Zac Dalpe has seen his ice time slip recently. (Photo by Jamie Kellner)
It's been a long time since the Hurricanes have had the organizational depth that they currently possess. The Charlotte Checkers currently lead the AHL's Midwest Division at 9-6-1 despite playing 11 of their 16 games on the road thus far. Justin Faulk, who was described by Canes GM Jim Rutherford in the preseason as an NHL-ready player, leads all Checkers defensemen with six points. Jon Matsumoto and Jerome Samson, both of whom have seen time with the Canes, are atop the scoring chart for Charlotte at nearly a point-per-game thus far.
Clearly, the Hurricanes organization has some skill in its pipeline.
Last night, the final question of Paul Maurice's press conference, which you can listen to here, came from Michael Smith of CarolinaHurricanes.com.
Smith: "What kept those bottom guys off the ice in the third period? Dalpe and Boychuk, specifically?"
Maurice: "What kept them off the ice?"
Smith: "Yeah, the guys..."
Maurice: (talking over Smith) "The guys who were on the ice."
The press conference then ended, with Maurice shoving the door open from the press room and bouncing it off the wall, causing a loud clang.
The numbers bear out Smith's question and raise a very obvious point: what in the world had Dalpe and Boychuk (and, for that matter, Jiri Tlusty) done to earn a total of ten minutes of ice time among the three of them?
With the exception of two Tlusty shorthanded shifts in the third period, neither he nor Boychuk saw the ice in the final 23 minutes of the game. Dalpe, meanwhile, had a worse fate befall him; his final shift came with nine minutes remaining in the second period, meaning he did not see the ice for the final twenty-nine minutes of the game.
Put another way: the Hurricanes took a total of 390 man-shifts last night. Eighteen of those shifts were taken by the fourth line.
There's been a discussion about the chicken-or-egg paradox seemingly apparent in the ice time of the Canes' fourth line. The answer seems obvious: for whatever reason, Dalpe and Boychuk are being severely underutilized. In his 22-game NHL career, Dalpe has played over 10 minutes just four times. Boychuk has been a little more frequently used, but the 3:54 he saw on Monday night was his career low, surpassing the previous low set...uh, two nights before, when he played 3:59 in the Canes' win over the Penguins.
Compare those numbers to those of Jeff Skinner, who played his 100th career game Monday night. Of those 100 games, Skinner has received under ten minutes of ice time precisely once, a February 2011 game against Boston in which he missed the mark by less than ten seconds.
Now, Dalpe and Boychuk are not Jeff Skinner. There can be no doubt of that. But they certainly aren't fourth-line grinders either. By marginalizing their ice time to this extent, the organization is doing them a severe disservice.
It's quickly approaching time for the team to fish or cut bait on the two Zac/hs. Either they're not ready for the NHL and need 15-20 minutes regularly in Charlotte, or they're ready for the NHL and need more than five minutes per night to prove it.
One thing's for sure: their current plight isn't doing them any favors. It's up to the coaching staff to figure out how to give Boychuk and Dalpe the best possible chance to succeed. That organizational depth is only as good as it's utilized, and the sooner the Canes realize that fact, the better.