Despite the Hurricanes winning ways that continued on Tuesday in Nashville, I opened this week by suggesting that there was a lurking problem at the center position.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe revisits that situation from a couple different angles.
Why such a big reaction to three preseason games?
Many might consider declaring a problem an overreaction to a handful of preseason games. Sebastian Aho has always started slow, and Martin Necas is young will no doubt be learning a bit as he goes.
But that said, I do think the situation is at least worth watching for a couple reasons. First, my concern with Aho stems not from a couple of scoreless games but rather from my assessment that he looks uncomfortable in the role. In his ice time thus far, he looks not interested in carrying the puck through the middle lane and into traffic. I think that could prove problematic in a way bigger than a couple slow games. Similarly, my issue with Necas’ game thus far is just how raw he looks in so many facets of the game. Certainly, he will continue to improve, but I now think rounding out his game could take some time.
The shorter version is that I think some of the issues with both players’ games are more lasting than a simple slow start.
Could things just turn for the better?
I think especially in the case of Aho that the answer is yes. After a slow start (for both actually) separated, I am eager to see Aho and Teravainen reunited in game action this weekend. Neither’s ability to advance the puck is predicated on a power forward type of skill set to make space at the offensive blue line. Rather, they seemed to mesh well navigating offensive zone entry late last season by working as a tandem. So might the version of Aho that plays with Teravainen just suddenly look more comfortable in a center role? I think the possibility is there.
With Necas, I think my biggest concern with him is that he has not looked as dynamic as I would have hoped offensively. My hope for him entering training camp was that he would look NHL-ready offensively which would offset the deficiencies in other parts of his game as a 19-year old. That could still happen, and the biggest thing with Necas is just how early he is in his development such that he could suddenly make large strides once he acclimates and settles in.
What would I do?
The other question that follows from Monday is what I would do given the situation. With Victor Rask on the shelf long-term, the team is short on options internally such that the team might be forced to push forward with the current group at least initially for lack of a better option.
What I would do is this…
Stick with Sebastian Aho. Based on his level of play as a playmaking center at lower levels, I have to believe that he has the skill set necessary to be a good NHL scoring line center. How long it will take to get there is maybe a bit in question right now, but I do not think much has really changed with Aho’s capability. Especially with lack of other options right now, I would reattach him to Teravainen and invest the time to let Aho figure it out.
Watch Margin Necas closely. I think Martin Necas is a more difficult situation to sort out. Not too far in the Hurricanes rearview mirror is a mistake pushing Elias Lindholm up into the NHL based on summertime talk that trumped actual on-ice readiness. Also in the rearview mirror is the failed development of the defensive part of Jeff Skinner’s game after a strong start scoring-wise skipped CHL and AHL time in lieu of a jump straight to the NHL. I think it makes sense to give Necas some kind of regular season NHL audition, but I also think it is critical that the objectively assess whether that is the best thing for his long-term development.
Build around Lucas Wallmark. If the team is playing to win and not just develop players in October like it should, I see Wallmark as more any situation ready than Necas. As such, I would consider building a trustworthy line around him such that it can be used behind Staal’s line especially on the road.
Not add less than what the team has. One question that comes up is whether the Hurricanes should consider adding a center from outside the organization. I would consider a trade for a legitimate top 6 center if the price was right, but I would not bother adding a low-end depth center. I just do not see such a player as being an upgrade over just winging it with the youth. And if the team wants to start swap in a depth center, best would just be to move Jordan Martinook into that slot versus adding a similar player to the mix.
Eager to see what Brind’Amour does this weekend
With only two preseason games remaining and a roster that should shrink again by then, this weekend’s line combinations and usage should provide a good indication of what Brind’Amour is currently thinking in that regard.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How do you see the center position shaking out for opening night?
2) On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being no concern at all and 10 being very concerned, how do you feel about the Carolina Hurricanes’ center position right now?
1) the plan appears to be what you described, with Aho – Staal – Necas – Wallmark. The next in line appears to Martinook, who I thought looked good at center last week. However last night he was not as visible.
On second consideration it may have been the Foegele effect. Foegele makes whoever he plays with better. Last week Martinook, last night Bishop.
Speaking of Foegele, I haven’t bought a new canes sweater since they traded for Rod Brind’Amour. Foegele leads by example in much the same way as RBA did. A Foegele sweater would look good in my closet beside the RBA. A Williams sweater (with a “C”) may also deserve a spot.
I remember when RBA was acquired, local media asked why he worked out so hard. He said physical condition is one of the few things that a player completely controls, so why wouldn’t it be absolutely the best it can be? This philosophy has already had an immediate effect on guys like Faulk and Darling.
2) Based on what I’ve seen in the preseason, maybe a 6. At least one of Aho or Necas will step up, and we have other options until Rask’s return. Sometimes an injury makes you deeper and better once the injured returns.
Plus, our prospects are looking so good I would hesitate to trade any of them,
After last night, I’m only really concerned about the FO% of our squad. It’s an area that gave us an advantage and really can’t give away any of those. Wallmark can, quite frankly play on just about any line adequately. He’ll not really hurt you anywhere and seems to mesh with whomever. Recall last season he even got a few turns with Sea Bass and Turbo. He’s smart and shifty and that helps make up for his lack of speed.
What I think the organization sees is that guys like McKegg, Bishop, and Roy are alternatives on the 4th line if necessary. I think Aho easily grabs the 1C position and makes it his own. I think you’ll see TT and one of Zykov or Svechnikov on that first line and it will gel nicely. Staal’s like will likely have Williams and either Svech or McGinn on it. Ferland, Necas, and whichever Russian isn’t on the 1st line will make up our 3rd line (substitute Foegele for Ferland if his play continues as it has been). The 4th line then is comprised of 3 of Foegele, Martinook, Wallmark, and/or DiGiuseppe.
Finally, I could see a scenario where Rod rotated guys in and out of the press box to keep them fresh (not as punishment for poor play). Guys like Necas, Svechnikov, Foegele, Wallmark, and Zykov will be exposed to rigors they’ve not yet experienced. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if they played closer to 70 games than 82. Same holds true for a few of the defenders. If Brind’Amour let it be known that it was for maintenance, not for performance, it would be an interesting option.
My concern level for centers is at 7. Outside of goalie, center is biggest question mark. Aho-Staal-Necas-Wallmark makes the most sense right now.
Given the team’s options, Aho almost has to be at C to start the year. I think he’ll feel more at ease when paired with TT. Guessing Zykov is the other wing. Hopefully the 3 still have chemistry.
I’ll be interested to see the wingers that RBA puts with Staal. I would put at least 1 rookie with him because Staal always lifts the play of linemates. Svech or Foegele make a lot of sense to me. I guess it depends how much you need Staal to lead a defense first line. Hell, Foegele-Staal-Svech could be a lot of fun to watch.
Necas needs to be with talented players who can cover for his growing pains, but who can finish and score goals. Perhaps Williams and Ferland?
Wallmark with Martinook and McGinn could be a really nice defensive focused line that can add some secondary scoring.
It’s too early to worry about Aho and agree with the consensus that Wallmark is quite capable in many situations. I realize it’s only the pre-season, but our forecheck has been relentless and a real strength and highly disruptive and it’s been on all four lines. Figuring out how to balance the lines so that continues into the regular season after the cuts to hungry players have been made will go a long ways towards masking any deficiencies at Center – it has so far.
Did anyone notice the the 2nd period last night seemed more physical and chippy than your run-on-the-mill pre-season game? I got the sense that NSH was upset with us (or themselves) for how we controlled play. That is a recipe for success.
Given what I’ve seen so far this preseason, it’s the biggest risk area after goaltending. Still, I am very excited to see us carried this style of play into the regular season. We just look like a different team.
dmiller, I did notice the level of intensity and agree. That is a very good sign. I was concerned NAS would take the game over then but they did not, we rose to it.
1) I also believe Aho – Staal – Necas – Wallmark
2) 5. Necas has already shown he can play against high end competition. I do believe he will be watched closely and will probably be involved the first 10 games. If RBA thinks he is not cutting it, then maybe we bring in Martinook. I am totally against using our D depth to bring in a 4th line guy. If any trade is made it has to be a significant center. It will cost us dearly to do that. I really do not want to trade the present version of Faulk. Hamilton and Faulk on the PP looks very deadly. The real Faulk appears to be back.
Agree Aho – Staal – Necas – Wallmark are the best bet.
Not a big point with Lindholm in Calgary, but I question whether playing Lindholm too soon was the issue in his development. After several years, I think the issue was drafting him too high.
My concern is at 9 when I think of the Canes’ centers in isolation compared to centers on playoff teams. There will be two rookies and a first-line center with a few games as an NHL player at the position. That should be a recipe for disaster. But my concern falls to 5 when I think of Aho, Staal, Necas and Wallmark centering four lines that play hard and fast on a team with more speed, grit and high-end skill (Svechnikov, Hamilton, Necas) than recent Canes’ teams.
The more I think about this, the more I think the Canes have to shuffle forwards to give Necas the best chance to center a successful scoring line. Reunited with Zykov and Teravainen, Aho will be OK. His line will be able to hold its own against not all but most top lines. Staal’s line will play great defense and score some goals but not be a real scoring line. Wallmark can succeed on the fourth line because it doesn’t have to score 60 goals for the Canes to succeed and the Canes have a lot of capable forwards for that line’s role.
But for the Canes to succeed, Necas does have to center a successful scoring line. Not many rookies can do that. The Canes should give him linemates with size and speed, at least one able to crash the net and at least one able to finish. It’s the other guys on Necas’ line who have to score most of the goals. If the other guys can keep up with Necas and get open, he’ll get them the puck. The other guys will also have to bail Necas out at times in the Canes’ end.