The Role of Experimental Lines in the Canes Preseason
I am looking forward to seeing creative experimentation in the Canes lines during the pre-season. With the abundance of young forward players, the coaches/GM hopefully will be showcasing youth and figuring out which players work best with each other. In past pre-seasons, the coaches/GM had the veteran players split essentially into two groups and then paired veterans with young players. I hope that pattern will continue during this pre-season.
Here are some experimental line combinations I would like to see during some pre-season shifts and perhaps into the regular season. More line variations are possible and likely. In fact, the more I worked on these combinations, the more permutations and variations I started to envision. Here are versions for the Staal and the Sutter lines.
STAAL LINE VARIATIONS:
The reason cited for drafting Boychuk was that he was slotted to fill Whitney's place as first line wing. I would like to see how far along Boychuk is in that development. I think Staal will do his best work with at least one blazingly fast wing on his line. Jokinen may well continue to flourish with defenses having to give up space to stay up with Staal and Boychuk. Jokinen seems to make everybody better on whatever line he is on.
Hopefully, Ruutu's shoulder operation went well and he'll be 100% at the start of the pre-season. I would be interested to see if this line's ability to pound in rebounds for goals and to swarm the net would cause havoc for opposing teams.
I think this line has the potential to be almost impossible to stop offensively. All three have excellent speed. All three will go to the net. Cole provides the element of a bull rush to the goalie and net presence. Cole also seems to play his best, when healthy, with Staal and with younger players.
This line could potentially create nightmares of defenses, depending on how quickly Skinner adjusts to the NHL game. If teams try to focus too much on Staal, Skinner and Jokinen may be left open to score.
Given the history of Staal playing his best with Cole and Cole's resurgence this summer at pre-camp training, I would really like to see how Skinner played on this line. Skinner seems to be the kind of player whose shots always find a way into the net; and Staal and Cole will demand attention when on the ice. Cole also generates a large number of rebounds when he puts shots on the net. Skinner is a puck magnet with great hands. It would be magic.
Again, with this line, defenses are not going to be able to take a shift off. I like the idea of Ruutu using his physical play to keep defenses honest in their dealings with Skinner. I am cautiously optimistic that Ruutu's shoulder surgery has gone well and that he is 100%.
I really am curious to see if Dalpe is as good a wing as I think he will be. He has the size, speed, hands, and vision to be a major force on a first line. I hope the coaches/GM will take a look at Dalpe on the first and second lines to assess his development to date.
Dalpe has the range and speed to be a problem for defenses. He, too, could be a very special player for the Hurricanes. My guess is that Dalpe has advanced as a player with his partial year in the NHL and that he will earn his spot on the team straight out of camp. I admit I have been a fan of Dalpe since he got on my radar during the run up to his draft year. I continue to hear various knowledgeable people in or near the Canes organization speak very, very highly of him.
This season is a crossroads season for Cole. If he plays well, I believe he will stay with the Canes until he retires. So much depends on his health. He seems to be feeling the best he has felt in years, based on the reports coming out of pre-camp training. He also seems to thrive with Staal and with young, enthusiastic players. He also seems to take very seriously his role as the power forward who keeps other teams honest in their play when the young players are on the ice.
I'd like to get a glimpse of the chemistry in this line. Skinner looks like the wing of the future for Staal. Boychuk was drafted to be Whitney's replacement on the first line. I'd like to see how far along Boychuk is in his development and how his style works with the presumptive first line. Skinner seems to have that special extra talent; and although he is young, Jim Rutherford has been clear Skinner is going to get a chance to make the team out of training camp. I think, too, it is going to be helpful to see how Staal's game is influenced by being on a line with players who never let up and who are excellent at getting to pucks around the net. Boychuk's speed is at least as good as Staal's and that should allow for some 2 on 1 breakouts with Skinner working his magic as the trailing forward.
Although the publicity about Skinner and Nash has to some degree lessened the attention on Dalpe, I have a belief that Dalpe will come out of training camp with a position on some line. Dalpe has a history of exceeding expectations and has an arsenal of offensive talent that is impressive. Dalpe also has excellent speed and he has excellent size to go with his speed and skill. There is some chance Dalpe will become a scoring wing for the Hurricanes.
Tlusty has plenty of speed, size, and hockey intellect. He has yet to score as much as one would like out of a top size forward; but he has the skill sets to be an offensive threat. I think he got off to the wrong foot in Toronto and hopefully he feels more at home at Carolina. I think the coaches/GM will be trying to assess what Tlusty's upper limit is.
This is a version of the "big man's line." Tlusty has the physical skill to create havoc; and the issue is whether he can find his best game. I think Tlusty has a tremendous upside if he gains confidence and if he believes in his ability. This line has the advantage of speed as well as size.
This version is another example of a "big man's line." I could envision this line working well against some of the teams like Phoenix or Boston that use their size to out-muscle smallish forwards.
The coaches/GM seem happy with LaRose's play with Staal at the end of the season. Watching the game, LaRose's speed and abundant enthusiasm seemed to lift Staal's spirit on the ice. I suspect LaRose's chirping had some role in making Staal more energized. LaRose is certainly not a stereotypical first line wing; but productivity is what counts.
SUTTER LINE VARIATIONS:
I like the potential chemistry of this line. It also offers the coaches a second line that can serve both as an excellent defensive line, but also can score.
My impression is that Cole is very, very serious about making a statement this season. A Boychuk/Sutter/Cole line would have tremendous speed; and Cole seems to be at his best when paired with enthusiastic, younger players.
Jokinen is a player who always seems to bring out the best of the talents of his other teammates. Although I don't consider Jokinen a fiercely physical player, he does play very intelligently on defense. Offensively, this line could be extremely productive. In particular, I could envision Boychuk and Sutter creating a number of odd man rushes, with Jokinen using his craftiness to score some great one-time goals.
This year is also a crossroads year for Tlusty. He has the skill to be a significant goal scorer in the NHL. I envision with this line that the speed of the line and willingness of this line to get to the front of the net could result in Tlusty getting some impressive goals.
I really am eager to see this line in action. I tend to think it is a line that can surprise a lot of teams. If I were in charge, I'd have this line doing some work together during training camp and into some pre-season games. If the chemistry were to work, and it might well not work, some we could see some hockey magic.
I am also very interested to see this line combination. The physical skill on this line, along with the size factor, makes it a line that could be extremely difficult for opponents to stop.
If the Dalpe/Sutter combination clicks, Jokinen could add the final ingredient on this line combination.
This line is fast, strong, and solid on defense. Dalpe has a knack for finding open spots and slashing through them to score. With Sutter and Cole working hard around the net, Dalpe might well find himself getting open shots.
I like the size and speed of this line and the defensive balance.
With Sutter's skill, this line of Boychuk/Sutter/Dalpe could be a line that creates massive problems for opponents' defenses, while being extremely solid on defense. I wonder if the same kind of chemistry Boychuk and Dalpe had when on a line with Osala would be recaptured with Sutter.
LaRose/Sutter/Dalpe: LaRose does add his brand of enthusiastic, wide open throttle approach to a skilled line and the results could be great.
LaRose/Sutter/Tlusty: This line has great speed, along with solid defensive play. It is a line I would expect to see employed at times during the regular season.
LaRose/Sutter/Boychuk: I realize the size factor really could be a hindrance; but there may be enough grit and determination in the line to work wonders. I would certainly give the line a try to see what happened.