For their Return-to-Play training camp roster, the Carolina Hurricanes brought in 16 forwards covering their regular-season regulars, three players from Charlotte and their 2019 first-round pick Ryan Suzuki.
After the first three days of camp, Brind’Amour has kept many of the lines similar to how they were throughout the season although he stated that they may work on switching them around.
“Honestly, it was easier to just say ‘OK, where did we leave off, put that on the board and let’s start with that,’ ” Brind’Amour said on Zoom after Tuesday’s practice. “I haven’t given a ton of thought of ‘This is how we’re going to start the playoffs.’ I think we’ll get to that in a few more days. I think it was just ‘This is how we ended, let’s just start that way.’ ”
When it comes down to it, the Canes have a surefire top three in terms of best forwards: Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen. There is no question that they were the engine of the Hurricanes’ offense, but many wondered if Carolina’s reliance on them made them a one-dimensional team.
The trio contributed on essentially 50% of the team’s total goal share for the season with each eclipsing the 60 point mark with the next closest forward only having 36 points.
Brind’Amour may elect to split either Svechnikov or Teravainen off of the top-line to try and supplement the Canes’ other lines, but if scoring is needed, expect this line to terrorize the opposition.
Three points for Sebastian Aho and more offense created by the Svechnikov-Aho-Teravainen line pic.twitter.com/UNz9KzhDUh— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) February 16, 2020
Wooooooooooowie. What a goal. Andrei Svechnikov to Sebastian Aho to Teuvo Teravainen to Andrei Svechnikov. Holy moly. 3-1 Hurricanes. pic.twitter.com/8Xrq9XNqGY— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) February 15, 2020
There is still a bit of a question mark hovering over the second line as it was clear that the Canes had a significant drop-off after the first-line. Erik Haula, Martin Necas and Ryan Dzingel had composed the second line for most of the season until Dzingel dried up and Haula was traded to the Florida Panthers. All had had a good start to the season, but with injuries and dry spells, the lines magic sputtered out.
Now, the reality of this line lies in three big question marks.
First, Carolina is hoping to get a proper second-line going with Vincent Trocheck at center. There is still a question over him on if he can prove that he can produce at speed after his brutal leg injury from last season. He had a down year in Florida before coming over to Carolina and it is still to be seen if he can re-elevate his game.
What should be a guaranteed lock beside him is Carolina’s impressive rookie, Martin Necas. He’s coming off of a strong showing in his first full season with the big club, but he still needs to see a bit more confidence in his game. This may be a coaching decision to shelter him a bit, but he has the skill set to really blossom into a high production role and if Trocheck can return to form, he’ll make a great partner.
The third question mark for this line lies in who will end up as the other winger. So far, Brind’Amour has alternated Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Dzingel throughout the days and drills. Niederreiter really connected with Necas on the second power play unit and may be able to bring that chemistry out on a line. There is also the case that Niederreiter’s role as an antagonizing power forward will couple strongly with Trocheck, who plays that similar “Get under your opponent’s skin” game.
On the other hand, Dzingel has shown to have early season chemistry with Necas and he is able to play the game at speed. He has also shown himself to be a strong passer with a specialty for finding seams from behind the goal line.
“It’s really going to come down to who’s ready to play,” Brind’Amour said. “With the shortened season, we really won’t have time to figure stuff out. We’ve got to go with who looks the best right from the get-go here. That’s our job now is to figure out those combinations. We have enough time to do it, though, so we feel really good about it.”
The third line seems to be another line that Brind’Amour is toying with, but its role seems apparent enough. A line that is hard to play against and one that may even shock you with a few goals.
Jordan Staal is one of the best defensive forwards in the game and a fiend in the faceoff dot. That alone makes him very hard to play against. Now, his offense has been another story. However, despite some holdups others might have about his game, he did show a whole other side to himself come the playoffs last year, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt.
Justin Williams is Mr. Game 7 of course, but he is also another player that is hard to play against. He will finish checks, slash and poke with his stick, go hard to the net and generally just do all he can to get his opponents off their game. All that while maintaining an offensive knack which he showed on a five-game point streak to finish off the shortened regular season and you have a complete package.
The cherry on top of this line is Brock McGinn. Yes, he has more offensive woes and near misses than one can likely count, but the intangibles in his game have made him a coach favorite. McGinn never quits on a play, is dubious due to his size and checking ability and has a ton of heart and is willing to sacrifice the body.
He reminds me a lot of Chad LaRose, but I still think McGinn has a lot of offensive ability that he shows in only flashes of brilliance that make him a more interesting player.
The NHL’s All-Time points-per-game leader, Morgan Geekie, being on the fourth line is a true sign of the team’s depth.
All jokes aside, Geekie has shown that he has at least earned more time in the NHL with one of the strongest rookie showings in franchise history. I mean three goals on his first three shots, c’mon.
Pairing him together with Warren Foegele will give both of them another skilled player on the line which should allow the Canes to create a lot more depth scoring chances. Finally, rounding out that line with Martinook should help to create an energetic and buzzing fourth line that will disrupt even highly skilled opponents and give them a hard time with creating offense.
At this point it looks like it could be Ryan Dzingel or Nino Niederreiter with how Brind’Amour is cycling the two around during camp. Both didn’t quite reach a level that was expected of them, but that doesn’t stop Brind’Amour from believing in them.
“It’s a fresh start for everybody,” Brind’Amour said. “I think that’s how they’re all approaching it. If the guys had a good season or a bad season to this point, it’s all forgotten. To me, it always has been. It’s always about that next game and the win the day philosophy around here. Anybody that’s had a bad stretch, they love hearing that, ‘Let’s focus on today and what’s ahead, not behind.’ ”
At the end of the day, it will come down to who’s playing better, but that also doesn’t mean whoever is scratched come August 1 won’t get a shot at a different game should someone else get injured or go cold.
There were three forwards brought into camp that hadn’t suited up for Carolina at all over the season. One of which was Ryan Suzuki, the Canes’ 2019 first-round pick. If you are expecting him to check in for a playoff game, I’d warn you that you are holding out way too much hope. Unless there are a slew of injuries, Suzuki’s inclusion in camp is more so a way to help his development and give him a bit of extra time working with the NHL club.
“You want to get the guys understanding what it’s like to be a professional, but also what we expect and what we’re about,” Brind’Amour said on having Suzuki at camp. “You can’t really do that if you’re not here. Getting him going, we know he’s young; we know he’s a ways away. But it’s certainly not going to hurt him to be around and just get a taste of what we’re all about.”
The two other new faces were that of Max McCormick who signed a two-way deal with the Canes last offseason after spending four years in the Ottawa Senators system and Steven Lorentz who had a surprisingly strong showing in Charlotte this past season with 23 goals and 46 points, good for second on the team in scoring.
McCormick is an interesting choice for sure, as he has never had a strong showing in either the NHL or AHL level, but he plays with an edge and can surely fill in on a fourth line in the place of multiple injuries.
Lorentz on the other hand has earned a spot due to catching the eyes of the big club and I feel he may be in a similar position as Suzuki. Going from a strong showing in the ECHL with the Everblades not just three years ago, to being a part of Charlotte’s championship squad to putting up big points this year, Lorentz is making the most of his time and could be an interesting player to watch out for down the line.
Past that there were a few surprising names left off the list like Brian Gibbons, although he did not have a strong showing in his time with the Hurricanes this year, and Clark Bishop.
“It’s a tough decision, but then there were some other factors too,” Brind’Amour said on how they decided who to have at camp. “Just calling guys, talking to them about where they were at in their four-month break. What kind of availability they had for working out and where they were. So that came into play on some guys. And then, at the end of the day, I feel pretty good about the guys we have here. Hopefully we don’t have to get down to that point, but the depth here in our group is pretty good. I’m pretty happy with it.”
While the Canes’ main source of ridiculous depth lies on the blue line, the team will have a couple tough decisions to make, and a number of options, up front as well.