Recently watching the Canes defense with and without Jaccob Slavin in the lineup was eye opening. No doubt, there is an element of the randomness of NHL teams from game to game that is a part of it, but there is also an element of the Hurricanes being a significantly better team with Slavin on the ice. He eats up so many minutes against the other teams’ best players and makes it look easy nearly every shift. That adds a top end player, but there is also a boost that he gives his defense partner that makes him better too.
In that vein, today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers one opinion on making a short, ranked list of irreplaceable Canes players:
1) Jaccob Slavin
Partly because he is anchoring the top 4 pairing that needs a newcomer to fill Dougie Hamilton’s big shoes, Slavin ranks first for me. He leads the team in ice time by nearly two minutes over Brett Pesce and has shown the ability to play nearly half of a regulation game pushing up to 27-28 minutes when needed in a pinch. In general, I think having a solid top 4 defensively will be critical to post-season success, and Slavin is the top dog in that regard.
2) Brett Pesce
Sticking with the defense theme, I would rank Brett Pesce as second most irreplaceable. I think there is a drop off in after Slavin and Pesce such that they both are critical to making one of the top two pairings work. Though most Canes fans appreciate him appropriately, I think Pesce is still underrated in broader hockey circles. Though not dynamic offensively, he is steady and capable of holding his own against the NHL’s best on an every shift basis.
3) Sebastian Aho
As the team’s top scorer, offensive player and forward in general, Sebastian Aho is #3 on this list. He plays an integral role on the top line, even strength scoring and both special teams units. His absence would leave a sizable gap that would be difficult to fill just by bumping everyone up a notch. Minus Aho the challenge would be for Jesperi Kotkaniemi to step into a role on a top scoring line. While that has the potential to work based on his play at center lower in the lineup, the team is still just so much better with Aho in the middle of a number of things forward-wise.
4) Frederik Andersen
After a little bit of a slow start, Antti Raanta has settled in nicely with a few bumps in the road injury-wise. Because of that, I admit putting Andersen at #4 is debatable, but two things in that regard…First, I do think Andersen has been the better of the two overall. Second, goaltending is critical in high stakes match ups like the playoffs. Because of that, I put Andersen as fourth most irreplaceable on the Hurricanes’ roster.
If pressed to make a longer list, in consideration would be Brady Skjei for being the third of four players needed to build a capable blue line, Andrei Svechnikov for being arguably the team’s best scoring wing with the ability to play a power forward game or finish with skill and then also Teuvo Teravainen who is arguably the team’s most versatile and well-rounded wing. Teravainen is top-tier defensively, a great puck distributor and capable of scoring when he pulls the trigger. Whether Vincent Trocheck is considered here would depend on if one things Kotkaniemi could fill a second line center slot effectively. And whether Jordan Staal is considered here would depend on if you think he can find something closer to the 2020-21 scoring machine version of himself that makes more than just a solid checking line center.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on my top 4 irreplaceable Canes players? What changes would you make?
2) What are your thoughts on the next tier that I included as honorable mentions?
It really was interesting to watch the team without Slavin and then again with him. He is top on my list, too. For me, the “importance” gap between Slavin vs. the rest of the defense to Aho vs. the rest of the offense is wide.
Given that gap, I would be willing to give up some futures to add another Top 4 defender for a playoff run, preferably for longer term (like the Skjei deal) but even a rental. It’s almost a necessity.
1. Jacob Slavic for reasons mentioned. Impossible to replace.
2. Sebastian Aho. Does most everything as the 1C. Almost no holes in his game. A star. Almost impossible to replace.
3. Jordan Staal. There is so much more to hockey than scoring. Staal does all of that. One of the Canes few physical presences. Trying to stop the other team’s top line without him will be difficult. Guys like him are hard to find.
4. Frederick Anderson. Hard to have a good team without a good goalie and Anderson has been very good. Replaceable, but at great cost.
Brett Pesce. I like him. He’s a nice defenseman at a good price, but replaceable. I also think his game is deteriorating a bit. As he ages his mobility has suffered. Not great as the game gets faster and faster. Unpopular opinion for sure, but is my opinion.
Your comment on Pesce’s mobility is an interesting one and something I have been watching closely of late.
During the 2021 playoffs, he and Skjei logged a ton of ice time when Slavin was out and the overtime games piled on. I do not think Pesce was nearly at the same level versus Tampa Bay. My hunch was that he was banged up with some lower body injury simply because I thought he went so quickly from being at the top of his game to either being a half step slow or very cautious jumping up to challenge the puck. Might just have been that he was worn out from playing so many minutes.
Fast forward to regular season 2021-22, and Pesce has generally been his reliable self. But one thing I notice is that his gaps seem a bit bigger when defending one-on-one versus the puck. Lately, I have been counting 2-3 times per game where players get shots off through him that I feel like he would normally be able to close on and take away shooting lane (usually with stick). So getting to the point, I too have been sort of watching Pesce in terms of mobility and his history of aggressively stepping up to challenge the puck. (In my opinion, that is what he and Slavin both do defensively as well as anyone in the NHL when they are on their games.)
The potential career trajectory to fear is that of Justin Faulk. As a strapping you kid, Faulk was more than strong enough to enter/win 1-on-1 battles at the NHL level and had great mobility for a defenseman that could claim the big/strong/physical mold. Expectations for a great young 20-21-year defenseman are that they will just keep getting better as the get bigger and stronger. But while Faulk’s game grew offensively, I think it decreased defensively. I think what maybe happened was that the wiry strong version of Faulk at 20 or 21 years old was actually better built for the NHL because he was faster, more mobile, more agile and that whatever he gained from becoming even bigger stronger did not really add that much. Important to note is that there was also definitely an element of the team just being poor during these growth years for Faulk such that he was often without a lot of help trying to be a #1 defenseman in the NHL which is hard. His game took a nice step up when the team suddenly became deeper after adding de Haan and Hamilton such that Faulk only had to be 1/2 of a top 4 pairing not carry one and even had the chance to hide in a #5 slot a bit when he hit a slump. But again getting to the point after being long-winded :-), I think the risk for Pesce could be that he too was one of those guys who was physically ready very young/ahead of schedule and is/was actually better-suited physically as a 21-24 year old than he is as a 26-30-year old.
To be clear, Pesce has still generally been a solid defender in 2021-22, so if in fact there has been a decline, it has been small. But at the same time, I have seen enough plays that seem uncharacteristic of his play at peak level to watch him a bit more closely to see if there is in fact a consistent trend.
I agree with you. I didn’t mean to trash Pesce as he is a very good defenseman. Just comparing him with the Canes most valuable players.
Jordan Staal has been a key player for years, C, and one of the best defensive centers in the NHL.
But, and it’s becoming a big but, he’s got 2 goals in 40+ games, a pace of 5 goals a season, which is not enough for a third line center, let alone a second line center. His defensive acumin is key to the PK etc. but father time (and the wear and tear of playing so many NHL games) is catching up with him such that it feels like it’s time to consider passing the torch when his contract is up. This is pretty much a last chance for him to get some cup glory.
We have other glue guys like Martinook and Fast. I don’t know how the Canes locker room works but I think we’re approaching a complete changing of the guards: The kids are taking over.
Not arguing that Staal’s offensive output has been poor. He seems to have left his hands in 2020. Still, the Canes have no other centermen capable of doing what he does defensively, which is why I rate him as high as I do. You aren’t winning a cup without a stud defensive centerman and Jordan Staal is still that. Hopefully he’ll find his hands in 2022.