One of the best things about the Hurricanes recent signing of Alexander Semin is that it gives the team a legitimate top-six and almost guarantees that they will have two-scoring lines next season assuming no injuries occur. When you factor it in with the team’s acquisition of Jordan Staal and the growth of Jeff Skinner, it should make a lot of fans excited about the team’s forward corps for next season. Eric Staal is probably very excited about these acquisitions because he has had to deal with a revolving door of linemates the last couple of seasons and may finally start to see some consistency with more talent brought in. Eric isn’t the only member of the Staal family who should be excited because the Canes revamped top six could mean great things for Jordan, as well.
One thing we know about Eric Staal is that he has the ability to carry a line and boost the level of play of most of his linemates. We saw this with Jiri Tlusty last season and he has also been able to elevate the play of linemates like Sergei Samsonov, Chad LaRose and Cory Stillman in recent years, too. Being strong down the middle is always critical and that is especially true when you have a player lie Staal who can carry a line on his own.
Adding Jordan to the fold gives Carolina two centers who can do this and it could lead to some terrific results for the rest of the top-six. Most people know that Jordan Staal played on the third line for most of his time in Pittsburgh and while he didn’t play with garbage linemates, he was mostly paired with third line talent. The Hurricanes will likely pair him with some more offensive-minded players and I’m sure that Carolina fans are already salivating over what kind of results that would bring.
After the jump, we are going to take a look at Jordan Staal’s linemates over the last few years to see how much he was the driving force on that line and discuss who he could be playing with on the Hurricanes next season.
Staal's linemates 2008-12
Data from stats.hockeyanalysis.com
Like I mentioned earlier, Staal was playing with mostly third line talent in Pittsburgh (this mostly applies to Kennedy and Cooke) but he didn’t have bad players on his line because most of his teammates were able to do fairly well territorially without him. The only exception on the list is Matt Cooke. However, the common trend with Staal’s linemates is that most of them were able to produce a lot of offense while not giving up a lot at the other end. Staal was also a positive player when it came to territorial player when he wasn’t playing with any of his most frequent linemates, which is a very good thing when it comes to his ability to carry a line.
Something that might stick out here are his numbers with Tyler Kennedy and Chris Kunitz. Kennedy’s numbers are especially intriguing because the amount of shots Staal was on ice for really went down when he wasn’t playing on a line with him. It’s tough to determine how much Kennedy was the one driving the bus here because his usage over the years has changed dramatically, while Staal has stayed in a tough-minute role for most of his career. Kunitz, on the other hand, has been given a lot of offensive zone starts for most of the last few years, which likely had an effect on the number of shots he was on ice for.
Using the same data from David Johnson’s Hockey Analytics site, we can determine if Kunitz was getting the benefit of soft minutes all of these years. We can do this by looking at the 2010-11 season when he was used in more of a tough-minute role and he was still able to be on-ice for a high volume of shots. So, we can determine that both Kunitz and Kennedy are both extremely effective at driving the play forward and could have had a role in Staal’s strong underlying numbers.
Despite that, Staal’s numbers on his own are impressive enough and if you look at the last three seasons worth of data when he was used in a shutdown role, you will notice that he was able to create a lot of offense while playing tough minutes. This should lead to great things in Carolina because he is going to be used in a top-six role with stronger linemates. Like his brother, Staal has been able to produce even when he isn’t playing with top-line talent so he should be able to get by with whoever the Canes will have flanking his line this year. My initial concern with this plan was that Carolina did not have that many play-drivers but adding Semin completely changes this.
A top-line winger has been at the top of Carolina’s need list for the last couple of years but having two centers who are capable of being used in a strength vs. strength role and carrying their linemates can go a long way. Carolina has that now with the Staal brothers and adding Semin only strengthens the possibilities. Even if Jordan isn't playing on Semin's line, he could still be flanked by two of Skinner, Ruutu or Jokinen, which could potentially be a very dangerous second line. It will be a very interesting season in Raleigh, but in a good way.