It has been a very interesting and exciting summer for the Carolina Hurricanes so far. They have been involved in one of the biggest trades of the summer, they signed one of the most talented free agents available, and they also signed a few depth players to compliment the NHL & AHL squads. Last season the team didn't even have enough "top 6" talent to fill out the roster, so players accustom to bottom 6 roles and minutes were forced to take on larger roles. Oh how a summer has changed things. It could be argued that the Canes now have 7 players (EStaal, Skinner, JStaal, Semin, Jokinen, Ruutu, & Tlusty) that could play in the top 6, so one of those guys will have to least temporarily move down to the bottom 6.
So with these 7 forwards almost locked in to roster spots, the need to carry at least 2 goalies, and JR's indication that the team will carry 8 defensemen, that leave Carolina with 6 forward spots to fill out their NHL roster. JR has also expressed an interest in getting a "tough guy" or "gritty forward". So the question becomes, who are the players that take those final 6 spots? Of the remaining group, 5 of the players are on one-way contracts, there are a couple of talented prospects that could be NHL ready, and there are a good number of guys that probably can't be considered "prospects" anymore and are looking for full-time NHL jobs. But again, there are only 6 spots open, so someone is going to be disappointed. Who do you think is going to fill out the Canes bottom 6 this season and why?
What I will do is list some of the more likely candidates that will be fighting for those remaining positions. I will give a brief blurb as to their strengths, weaknesses, and what might be expected from them. Take a look at the list and let us know who you think has the inside track, who will surprise with a strong camp, and who ultimately will make the team. Have fun!
Chad LaRose - RW/LW
Chad would seem like the most likely candidate to be considered a "lock" on the Canes roster. He's coming off a season where he tied his career high in goals with 19, set a career high in points with 32, and played more than 16 minutes a night for the 2nd year in a row. He generally played in the Canes top 6 last season and while that is probably over his "skill level", Chad has been a solid contributor over the past 5 seasons. During that time, Chad has averaged 15 goals, 29 points and 0.42ppg. There is no reason to think he couldn't be around those numbers if given ample time on the team's 3rd line. Add to that he is a huge locker room presence and he was 2nd on the team in hits and you would have to think he is almost assured a spot on the opening day roster. His negatives would be his horrendous -37 over the past 2 seasons and his tendency to take penalties at the worst times. But overall, Chad is a valuable member of the team on and off the ice.
Patrick Dwyer - W/C
Dwyer is the definition of a team player and is one of the Canes best defensive forwards. He spent almost all of his time last season on the Canes "shutdown" line and was 1 of only 2 forwards with over 50 games played that wasn't a minus player. He was also one of the Canes top penalty killers last season and had 2 shorthanded goals. His biggest weakness is his lack of offensive production. He has some skill and is very quick, but whether his low point totals were a result of his role or not, you have to expect more than 12 points from a 3rd line player. I think he has a role/spot on this team, but I'm just not sure it's within the top 9. I think Dwyer is a perfect 4th liner that will play heavy minutes on the PK. The concern is that his lack of size combined with LaRose's lack of size, makes one of them expendable and if so, LaRose is the one more likely retained by the organization.
Tim Brent - C
When Brent came in last year, it was thought that he would be a great 4th line center. He was excellent in the faceoff circle, was solid defensively, and would relieve Eric Staal of some of his PK duties. It didn't necessarily work out that way. Of the regular faceoff men, Brent was the lowest at 48.7%. He was also a -8 on the season and only averaged 33 seconds of PK time. But not all was negative. Brent did score a career high 24 points and ended up being a solid point man on the PP. I think you could expect a little bit of a rebound year for Brent in terms of his faceoff percentage and PK duties, but he will almost definitely not get as much PP time as he did last season, so expect his point totals to drop a little. He is a very capable 4th line center that can help out the 3rd line in a pinch. He has experience and is actually a better shooter than given credit for. I don't think his Carolina career goes beyond this season, but I do believe he will be a regular Canes roster player in 12/13.
Anthony Stewart - RW
Stewart was the risk/reward player that was acquired last offseason in hopes that he could replace some of Erik Coles production. He didn't exactly live up to his potential, but rarely do these project players. He could probably best be described as a failed experiment or a project still in progress. Stewart has the tools to be quite an effective NHL player, but he must learn how to use consistently to reach his potential. He has great size, is a pretty good skater, and can score some goals. He did put up 9 goals and 20 points in very limited ice time, but for the most part he was ineffective when on the ice and didn't really develop any on-ice chemistry with his teammates. If he can come to training camp in shape and ready to do those little things the team needs him to do, he should have a spot on the roster. If he comes to camp as he did last year, he will likely be put on waivers again.
Andreas Nodl - LW/RW
Nodl is one of those guys where you can see the talent he has, but he just never seems to put it together on a regular basis. He has decent size, but isn't extremely strong, so he's not a typical checking line winger. He plays a defensively responsible game, but isn't like Dwyer and really excels at that side of the game. He also has offensive skills, but seeing them on display is like catching a no-hitter in baseball. This is probably why he jumped between the AHL & NHL in Philadelphia and why he eventually ended up on waivers. He was a solid perform in his time with Carolina last season, but was actually outperformed (PPG) by call-ups Drayson Bowman and Jarome Samson, both of whom played similar roles to Nodl. On this year's team, Nodl would be a 4th liner or 13th forward and would probably perform about the same as last year. I really believe that he will either be packaged in a trade or eventually put on waivers. I just see many others that could handle his role and do it better than he has the majority of his career.
Drayson Bowman - LW
It is my opinion that Bowman earned a spot on this year's team last season. But with the acquisitions made this summer, nothing is guaranteed. During stretches last season, it appeared that Bowman had finally figured out what it takes to be an NHLer and also figured out how to put the puck in the net. He doesn't look like a future top 6 forward, but it does appear that he should be a solid 3rd line winger for the next decade. He scored 6 goals in 37 games last season and averaged almost 1.5 hits per game. He still needs to round out his overall game and needs to become more consistent, but I feel as if he is on the way. I believe that Bowman could start the season out on the 4th line, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if he starts the season in Charlotte. He could possibly be the first player called up and he has the ability to fill in on almost any line, at least for a short period of time. His time for full-time NHL duty might not be this season, but he is very close.
Jeremy Welsh - C
Welsh is the one of the more intriguing options for bottom 6 minutes. He only has 1 game of pro experience, but he is 24 years old and has a very solid frame. In college, he could do it all and the Canes brass seems very exciting about this player. He probably will never be a big point producer at the NHL level, but he does project to be a solid two-way center. But really at this point, everything is just a big question. He could come in and be an effective 3rd line player or he could use a year AHL experience before being ready for the "big show". Because of his size and skills, I imagine that he will be given every opportunity to make the team. I could see him starting out as a 3rd or 4th line LW and gradually moving into a center role as he gets more comfortable with the style and speed of the NHL. It will be very interesting to see what happens with this guy.
Brett Sutter - LW/C
Sutter is a prototypical NHL 4th liner. He plays with a tremendous amount of energy, plays defensively responsible, and does whatever the team ask him to do. He was the captain of the Checkers and can chip in offensively on occasion. But he has limitations and is not the biggest guy, so while he will fight, he isn't exactly the "tough guy" JR is looking for. Sutter is probably not the first choice by any means, but if he comes to camp and impresses, he might earn himself a 4th line or 13th forward position with the Hurricanes. But I suspect that he will return to Charlotte and will be called up from time to time.
Zac Dalpe - W/C
Dalpe is still probably considered the Canes best forward prospect, but that doesn't necessarily mean he has an inside track. Dalpe is a scorer, a player who's skills translate more into a top 6 role than a bottom 6. But Dalpe struggled last year in both the NHL & AHL. If he is ready for the NHL this season, he probably needs to cut his teeth in the bottom 6 this season. He isn't a typical 3rd line player, but it doesn't appear the Canes are going to field a typical 3rd line this year anyway. Dalpe also has a little versatility that could prove to be helpful. In Charlotte he normally played his natural position of center, so he could potentially center the 3rd line with the Canes. But a lot will depend on how prepared he comes to camp. I believe he will probably spend most of his time in Charlotte this upcoming season, but as long as he can return to his 10/11 form, he should get some opportunities with the Canes.
Tim Wallace - RW
Wallace is a newcomer to the organization, but he has been through this before with other organizations. His style of play is somewhat similar to Brett Sutter, but he is a little bigger and plays much more physical. He's not really an enforcer and isn't going to provide much offense, but he could play an effective 4th line role. Wallace hasn't really established himself as a full-time NHL player yet and that is probably all he will ever be, a depth energy forward. I think he will be be given some NHL time, but I'm not sure he will start out with the Hurricanes. He will probably spend most of the season with the Checkers, but will be part of the shuttle that goes between Raleigh & Charlotte throughout the year.
Victor Rask - C
Rask is a highly skilled center that transitioned well to the North American game last season. Rask's talents don't really say bottom 6, but like I said above, the Canes might not have a typical 3rd line this year. Rask is a scoring center that has playmaking abilities. If he comes to camp and wins a position, the Canes could actually role 3 scoring lines. And with their defensive make-up, that could produce one of the highest scoring teams in the league. But I don't think this is the way the organization will go. I'm not sure if Rask could go to Charlotte or not, but I do think that would be the best place for him this upcoming season. I think he will be given a game or two in the NHL, but he will probably spend most of his time getting accustom to playing the pro game.
Riley Nash - C
Nash is a player that had higher expectations a couple years ago than he does now, but he still appears to have a NHL career ahead of him. He got his first NHL experience last season and did pick up an assist. He is projected as more of a bottom 6 center than top 6. He has good size and plays a defensive game. He probably maxes out as a 3rd line center, but he could also play a 4th line role. Last training camp, Nash was one of the most impressive forwards, if he has progressed at all, maybe he can earn a spot on this year's team. I suspect that he will last through the preseason, but will start the season off in Charlotte. If Brent were to miss any time this season, I do believe that Nash would be the player called up to replace him. But I think Nash's best chance for making the Canes will come next season when a 4th line center position opens up.
There are a few players that I have left off, but there are reasons for that. I think Zach Boychuk will get a chance at some point during the season, but unless he blows the doors off at camp, he will be sent back to Charlotte and spend most of his season there. The same can be said about Jarome Samson. He will have his opportunities with the Canes this year, but it will be due to an injury. He plays a solid game, but is much more effective in the AHL than the NHL. But what do you think? Are there players that I have overlooked? Who do you believe are going to be the 6 forwards that fill out the Canes bottom 6?