As we and the whole hockey world know by now, Draft Day was a big day for the Carolina Hurricanes. Jim Rutherford completed a trade to acquire a player that could help his top 6 situation, while subtracting a player that he relied upon heavily for defensive duties and leadership. I think it would be safe to say that Caniac Nation is excited about adding Jordan Staal, but just as much disappointed that fan favorite Brandon Sutter will no longer be a Hurricane. Jordan will immediately be able to slot into the weak top 6 of the Canes, where I'm not sure about, but there are a couple of different options. But while Jordan helps strengthen the Canes top 6, I can't help but notice the vacancy sign is lit up on the 3rd line center position. So what are the Canes going to do about the 3rd line center or for that matter the 3rd line completely?
The two prevailing thoughts are that Jordan will assume the 1st line center role and Eric will move to wing OR Jordan will take over the 2nd line center role and be flanked by Skinner & Jussi/Ruutu. Given Jordan's defensive prowess, he could help make an offensive line a lot more defensively responsible. While our "new" 3rd line would still need to be good defensively, maybe it doesn't have to be a shutdown line? So what does Rutherford & Muller do with the "new" 3rd line and who will be centering it? What I will try to do is examine a few options we might have for the "new" 3rd line center. We are not going to replace Brandon Sutter, so lets see what else we can do. After the jump will be the "new" 3rd line options.
Tim Brent - Brent moving up from the 4th line to the 3rd would seem like a natural progression. He is a player with a little bit of experience, is pretty good in the faceoff department, and has a little bit of offensive abilities. He is no where near the defensive center Sutter is/was, but he is defensively responsible. He could potentially be lined up beside LaRose, Dwyer, and/or Bowman and create a decent defensive line that also has some scoring potential. After Muller arrived last season, Brent's role on the team did increase as well as play and point production. Muller seemed to trust Brent more than Maurice and that seemed to increase Brent's own confidence in himself. Brent has only seen limited TOI in his 177 total NHL games, averaging around 10 or 11 minutes a night. So him taking this step would be a rather big one. While Brent proved to be a solid player for the Canes last season, I don't really think this would be the move to make. If push comes to shove, Brent could fill in, but I don't see this as a full-time option.
Zac Dalpe - Dalpe at the 3rd line center position would probably be shocking for most of you. While this prospect was expected to contribute to the Canes last season, the assumption was that he would be a winger in the NHL. But when Dalpe has been in Charlotte, playing with the Checkers, he has generally been playing his more natural position of center. Dalpe is not a typical center though, he is more of a scorer than distributor and his limited NHL faceoff percentage has been rather poor. At the beginning of last season, he was pegged as a prospect that could contend for the Calder Memorial Trophy, but since then his stock has fallen some and questions about his future are out there. If Dalpe was to assume the 3rd line center role, the 3rd line would probably have to take on a different role than last season. Maybe he could line up beside Bowman & LaRose and be more of a younger, scoring line than a defensive line. This might be an interesting option, but one I don't necessarily see happening. A lot of Dalpe's future will be determined how he comes to camp (if he is not traded his offseason) and how he performs early. I still believe that Dalpe can be a 20 goal scorer in the NHL, but he needs to come prepared to work his butt off and I also believe his future NHL position will be right wing instead of center.
Jussi Jokinen - The only way I see this happening is if the Canes acquire another top 6 player. If that were the case, then Jokinen or Jiri Tlusty would be the likely ones demoted to the 3rd line. Jokinen is a player that is extremely versatile and he could be a 3rd line center, but it wouldn't necessarily be a "checking line". Jokinen is a very responsible player that is good on faceoffs and has plenty of offensive abilities, but physical he is not. If teamed with the right linemates, he could center an effective shutdown line, but it really isn't his specialty. Jokinen is more of a player that compliments the others he plays with and the Canes would need him to lead a shutdown line. If lined up with Bowman & Dwyer/LaRose, this 3rd line wouldn't be a defensive liability and would be able to provide a little bit of offense. But again, these players would need to feed off Jokinen and that is not what he is best at doing. This is probably my most unlikely choice because it would depend on the Canes acquiring another top 6 player and would also require that Jokinen is not part of that deal to acquire another top 6 player (and with limited assets, that might be hard for the Hurricanes to do).
Victor Rask - Rask is the only player listed that has no NHL experience at all, so this might be a little far-fetched at this time. But Rask is a quality center prospect and had a nice transition to the North American game this past season. He is a guy that had top 10 draft potential in 2011, but he fell off and the Canes were able to grab him in the 2nd round. He is a creative player that can do it all offensively, he has some size, but needs to fill out a little more, and while not great defensively, he is not a liability. If he were to take over the 3rd line center position, the line would almost definitely become more offensive. What about a line of Bowman/Rask/LaRose? That should be a line that has some secondary scoring potential and Bowman & LaRose are somewhat defensively responsible. Like I said earlier, it's probably a little far-fetched right now, but Rask as a non-defensive center could definitely be an option for the Canes over the next couple of years.
Jeremy Welsh - Welsh only has 1 game of pro experience, but if I were to say what would be the most likely option right now, having Welsh center the 3rd line would be my guess. Welsh is a big center that is expected to have a strong two-way game and JR seems to have a lot of faith in him. Earlier this offseason, JR said he expects Welsh to play in our top 9 and that he was a very smart player that could progress into a shutdown guy. Welsh would definitely add some size (he is the same height as Sutter and weighs about 25 pounds more) and physicality to the line. He could play next to Bowman/Nodl and Dwyer/LaRose and should create a decent checking line. I'm sure some bumps will occur along the way, but that is expected with rookies. Another option though would be to create a young two-way line. How about Bowman/Welsh/Dalpe as the Canes 3rd line? Bowman & Welsh are considered to have some defensive awareness and Welsh & Dalpe are expected to contribute decent offensive numbers, so while it would be a risk, it could also turn into a reward after a few growing pains. Either way, Welsh is what I expect the Canes to do regarding their now vacant 3rd line center role.
Acquire a Center - This is an option that I feel most would be comfortable with and I couldn't disagree. There are options for acquiring a 3rd line center out there either through free agency or trade. There are typical veteran 3rd line center free agents like a Dominic Moore, Sammy Pahlsson and Jason Arnott. But the one I would like for the Canes would be Paul Gaustad. Gaustad is a mammoth of a man that hits a ton, is great in the faceoff circle, has a little bit of offensive, and is a shutdown center. I hate that he is a former Slug, but he would definitely address a need defensively & size-wise. And players that could be available from trades could be endless. A 3rd line center is usually a lot easier to acquire than a top 6 player. While acquiring a 3rd line center might not be what I believe the Canes will do, it is the method that would probably get us the best option and the option that would probably make the Playoffs in 2013 the most realistic.
So which option do you believe the Canes will do to fill the now vacated 3rd line center position?