Training Camp Battles: 3rd Line Left Wingers

Continuing our look at what positions could be up for grabs during training camp, we will stay on the third line and look at which players will be battling for the two wing spots on the third line. In my post on the team's battle for the third line center, I mentioned that it's basically open season for all of the Hurricanes bottom-six and they still need to figure out what their entire third line looks like. With not many players being brought in through free agency, they have a lot of guys within the system competing for these spots and it will be interesting to see who is playing there come opening night.

The Canes faced a similar situation last season and their bottom-six ended up being composed of leftover players from the first two lines. They didn't have much of a "role" and the coaches constantly kept shuffling players in and out of the lineup as a result. One would think that it will be different this season because they have a full training camp to figure things out, but the Canes third line still looks uncertain right now. They at least have somewhat of an idea of who will center it (Lindholm or Nash), but it's tough to figure out who will end up playing on the wings.

There's been talk of the Canes using three "scoring" lines and dropping Jeff Skinner or Tuomo Ruutu down to the third line and while I'm not 100% against that approach, I think Skinner is a better fit on the second line with Ruutu and Jordan Staal. The coaches may not feel the same way, but the Canes aren't exactly blessed with a lot of top-six wings and I think it's best to use him on the second line for now. Assuming this happens, this leaves the Hurricanes with two spots up for grabs on the third line with about six players competing for it. We will take an individual look at the candidates for the left wing spot after the jump.

Candidate One: Drayson Bowman

Age: 24
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 190 lbs.
Career Stats

Why he will make the Hurricanes:

Bowman has more NHL experience than the majority of players competing for these spots and the coaching staff seems to like him a lot. Under Muller, he was usually one of the first players to get called up and placed in a top-nine role. He seemed to get a longer look there than anyone else and I would expect that to carry over into this season unless someone really outplays him between now and opening night. Bowman also has the tools to succeed as a third liner, as he was a very good two-way player in the AHL and showed flashes of being a decent puck-possession guy in his rookie season. He is also capable of providing secondary scoring and killing penalties, which will help him stick around longer. This along with his speed makes him a decent fit as a checking line player. Right now, he is playing on the top line in camp while Jiri Tlusty recovers from an injury.

Why he will not make the Hurricanes:

While Bowman has the "potential" to be a solid third-liner, he has yet to prove much at the NHL level. He has scored only 11 goals and 21 points in 106 games and hasn't seen much time on the PK either. His underlying numbers from last season were also underwhelming because while he posted a positive shot attempt differential, he did it while playing soft minutes and he ranked low in this regard compared to some other forwards. Bowman was also one of the worst forwards on the team in terms of the amount of opposing scoring chances he was on the ice for, which doesn't speak well about his two-way game. He has looked stronger in camp according to reports, but I don't think he is guaranteed a roster spot if there are forwards in camp who perform better than him. Bowman has experience, but the Canes will need more out of him if he wants to earn a third-line role.

Candidate Two: Nathan Gerbe

Age: 26
Height: 5'6"
Weight: 178 lbs.
Career Stats
 

Why he will make the Hurricanes:

Looking past his height, Gerbe is just about everything you could ask for in a checking line player. He is a good skater, provides a decent amount of offense and hits everything that moves. He was a very solid third liner for two years in Buffalo and could be the same for Carolina if he regains his form. Gerbe plays a similar game to Chad LaRose and might be able to take over his role on the third or fourth line next season if he makes the team.

Why he will not make the Hurricanes:

Gerbe has posted solid numbers in the past, but he is coming off a dreadful season. He ranked second to last in shot attempt differential on a putrid Sabres team and scored a career low 10 points in 42 games. The Hurricanes could use someone who adds some sandpaper to their lineup, but it shouldn't come at the expense of them losing the territorial battle. Gerbe used to be a pretty solid possession forward, but he has struggled to regain his footing after taking a an ugly hit from Marc-Andre Bourdon of the Flyers in early 2012. Hopefully a fresh start with a new team can help Gerbe regain his footing as a bottom-six player but if his struggles continue, it's hard to see him making the team.

Zach Boychuk

Age: 23
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 185 lbs.
Career Stats

Why he will make the Hurricanes:

Boychuk has always been a strong performer in the AHL and usually impresses the coaching staff in training camp, as well. He has made the team out of camp the last two or three seasons and could do it again this year if he performs well enough. Boychuk is probably near the bottom of the list of players I would expect to make the team but he is in camp, so he will have his chance at the very least.

Why he will not make the Hurricanes:

We've been through this before. As impressive as Boychuk is in the AHL and in camp, has never been able to turn it into anything at the NHL level. He had a chance to make three different clubs last season and ended up getting waived every time. This is after he started the season on a line with Eric Staal, so it's not like he didn't get a chance to succeed. Boychuk is also not exactly in good spirits with the coaching staff here, so it's hard to see him making the team unless he blows everyone away in camp.

Aaron Palushaj

Age: 24
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 188 lbs.
Career Stats

Why he will make the Hurricanes:

Palushaj was a very good scorer both in college and the AHL and while that hasn't translated to the next level, there is still a lot to like about his game. He performed well as a third liner for the Avalanche last season, ranking 7th among regular forwards in shot differential and dominated territorial play as a fourth liner for Montreal the year before. So even if he wasn't scoring, Palushaj was doing a lot to help his team the last two years and the Hurricanes could use someone like him in their bottom-six. I'm not sure how much of an emphasis puck-possession will be this season, but Palushaj could be a good fit on the third or fourth line if Muller wants to go with this approach.

Why he will not make the Hurricanes:

Palushaj is very similar to Drayson Bowman, in the sense that they are both decent at keeping play in the offensive zone but have had trouble scoring throughout their careers. They're both players who would fit in nicely on a checking line but still need to work on their all-around game before they become full-time NHL-ers. That said, Palushaj is better than Bowman defensively and could have an edge over him if he can find his scoring touch or take on penalty killing duties. Whether or not this happens remains to be seen, though.

Brock McGinn

Age: 19
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 188 lbs.
Career Stats

Why he will make the Hurricanes:

McGinn is a hard-nosed player who adds a lot of what the team wants right now and he has apparently impressed the coaches over the summer, so he could be a dark horse to make the team. He also plays a strong game away from the puck, so he might be able to slide into a bottom-six role earlier than most expect.

Why he will not make the Hurricanes:

Almost all of McGinn's strongest assets relate to his physical game and his play away from the puck, so it will be difficult for him to be as effective in the NHL as he was in juniors. He should find his way to the NHL soon, but he will need to get a little stronger before he can be an effective physical player at this level. He could also benefit from another year in juniors to round out his offensive game, as he will likely get top line minutes in Guelph.

Sergey Tolchinsky

Age: 19
Height: 5'7"
Weight: 152 lbs.
Career Stats

Why he will make the Hurricanes:

The only way I can see Tolchinsky making the Canes this early is because the coaches love him and he has been the team's best junior prospect in camp thus far. Tolchinsky's made a habit of going above and beyond what is expected of him ever since being passed over in the draft and it would be pretty amazing to see him make the team out of camp. He is a dangerous scorer and creative play-maker, so he definitely has a lot of tools that could help the Canes both in the short and long-term.


Why he will not make the Hurricanes:

Tolchinsky is still very young and will need to get stronger before he is ready to take on NHL-level competition. Another year in juniors isn't going to hurt him either because he has only one season of OHL experience and should dominate on that level if his performance this summer is any indication. It's also tough to figure out where he would fit in the Hurricanes lineup because he is more fit for a top-six spot rather than the third or fourth line, which is why I think he will return to Sault Ste. Marie for one more year.

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