I actually wrote this initially last week but held off on finishing/posting it until after a Hurricanes win, so it would hopefully be read more as a straightforward opinion on the team’s forward personnel and not as an indictment of them.
The Hurricanes scoring woes are well-documented. The team is currently 28th in the NHL with 2.58 goals per game. I would not say that the rank is necessarily surprising. The team parted ways with Jeff Skinner and the 25-35 goals he has provided in recent years. When Skinner returned only futures and Faulk stayed, the Hurricanes more or less tried to replace Jeff Skinner’s scoring with hoped for scoring from players who had yet to score an NHL goal. Martin Necas was deemed ready to produce in the NHL as was 2018 first-round draft pick Andrei Svechnikov. When Necas struggled early and was sent to the AHL, and Svechnikov seemed destined for more of a gradual rise, the team was suddenly chock full of depth scoring but minus enough difference-making offensive catalysts.
Below is my categorization of the Hurricanes forward group. Important to note is that this is based on the here and now and not projections that look forward.
True offensive difference-makers
Sebastian Aho: Whether at wing or at forward, I think it is fair to say that Aho has established himself as a top line scoring forward. He seems destined for a point per game in 2018-19. Important to note is that I do not see any other player on the roster as currently being a true difference-maker.
Complementary top 6 scoring forwards
Teuvo Teravainen: Teravainen fits nicely with Aho, has a broad enough skill set to play in the top 6, but I still view him as being only a complementary player and not one who is capable of driving a scoring line. To be more, I think he needs to take on more of a scorer’s mentality and play like he is determined to score 30+ goals.
Micheal Ferland: Ferland is the type of player who fits incredibly well on a scoring line whose other players are the skilled/playmaking variety. Ferland came with the expectation that he could hang with a scoring line and muck it up around the crease and finish some. He does bring that skill set, but his ability to receive/finish has been significantly underrated. Skill lines do well with one player who does not need to handle the puck much to be effective. Ferland is exactly that type of player.
Solid third line forwards/depth scorers
Jordan Staal: To be clear, I think there is a case to call Staal a top 6 forward, but it must be in a lineup that gets above average scoring from its third line. But with this exercise being focused on offense/scoring, Staal’s perennial 40s for points with a bunch of ice time and regular helping of power play ice time is depth scoring level and much more third line than second line.
Andrei Svechnikov: His potential is much higher, and based on his current upward trend, it could even be reached this season. But through 32 games, his 25-goal pace is on the fence, but I am making him earn an ascension into the top 6.
Justin Williams: With his current level of mobility, I do not see Williams as an every game top 6 forward at this stage of his career. His scoring pace of under 50 points is similar to Svechnikov pushing up to the top of the third line but not quite that of a true top 6 forward.
Lower third line / fourth line so far in 2018-19
Lucas Wallmark: Wallmark has settled in nicely at the NHL level. He reminds me of Victor Rask when he broke in as a player who was sound in terms of positioning and decision-making. And he is a player who has offensive upside from where he is right now, but calling it like it is his 30ish-point place with power play time included is really light for a third line center.
Victor Rask: Following a tough 2017-18 season offensively, Rask has been slow out of the gate offensively again in 2018-19 after being delayed by injury. He is on pace for 14 points right now.
Clark Bishop: Bishop has settled nicely as a consistently physical forward and capable checking line center. But based on both his development prior to this year and also his play in 2018-19, he is limited offensively and really old school fourth line scoring-wise.
Warren Foegele: After a fast start, he crashed back to earth in a big way. The real version of Foegele should be somewhere in the middle, but his skill set is more that of a great checking line forward than a pure scorer.
Phil Di Giuseppe: He brings consistent physical play and seemingly has more skill/scoring than he has ever really produced at the NHL level. Until shown otherwise, Di Giuseppe is a capable fourth line forward offensively and not more.
Brock McGinn: He scored goals at a higher pace last year, but I still put his game roughly in the same category as players like Di Giuseppe and Martinook who can contribute offensively but are probably a bit light for a third line role in today’s NHL.
Jordan Martinook: It will be interesting to track the rest of his 2018-19 season. Right now, he is the 2017-18 McGinn on this team scoring goals at a higher rate than projected for him and very good for his role that includes no power play ice time. Based on history and skill set, I view a player like Martinook as being a great depth scorer for a fourth line but not truly third line-capable over the long haul on a playoff caliber hockey team.
Netting it out
Especially when one considers Janne Kuokkanen’s capable play and players like Martin Necas in the AHL who should help soon, the Hurricanes have become deeper at the forward position. The team could probably pull a #13, #14 and #15 forward from the AHL and not lose too much if replacing the fourth line. But the team is still significantly short on true top end talent and (here I go again) in need of at least one more playmaking/offensive catalyst type forward who can fuel a second scoring line.
Give me a playmaking center who can generate offense and suddenly Jordan Staal becomes the third line offensively (still first checking line with top defensive responsibilities) and there is less of a spotlight on his scoring. Note that there is no guarantee and the schedule is unknown, but Martin Necas does project to be this type of player.
Give me one more pure finisher who is capable of 30 goals if given enough opportunities. Andrei Svechnikov projects to be exactly this type of player, and he has made strides in that regard recently. But the question is how long it will take him to mature and reach such a a high level.
Those two changes make all the difference in the world. With them, the Hurricanes suddenly have two legitimate scoring lines. But without them, the Hurricanes offense is a top scoring line and then three depth scoring lines.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you disagree with my right now assessment for any of the players?
2) Do you think the current organizational depth chart can generate a couple more true top 6 forwards (not players who might be that someday) soon enough, or do you think the team needs to look outside for a trade or free agent addition next summer?
3) Which of the young Hurricanes forwards either included in the bottom tier or not included at all do you see as becoming top 6 scoring forwards in the NHL within the next two years?