Training Camp Battles: 4th Line Center

Much like the rest of their bottom-six, the Hurricanes don't really have a set plan for their fourth line just yet and we probably won't know who will be on it until the team gets a few games under their belt. With so many players on two-way deals in camp, the only way to find out who sticks is through a process of trial and error, so the Hurricanes will likely go with this approach when it comes to building their third and fourth lines. I went over some possibilities for the third line last week, but who could we see on the fourth line?

Judging from the lines from tonight's pre-season game, Kirk Muller is giving a lot of hard-nosed players a look in camp, so we could see the Canes deploy a big fourth line to start the year. While there's nothing wrong with adding size and toughness, I would abject to it if it comes at the expense of a better player being waived or sent back to the minors. The goal is to dress the best lineup possible and using a roster spot on an enforcer or a player who doesn't provide much in terms of hockey ability wouldn't be a wise move, especially for a team with scoring depth issues like the Canes.

That said, any approach is probably better than last year because the Hurricanes got absolutely no offense from their fourth line then. They produced one goal on the entire season and were generally held to 5-7 minutes at even strength because they couldn't be trusted with any more minutes. This was usually the case when Tim Wallace or Kevin Westgarth were playing. The Hurricanes will have to get more out of their fourth line this year and it all starts with finding someone to replace Tim Brent as the center of this unit.

Brent was considered a good teammate and a nice asset on the power play, but what he did at even strength was replaceable and the only thing that kept him from being a liability was that he gave the Canes a huge edge in the territorial game last year. It didn't result in too much because he was playing 5-8 minutes a game against other team's fourth lines, but getting a territorial advantage is never a bad thing. Ideally, the Hurricanes will need to find someone who can score and drive the play forward as their new fourth line center and they have a few players who can potentially do that. Both Riley Nash & Jeremy Welsh could be called upon to do this, as they fit the mold of a fourth line center well, but who else on the roster could be in running?

Since I already looked at Nash & Welsh a week ago, we will skip them and go over some other players.

Candidate One: Brett Sutter

Age: 26
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 200 lbs.

Why he will make the Hurricanes?

Sutter has been a solid AHL player and the captain of the Charlotte Checkers for years, so one would think that he should be ready to make the jump anytime soon. He has also been the third line center in Charlotte for a long time now and might transition to a fourth line role in the NHL faster than someone like Welsh or Nash, who are used to playing more minutes. Sutter has also seen his offense improve at the AHL every year and is coming off a terrific season, scoring 19 goals and 48 points in 70 games. If he is going to ever make the NHL, now would be a pretty good time.

Why he will not make the Hurricanes?

Sutter has received call-ups on multiple occasions throughout this career with the Hurricanes and he has never been able to stick. Part of the reason is because he was usually only called up on an emergency basis, but another reason is because he has struggled in a fourth line role. The Hurricanes have gotten sledgehammered at even strength whenever he was on the ice and this is bad news for someone playing soft, fourth line minutes. I don't think there is much more for Sutter to learn in the AHL, but he will need to be a lot better if he plans to make the Hurricanes full-time.

Candidate Two: Brody Sutter

Age: 21
Height: 6'04
Weight: 200 lbs.
Career Stats

Why he will make the Hurricanes:

The coaching staff said during development camp that they believe Brody will find a spot in the NHL someday and that could be as soon as this year. Part of that is because of his impressive size and how he plays a strong game along the boards. He is also the type of player who will get in the goaltender's face and produce offensively if he is given the opportunity. Despite starting last year in the ECHL and not putting up many points in Charlotte, the coaches down there seem to like Brody a lot and it wouldn't surprise me if he is given a decent look in camp.

Why he will not make the Hurricanes:

Brody has zero NHL experience and has played only 27 games at the professional level on top of that. Sure, he has the size to make it in the NHL but he might need to get some more experience playing against other professionals before we talk about him earning a full-time role with Carolina. Sutter was also predominantly a fourth liner with the Checkers last season and there are likely some other players higher in the pecking order to make the team. A good camp and pre-season might change things (see Riley Nash in 2011), but as of right now, I think he is a long-shot to make the club.

Candidate Three: Brendan Woods

Age: 21
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 215 lbs.

Why he will make the Hurricanes:

I was a little surprised that the Hurricanes signed Woods to his entry level contract, given that he had a chance to play top-six minutes in his junior year at Wisconsin, but with so many players in Charlotte on the way out, they needed to bring some new blood in. Woods will likely be one of those players. Son of former NHL-er Bob Woods, Brendan is a very smart player and was effective as a checking line center for the Badgers the last two years. He can win faceoffs, loves to throw his weight around the ice and his offense is underrated, as well. It might be hard for him to make the team over the other candidates, but the door is open now with him receiving a camp invite.

Why he will not make the Hurricanes:

Woods has barely any professional experience and I can't see him making the jump from the NCAA to the NHL right off the bat. His scoring numbers weren't impressive (although he was playing a third line role) and he could use a year or two in the AHL to round out his offensive game. He could be in the NHL someday, but right now it looks unlikely.

Add in these three players plus Welsh & Nash and the Hurricanes have some options with what they can do with their fourth line. The only downside is that none of these players have much NHL experience, but a fourth line role is generally the easiest way to make an NHL club, so the opportunity for them to make an impression is there. That said, I could see the Hurricanes bring in someone else via waivers if none of these players work out or if they want more experience on their fourth line. I'm in favor of using one of the kids for now because it's generally a good idea to see what you already have before moving players around or adding someone else. to play on the fourth line.