It may not be at the top of the offseason to-do list, but the Hurricanes’ fourth line tends to look radically different from season to season. At times, it can change from game to game.
To some extent, both of those trends should continue from now through training camp. It’s entirely possible that none of the three players who start there next season are currently under contract to do so. Such is the clean slate that the team has to work with.
With that in mind, a number of familiar faces will be in contention to fill those roles. The most likely holdover candidate is Patrick Dwyer, who finished last season centering that unit following the departure of Ryan Carter via trade in March. However, if he returns, it likely won’t be in that exact spot.
“We put him in different situations, but he’s not a natural center,” said Rutherford of Dwyer, who will become an unrestricted free agent if not re-signed prior to July 1. “We’d like to get him back to being the fourth-line right winger.”
With Rutherford having already stated his intention to bring in a new center via free agency to help with faceoffs and penalty killing, a handful of internal candidates would remain to fill out the left side. They could include the likes of Troy Bodie, Jerome Samson, Brett Sutter and Jiri Tlusty – all of whom saw time with the Hurricanes last season. While others, such as Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk and Zac Dalpe will also be battling for jobs, their spots will likely be higher in the lineup.
Of the group contending for fourth-line jobs, Tlusty may be the most intriguing. Originally the 13th overall pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006, injuries and inconsistency have limited his development. As he’s set to become a restricted free agent once again, the Hurricanes may elect to essentially give him a do-over on the one-year pact he signed last season for the league minimum of $500,000.
“We’ll look to do a one-year deal with him,” said Rutherford of Tlusty, who missed most of training camp while recovering from knee surgery and went on to suffer a shoulder injury just when he was staring to produce offensively. “We had him pegged last year to be in our top nine, but then he ended up in the top 12 and I think that’s where he’s going to have to start – as a fourth line player. There’s still an upside to him because he’s a very smart player.”
Provided the Hurricanes field a healthy lineup, competition could be fierce between Tlusty and the likes of Samson, whose grinding style worked well in that role for the final quarter of last season, and Sutter, who is projected to fill a checking role at the NHL level despite having just led the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers in playoff scoring with 14 points (4g, 10a) in 16 games.
Although he’s spent almost all of his time with the Hurricanes on the right wing, Bodie, a restricted free agent, could be brought back to provide muscle if needed. The 6-foot-4, 213-pound Bodie, who led the team with 10 fighting majors last season, easily provides more size than the aforementioned three players, all of whom stand at an even six feet and approximately 200 pounds.
Even though Bodie sat out the final 13 games of last season as a healthy scratch, Rutherford has indicated that he may fit into team’s plans moving forward.
“I think there’s a place for Bodie in our organization,” he said.