas Roy, Aleksi Saarela and possibly Valentin Zykov. Based on projections and scouting reports anyway, Warren Foegele does not figure to have as high of a ceiling offensively as the rest of the group, but I think he is another high-energy player who could compete for a fourth-line slot sooner rather than later.
It is not out of the question that 1 of these players rises up in training camp and seizes a roster spot, but at the same time, the pressure to force them into the NHL before they are ready is decreasing as the Hurricanes add depth at the forward position.
Needs at forward (1 difference-maker, possibly 1 depth forward)
Give me a proven offensive catalyst forward, ideally with size and preferably a center to pair with Sebastian Aho on a scoring line, and I will take my chances filling the final top 9 slot from within or with a relatively inexpensive free agent. There are enough serviceable players and potentials from the next wave that I think 1 difference-maker at forward is enough. The key word here is “difference-maker.” The team is not looking for another capable, complementary #9 type forward. They are looking for someone who can help drive offense for a scoring line.
Francis could also look to add a higher-end fourth-line forward to solidify that line. It might sound odd to suggest adding a premium version of a bottom player, but what Viktor Stalberg did for the team was eye-opening. I would be thrilled to have him back for a similar contract.
Especially if Francis protects Stempniak, I really think the shopping list at forward is 1 impact forward and possibly 1 premium fourth-liner if their is a match. The Canes could use size and penalty-killing acumen in such a role similar to what Stalberg provided before being traded.
Thinking in pairs
Bill Peters often talks about forwards in pairs, and I think that is an interesting way to think about the existing players. I like Skinner with Rask because I think Rask’s positioning and strong read/react ability are a good fit for adjusting to Skinner playing with the puck on his stick and taking some freelancing risks here and there. I also think that a playmaking center if added is better spent on another line. Skinner creates his own offense. I like Aho with whoever the highest-end offensive forward we add is. I think Aho has a higher gear but will need an equal player to help reach it. I do not think that kind of player is on the roster currently. I think Lindholm could fit in a few places, but I like the idea of building two-thirds of a top-end checking line around Jordan Staal. That is not to say that they cannot score too, but especially at home, they get shutdown responsibilities. I could see Lindholm as a complementary player on a scoring line with Aho/new center, but I am not sure that leaves enough to build a strong line around Staal. Further, if Staal’s line takes all of the tough match ups, I am not sure that is somewhere Peters would want to plug in a rookie.
What say you Caniacs?
Do you think adding 1 top-end forward is enough to bolster the forward ranks to playoff-capable?
How many top 9 forwards do you think the team needs to add?
Are you happy with the options to build a fourth line in house, or would you consider making a Viktor Stalberg like signing to add a premium depth forward to the mix?
What are the chances that 1 of the ‘next wave’ players rises up ahead of schedule continuing the run of recent successes that have included Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Sebastian Aho?