Fourth line and depth options

In order to be a contending team, one thing that you need is solid depth in your forward corps. This means having four lines that can be used in certain roles without much of a problem. Going into last season, the Hurricanes had this mindset but they didn’t execute it very well. They acquired Anthony Stewart and Tim Brent through free agency to play fourth line roles with the thought that these two would help give the Canes better depth throughout the lineup. The only problem with this strategy was that Stewart and Brent aren’t very good hockey players and the fourth line became a liability for the Canes yet again.

Brent and Stewart may have scored a combined 12 goals but neither could push the play forward to save their lives against very weak competition. You usually don’t expect much from fourth liners but the Hurricanes had to lean heavily on their top-nine because they could only rely on their fourth line in restricted situations. It got to the point where guys like Stewart, Joslin and Brent would play less than five minutes per game at even strength because the coaching staff didn’t trust them in important situations.

This is something that I would like to see changed come next season and the Hurricanes may not have to dip into the free agent pool to fix it. There are a lot of guys within the organization who would make solid depth players for this team and it wouldn’t surprise me if they end up being used in his fashion. Find out why after the jump.

Another way that the Jordan Staal trade is going to shake up the forward lines is that the team’s third line center spot is now open because of Brandon Sutter leaving and the Hurricanes have the option of using their third line in a different way than last year. A popular thought is that one of the younger players in the system like Jeremy Welsh could step into that role with relative ease. However, that may not be true if they continue to use the third line in a defensive role, which could happen with Andreas Nodl and Patrick Dwyer still under contract. If they choose to go that route, then it’s likely that Carolina will look to sign someone like Paul Gaustad, Jay McClement or Dominic Moore to center the third line. That being said, this may not be the best thing to do.

An ongoing problem for the last couple of seasons has been that there is no room on the roster for some of the younger players in Carolina’s system. Having spots available on the third line leaves the door open for someone like Welsh or Dalpe to step into a full-time role. Both of those players still need to earn their position in training camp but between the two of them, it isn’t too far-fetched to say that the Canes should have their third line center for next season. If neither of them can earn the spot then Carolina has a bigger problem on their hands.

Another player who should be in the mix is Drayson Bowman. He was on the team for a little under 30 games last year and did more than a fine job at driving the play and creating scoring chances. He managed to do this while being bounced around all over the top-nine and I think it’s fair to say that he’s earned a shot to make the team out of camp next year. The Hurricanes have a shortage of bottom-sixers who can control puck possession at even strength and Bowman fills that need. He may not be the scorer that some projected him to become but he can still be a useful player on this team and I think he has more than a fair shot of making the team out of camp. He’d be a great fit on the third line with Chad LaRose or possibly Jiri Tlusty.

What happens to Nodl and Dwyer, then? Well, neither are exactly offensive dynamos so they could fit nicely into a fourth line role but some might think that would be wasting their defensive strengths. That doesn’t have to be the case, though? If the Canes were to use quality players on the fourth line like Nodl and Dwyer and deploy them in a defensive role, then they wouldn’t have to restrict the usage of this line as much. Using both about 8-10 minutes a game in defensive situations in addition to the penalty kill wouldn’t be a bad strategy.

The question here is can Tim Brent play the role of a defensive center without much problem? He was able to do this in Toronto but his possession numbers took a tumble last season so I’m a bit skeptical about it. After scoring 12 goals last season, I have little doubts that Brent will still be on the team but I would be all for signing a cheap defensive center as insurance if he struggles. Someone along the lines of Jeff Halpern or Philippe Dupuis would fit this role. They aren’t defensive studs by any means but they can get the job done as a fourth line center and may accept a two-way deal if needed.

Having a defensive fourth line can work out well for the current roster because it along with Jordan Staal’s line could open up the first and third lines to easier minutes and more opportunities for them. With the Canes not having many wingers in the top-six who can play tough minutes, using the first line in more offensive situations could be the way to go. They might be misusing Eric Staal a little but the team needs more scoring now and it isn’t a guarantee that they can sign another winger, so protecting one of the top two lines might be the next best thing.

The point here is that the Hurricanes need forward depth but they don’t need to acquire any third or fourth liners through free agency because they have plenty of those guys within the organization. It’s all a matter of using them correctly.