Today’s Daily Cup of Joe has a mix of Canes lineup considerations as the team prepares for the playoffs.
Morgan Geekie’s play over the past few games has been eye-opening. He has turned the makeshift fourth line into a scoring threat with his playmaking. Brind’Amour seems to have a preference for sand paper and grit at the bottom of the lineup, but why not that with a bit of scoring? All of Jordan Martinook, Cedric Paquette and Steven Lorentz who have logged minutes in the C4 slot bring more in terms of the physical element, but none of that group brings much in terms of playmaking. Without playmaking in the center slot, the line figures to be very limited in terms of scoring. If the Canes can get healthy at the forward position, can Brind’Amour have his cake (wanting a physical fourth line) and eat it too (getting bit more offense) by putting Geekie between a couple grinding wings? If Brock McGinn gets pushed down to the fourth line, he is well above average in terms of finishing ability for a fourth-liner. Jesper Fast also has a nose for the net. I do not think slotting Geekie on the fourth line matches Brind’Amour’s ideal vision for that line, but is he the best option for a fourth center if surrounded by the right players?
My appreciation for the importance of Brady Skjei to make the blue line work has grown considerably by watching the team play without him. The version of the Hurricanes that first made the playoffs under Brind’Amour had great depth defensively. Calvin de Haan who had been capable as a #4 defenseman during the front part of the regular season, he was pushed to #5 once things settled out in the second half of the season. But he played some in the top 4 when Hamilton hit a rough patch in the playoffs. And beyond that veteran Trevor van Riemsdyk who was having a solid season could also have been serviceable in the #4 slot if injuries necessitated it. Fast forward to today, and I am not sure any of the Canes defensemen past Skjei would prove good enough in a top 4 role for an extended run in the playoffs. Jake Gardiner looked much better early in 2020-21, but he has not refound that level since returning from injury. Jake Bean has long-term upside as an offense-leaning defenseman at least in the third pairing, but he has struggled on the defensive side of the puck of late. Newcomer Jani Hakanpaa has hit the ground running and maybe is a bit steadier defensively than the other two options, but I think he would be overslotted in a regular top 4 role. In my opinion, the player who maybe had the best chance of stepping into a higher role was Haydn Fleury. Fleury is a bit like Skjei in that his game is not as consistent sound as ideal, but he is physically capable of skating against higher-end NHL forwards, and with Brett Pesce to help has a high enough ceiling that it is possible. I continue to think that adding Hakanpaa was a positive move, but as I said previously I think the potential error was giving up Fleury instead of a mid-round draft pick. People continue to talk about the Hurricanes blue line depth, but I think that looks backward in time a bit and overstates the team’s ability to back fill a top 4 slot if needed.
Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov
The key to depth scoring in the playoffs could rest with finding good slots for young guns Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov. Both players have very high ceilings offensively, and both have also played stretches in 2020-21 when they were every bit of a bona fide top line scoring forward. But players are still very young at 22 (Necas) and 21 years old and have had stretches where they drifted a bit. If Brind’Amour can find combinations that maximize their productivity, the Hurricanes are deep in terms of goal scoring. If the reverse is true and both players are quiet offensively in the playoffs, the team suddenly looks a bit shallow offensively.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Once the Hurricanes have a full slate of forwards available, would you still consider slotting Morgan Geekie in the fourth line center slot aiming for a bit more offense? If not, who do you like that slot?
2) Do you agree with my assessment of the importance of Brady Skjei (and really all of the top 4 defensemen) to build out a capable top 4 on defense? Which, if any, of the other options (Gardiner, Bean, Hakanpaa) would you consider capable of stepping into the #4 slot?
3) Once the Canes are healthy, where would you slot Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov to maximize their playoff productivity?
As far as Geekie goes, I will say it depends. Geekie still struggles against faster teams like TB. Teams like Dallas are good for him. I don’t think he’s done as well as a centreman as Brind’amour has usually used him at wing with Laurentz in the middle. I think he needs a bit more strength to handle the defensive role of centerman, but I could see him getting some starts in the playoffs.
Watching Gardiner play defense against top lines isn’t pretty. He may not match up with Slavin and Pesce, but they need Brady Skjei. Bean played much better last night. Looked like he was miffed he was scratched, but he had been pretty blah the past several weeks. Needs to learn to bring it every night.
I think Necas and Svechnikov are where they are going to be. I think Fast moves back in with Staal or Trocheck when he returns. If everyone is healthy I think the fourth line is Martinook, McGinn and Laurentz. McGinn and Martinook will float up a line or two if someone isn’t going and Laurentz may sit a game here and there for Pauquette and Geekie.
1. All of Martinook, McGinn, and Fast were out last night. The three players they replace are pretty obviously McCormick, Geekie, Lorentz. I mentioned this in another thread, but while RBA has done a near-perfect job, his commitment to veterans might not be ideal for the playoffs. I think both Geekie (as you mention) and Lorentz (who lessthan is correct has mostly been the C with Geekie at RW) add some youthful enthusiasm. Both seem to be finding their offense, which is understandable given they are rookies.
As lessthan also mentioned Bean looked good last night. But I am pretty sure when Skjei comes back he will sit or at best split time with Gardiner. Not sure if that makes the team better.
2. Look at the history of the 2nd pairing the past few years. Faulk was struggling, then he was paired with Pesce and they actually took the toughest matchups when the Canes were surging in Feb/March 2019. Rangers’ fans suggested that Skjei was an average-at-best defender–paired with Pesce he is playing terrific in his own end. While just one game, Bean was better than solid paired with Pesce. That is a long way of saying I like any reasonable D with Pesce because Pesce is just that good. My preference would be for Bean due to his offensive upside.
3. I would like to see in the next few games Svech/Aho/Necas. The latter have shown some great chemistry and Svech is regaining his scoring touch. That would allow Teravainen, who is a great distributor, to join Trocheck and Niederreiter who are both finishers. If those lines don’t work, then SAT/NTN for the playoffs.