Through 11 games the Carolina Hurricanes are now 7-3-1 which is good enough for third place and playoff position in the Metropolitan Division. Yet I think most would agree that the team is nowhere close to firing on all cylinders. Key players have starting slow offensively. The power play and penalty kill have been a mixed bag. And until Saturday’s game, the first line has mostly been non-existent on the score sheet. No doubt there is upside still to be gained. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe suggests a perfect storm for the Canes forward lines.
The first line — Sebastian Aho
In an ideal world, Sebastian Aho takes one more sizable step up in only his second season playing center and boosts his entire line in the process. Ferland/Aho/Teravainen was a capable first line in the first half of the 2018-19 season, and Niederreiter/Aho/Williams was equally strong down the stretch. But at about a point per game per player, there is still another level at or maybe even just below the truly elite lines in the NHL including Bergeron’s line in Boston, MacKinnon’s in Colorado, Matthews’ in Toronto, Stamkos’ in Tampa Bay, Crosby’s in Pittsburgh, McDavid’s in Edmonton and a few others.
The Holy Grail is for Aho to take one more step and push his line up into that next level.
The second line — Jordan Staal
Ideal for Staal’s line would be a combination that allows him to do what he does best as a shutdown centerman but at the same time produce on the score sheet at least close to the pace for a good second line. For all of Staal’s strengths, he just is not a true playmaker nor is he a skilled finisher which makes this target challenging. I think what it takes is a Ray Whitney-like catalyst from the wing combined with some chemistry that boosts finishing. The player how jumps out as potentially capable of being this catalyst is Teuvo Teravainen. Teravainen has grown to become a solid two-way forward but at the same time he has first line scoring potential. When the lines were shuffled a bit late in the 2018-19 season, the short run of Teravainen/Staal with a couple options on the other wing was intriguing. At least theoretically, Teravainen in a playmaking role with some finishing on the opposite wing combined with Staal’s ability to drive puck possession would seem to have scoring potential.
The Holy Grail is to find a combination of wings that adds both playmaking and finishing such that the line is true to Staal’s shutdown history but scores a bit more than historically.
The third line — Erik Haula
The Holy Grail for the third line would be for the group to exploit some favorable match ups to the tune of really being more of a second scoring line than a third line and to score enough to remove the pressure for Staal’s line to score at a certain level. Of the ideal targets by line, this one is probably closest to being realized through 11 games. Ryan Dzingel, Erik Haula and Martin Necas have all contributed on the power play but more recently have also started to chip in at even strength. The trio brings an ability to push pace and attack with speed and skill. Especially when they catch favorable match ups against third pairing defensemen or lesser forwards, They are difficult to contain.
The Holy Grail is to have the third line function as a second scoring line thereby relieving some pressure for Staal’s line to produce.
The fourth line — Lucas Wallmark
Ideally, in today’s NHL the fourth line provides a couple good special teams players usually for the penalty kill, is competent enough defensively not to be a major liability when caught on the ice against the opponents’ best on the road and also decent depth scoring. The Canes fourth line does provide a couple penalty killers and passes the test of being competent defensively. But for as much as the fourth-line personnel look capable offensively on paper, the varied group is off to a slow start scoring-wise. I wrote about this in some detail for yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe.
The key is finding a player who meshes well with Wallmark. He lacks the ability of a dynamic catalyst which is why he is on the foruth line to begin with, but that is not to say that he does not have enough offensive ability to chip in. But who is the player that can help Wallmark find a higher gear? I am not sure that the grinders like McGinn, Foegele or Martinook will be enough. It might be that it takes a more skilled player from the AHL to be that catalyst.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you see as the Holy Grail for each of the Carolina Hurricanes four lines?
2) If you were building four forward lines based on what we have seen so far in 2019-20, what would those lines be?