Today’s Daily Cup Joe considers options for building the Canes top two forward lines.
The rest of the forward group
As long as the team is healthy, I like Derek Stepan centering Jordan Martinook and Steven Lorentz for the fourth line. Brind’Amour likes to bump Martinook up the depth chart for short stretches when the team is flat and needs a spark and has received decent returns from doing so. But neither Martinook nor Lorentz bring enough offensively to be a regular top 9 forward on a deep team.
I also like Jordan Staal and Jesper Fast as two-thirds of a line that is difficult to play against and leans a bit defense. I like Nino Niederreiter as a third who gives the line two horses capable of cycling and making skilled opponent lines spend their 40-50 seconds just grinding on the walls far away from opposing scoring chances. That said, I would not hesitate to bump Niederreiter up into the top 6 if he can provide a scoring boost be it short-term or even more permanently.
But for now let’s assume Niederreiter stays where he is while Brind’Amour tries to find a working combination for the top two lines.
Building the top two lines
That leaves Sebastian Aho and Vincent Trocheck at center and Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen, Martin Necas and Jesperi Kotkaniemi to build two scoring lines.
Version 1.0 tried Sebastian Aho centering Martin Necas and Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Vincent Trocheck centering Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen. That configuration seemed to be a nod to Brind’Amour’s bias toward going with balance versus a top-heavy approach. Of the four wings, Svechnikov, Necas and Teravainen were comparable in terms of point production in 2020-21 with 0.76, 0.77 and 0.71 points per game with Kotkaniemi clocking in less than half that at 0.36 points per game. In addition, Teravainen and even Svechnikov are a bit more seasoned. If Brind’Amour wanted to go top-heavy and build the best top scoring line possible, that would include two from Svechnikov, Teravainen and Necas, and I think likely the first two.
But two things are in play. First, Brind’Amour and the team in general want to give Kotkaniemi favorable ice time with the hope of getting him off to a good start to build confidence in his new environment. Second is Brind’Amour’s historical bias for balance.
But with the team struggling a bit in the middle of the second game versus Nashville, Brind’Amour quickly shuffled the deck and netted a goal for his efforts. It will be interesting to see what lines emerge on Thursday and maybe even more so how quickly he is apt to adjust early in the season.
With the team now having enough scoring depth such that the second line will have a very good set of leftovers even if the first line is top-heavy, I lean toward building the best first scoring line possible and going from there. I think a trio of Teravainen/Aho/Svechnikov should be good enough to produce even if opposing coaches match up against them on the road. If not, that is the goal and the next step for that group.
And with Staal’s line capable of matching up against anyone, that puts Trocheck and Necas together with Brind’Amour able to try to cherry pick some mismatches against less mobile bottom defense pairings. Harkening back to days of old, the 2005-06 Hurricanes were similarly deep and did this with the Whitney/Cullen/LaRose line who were a horrible match ups for skating/mobility-limited defense pairings. Getting Trocheck and Necas on the ice for 5-8 shifts per game against lesser defense pairings will net scoring production.
Where I land
So if it were me…
Teravainen/Aho/Svechnikov — Build the most formidable line you can and challenge that group to be the best line on the ice every night, even on the road against tough match ups that single them out.
Kotkaniemi/Trocheck/Necas — Use this line to prey on teams’ lesser defense pairings and forwards. Both Trocheck and Necas can play fast and aggressive and Kotkaniemi should be a complementary finisher if they create chances off the rush.
Niederreiter/Staal/Fast — This line does some of the heavy lifting defensively and is what makes it possible to cherry pick match ups for Trocheck’s line.
Martinook/Stepan/Lorentz — Stepan boosts this line, but it is still the fourth line and should be used accordingly.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on aiming a bit more for balance with Kotkaniemi/Aho/Necas and Teravainen/Trocheck/Svechnikov for the top two lines?
2) How would you change things (if at all)?
I like the idea and I think Thursday’s matchup might be the perfect time and place to try it out.
The Canadien’s weakest link is their D, particularly the lack of mobility on D, so they make for a good test. They will be desperate (they’e off to their worst start since the 90s).
Also, if Kotkaniemi wants to prove himself against any club, it would likely be the club that failed to resign him for the majority of the offseason.
I’m still hoping to see that Kotkaniemi is the real deal vs. TD’s expensive revenge.
I know it’s only two games and guys like Aho, Necas and Svech needed their time to get going, but this club is paying top dollar for this kid, more than many bonified NHL scorers are making.
Other than his draft pedigree, he’s done nothing to warrant such a high price.
On the other hand, if anyone can get the best out of him, it would be old Brindie.