A cluttered forward corps has quickly become a question mark. First, captain Rod Brind'Amour needed to have his repaired left knee scoped to remove torn cartilage. Now, the Canes lose Justin Williams long-term to a torn Achilles tendon.
We could talk at length about the void that losing Williams creates, and also the unfortunate luck he's had in his young, but productive career. But for right now, let's look at the options to replace Williams in the top six — presumably on Brind'Amour's wing.
First off, it's hard to replace a guy like Williams — but you can hope to find someone that will be productive in his role. Patrick Eaves could be the frontrunner to take over his spot. While Eaves' Canes career got off to a rough start due to injury, he possesses the speed, scoring ability and smarts at both ends of the ice that fit so well into the Carolina's gameplan, specifically to someone playing alongside Brind'Amour.
Veteran Scott Walker is a possibility. Walker is a three-time 20-goal scorer who's grit and effort are an asset on every shift. Could a Walker-Brind'Amour-Tuomo Ruutu line wreak havoc on opponents by using a vicous forecheck?
Could future stars Drayson Bowman or Zach Boychuk make the team and step into a role like this? Can Ryan Bayda parlay his play last year as a third-line cycling machine into a top-six role? Could Chad LaRose get another shot at big minutes? What about the recently signed Matt Murley earning a spot on the roster, or maybe Dwight Helminen?
Or do the Canes dip into the past and use Matt Cullen at the wing and allow rookie center Brandon Sutter to play as a third-line pivot? Would Bobby Hughes be healthy enough and ready to step in and play fourth-line center, or does brief 2007-08 recall Joe Jensen get the promotion?
Finally, what does this mean for Jeff O'Neill?
Fortunately for the Canes, they have a lot of options. Unfortunately, none will truly replace Williams.