What shape would the Canes be in if JR can't make any good trades or sign any UFAs? I began to wonder after discussions on Canes Country about how the Canes' talk about being a budget team and suspected unwillingness to pay market value for its own best UFAs might discourage players from coming to Carolina. With these assumptions, what would the forward lines look like for 2011-2012? While far short on experience, how would the talent level stack up against other teams?
I decided to try answering this question by constructing lines based on both likely NHL position and draft position. The highest drafted center is assigned first line center, the highest drafted right wing is assigned first line right wing, etc. There's no thought to putting together the best player combinations - just the lines that are nominally (based on draft position) the most talented that the Canes could put on the ice.
Here's what I came up with, with draft position in parentheses after each player:
|Skinner (1-7th overall)||Staal (1-2nd overall)||Ruutu (1-9th overall)|
|Tlusty (1-13th overall)||Sutter (1-11th overall)||Dalpe (2nd)|
|Boychuk (1-14th overall)||Nash (1-21st overall)||Bowman (3rd)|
|Blanchard (6th)/Sutter (6th)||Matsumoto (3rd)||Samson (Undrafted)|
After the jump, how good or bad would this group be by NHL standards for talent?
In my opinion, the Canes would be very competitive if draft position translated to NHL performance. Among the 12 forwards listed, there are 7 first round draft picks, ranging from a high of 2nd overall to a low of 21st overall.
If the stars aligned, there could be a 12th overall pick added to the mix at center or right wing, pushing Dalpe down to the 3rd line and Bowman to the 4th, or pushing Nash to the 4th line and Matsumoto back to Charlotte. On the draft-a-right-wing scenario, that would mean the first two lines would be composed entirely of 1st round picks and the third line would have two firsts and a second-round pick, Dalpe. There would even be a 1st rounder on the 4th line. Scratch the 12th overall pick and I still think the Canes look very competitive in sheer talent if draft position means anything. Note that there are three centers taken in the 1st round that are rated as good-to-excellent 2-way players.
This thought-experiment makes me wonder if the Canes wouldn't be best off, given their budget, using the players listed above. Would they make the playoffs? Who knows, but there are no guarantees if the Canes bring in budget UFAs either. And if the talent-rich, experience-poor line-up bombs, the Canes would be adding a very high 1st rounder to the mix next season - perhaps a star right wing who could play immediately. Add that player and this year's 1st and the Canes SHOULD be a very talented offensive team with several players maturing based on NHL experience.
There are worse scenarios than this. One that I would consider worse would be bringing in budget veterans to fill out the lines and finishing 9th or 10th in the East, depriving some of the young talent enough NHL TOI to find out how good they can be. That looks to me like a distinct possibility.
I say all this as someone who hopes the Canes do re-sign Cole and Jokinen. But if they don't and they can't add another player, this might still be an extremely interesting season. No one can say for certain that it won't turn out that Boychuk and Dalpe can both play at a high level and Bowman and Nash can hold their own in the NHL. Someday NHL TOI will decide just how good all these high draft picks are. Sooner is better. Exciting error-prone young talent would be more interesting to watch than bargain-basement vets even if it costs the team some wins in the first half of the season.
Madness or worth thinking about, at least as an experiment?