RALEIGH, NC - When you look around the National Hockey League, you see certain teams that center their offenses around one player. Certain teams are reliant upon one outstanding line. Other lineups have young players thrust into roles with high expectations, simply hoping they're capable of meeting them.
The Carolina Hurricanes are none of those.
"Depth" is going to be the word you'll be hearing a lot of this season.
To this point in camp we've seen a variety of different combinations, but for the sake of the article, let's say that the club rolls out this lineup Thursday night for the regular season opener:
(Please note that the following is reflective as of Monday morning, October 11, with Vincent Trocheck being on IR and precluding any transactions that may take place Monday-Wednesday)
Line 1: Andrei Svechnkov - Sebastian Aho - Martin Necas
Line 2: Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Vincent Trocheck - Teuvo Teravainen
Line 3: Nino Niederreiter - Jordan Staal - Jesper Fast
Line 4: ??? - Derek Stepan - Jordan Martinook
Okay, obviously a glaring vacancy on the fourth line, but we'll get to that in a second. At this point it feels comfortable to say that those mentioned above will be locked in the lineup, so let's discuss them.
First things first, the dynamic amount of skill sticks out, especially from the top six.
Canes fans are an intelligent group, most of you know by now the electricity that Andrei Svechnikov brings night in and night out. He's only getting better, too. Similar things can be said about Sebastian Aho, who appears to be hitting his stride on all levels and playing prime hockey. As for Martin Necas? Look at his career trajectory to date. His first year in the American Hockey League, he took control. He produced at the NHL level in his first year here. He continued that same production and improved defensively last year. It's almost hard to fathom how he can get better this year, but boy, would that be fun to see. If he can take another step, buckle up.
In regards the second group, I think we're all excited to see what Jesperi Kotkaniemi is going to do here in Raleigh. He's shown some great things in the preseason games he played in, but more than that, it's just about a perfect storm for the 21-year-old forward. He's getting a new opportunity in a place that he seems to be enjoying and he's in a contract year after all. Surely the organization is more focused on seeming him become comfortable as opposed to instantly dissecting how contract negotiations will go, because of course, with comfort can come elevated performance. Oh yeah, and in addition to all of that, he moves to the wing, a new role for him, which takes some pressure off. Again, perfect storm.
Having Vincent Trocheck as the team's second line center is a blessing as well. A consistent performer and strong in the faceoff dot, it's hard to say that he's not a perfect fit for that role. Tag along Teuvo Teravainen, another offensive weapon, and the skill mixed with production on the top six is salivating.
Feeling good yet?
The third line screams responsibility. You'd be hard-pressed to find players steadier than Nino Niederreiter and Jordan Staal. Jordan's high character and leadership capabilities are well-documented and Nino is coming off a very strong season in which he returned to 20-goal scorer status. Need some speed to go with that structure? Who better than a guy whose last name is Fast.
Now, the fourth line is where things get a bit juicy. First, those are two strong veterans in Derek Stepan and Jordan Martinook. Both fulfilling valuable roles on special teams as well, Stepan's situation is similar to that of Kotkaniemi. Hear me out on that. Last year in Ottawa, on paper, is a throwaway year for the now 31-year-old. The team struggled and he got hurt before he really got a chance to get settled in. In six of his ten years in the league he's finished with more than 50 points. We can't guarantee he's going to publish that same count this year, but one would have to think that life should be a bit easier for him with some of the fourth line matchups. Martinook brings that sandpaper that every team needs. Another high character guy, he provides that element of simple hockey with a bit of grit. He'll get pucks in, chase them down and bang bodies. Glancing back at that top of the lineup, quite frankly, someone like this is needed. A little "don't mess with us" if you will.
Who (again, for the sake of the article) skates with Stepan and Martinook? Well, that door remains open. The candidates are:
- Steven Lorentz - Lorentz played his first full season at the NHL level this year, potting eight points in 45 games. Could he provide more now that his toes are wet in the league? He scored in last Tuesday night's preseason action and would be a nice testament to the organization's overall development, working his way up from the ECHL after being drafted
- Seth Jarvis - The buzz of all lineup decision-related questions, the 19-year-old has clearly made life difficult, in a good way, for coaches and management. The easy decision would've been for him to come here, get a brief taste, show progress and head back to Portland to terrorize the Western Hockey League. He's exceeded that though, to the point where it's felt that there is serious consideration for him to be in this lineup. He may not be playing along Stepan and Martinook if that's the case, but if shuffling around the lineup to fit a dangerously skilled high-end forward in is as troublesome as it gets, that's quite alright.
- Jack Drury - While Jarvis received a great deal of the attention in camp, Jack Drury let everybody know that there was more than just one prospect in camp for the duration. Playing in Sweden last season after having nothing left to get prove at Harvard, Drury put up nearly a point-per-game playing against grown men on international ice. It's almost already become a scenario that he's proven he can play at every level and handle every challenge thrown at him. As of this moment, three days before the season opener, he's still on the active roster as well…
The Next Men Up
(The following is as of Monday morning, prior to the three below players clearing waivers.)
- Stefan Noesen - Since 2016 he's played NHL games for Anaheim, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Toronto. Going through waivers a couple times previously, Noesen is a force at the AHL level. He has good hands, looks bigger than his listed 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and proven that he can play in lineups up top. A tremendous option to have waiting in the wings.
- Josh Leivo - Entering his ninth year as a pro, Leivo has been a full-time NHL player for the past four seasons. He has value and proved long ago that he can handle big roles in the American Hockey League. Another NHL-ready option just waiting on a phone call.
- C.J. Smith - Another "fresh face in a new place", Smith did a good job of becoming noticed this preseason. A pair of goals in Tampa and another point last Tuesday against Nashville, Smith is playing simple hockey, something that he believes aligns well with his game and what Brind'Amour is looking for. #47 may very well find himself back in Carolina at least once this year.
No matter who fills the last spot up top, there's a ton to be excited about in regards to this lineup.
This group could produce some serious magic this season.
Worth A Click
Recap: Canes Conclude Preseason in Nashville
Chinn Pays Homage to Brind'Amour
Canes Assign Three Players to Chicago