Filling the void on the second line

The Hurricanes have gone through a lot of lineup changes this season but I don't think any position has been more of a revolving door as the right wing spot on the second line. With Tuomo Ruutu out until at least mid-April, Kirk Muller has tried out just about every weapon in his arsenal to find a suitable linemate for Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner. The second line has had it's ups and downs this year, as both Staal and Skinner have done a terrific job of driving possession while playing against tough competition, but finding another winger to help them has been a struggle.

Jordan Staal has been able to make the second line a good territorial unit even with sub-par wingers, but he can't turn dust into gold and make it a scoring line with just anyone. We saw this in the five games that Skinner was hurt. When Skinner is healthy, he and Staal have been somewhat dangerous and effective offensively, but they've struggled in the last couple of games when Tim Wallace was placed on the other wing, which could be a sign that these two can't do all the work by themselves and need a more consistent linemate. The first line might be lighting things up now, but I still believe that they will cool down eventually and when that does, the other lines are going to need to pitch in, which is why filling this hole on the second line will be important.

You could argue that Patrick Dwyer provided the Hurricanes with a nice stop-gap for the second line until Ruutu returns but he was eventually demoted to the third line and has since developed some nice chemistry with Jussi Jokinen & Riley Nash on that unit. Jokinen was another player who got an audition on this line as a winger and while he was able to drive the play well, he wasn't scoring and ended up being demoted. Muller probably doesn't want to mess with the chemistry of that line for now, so I guess Dwyer & Jokinen are no longer options. Chad LaRose and Zac Dalpe would also be options for the second line but they are both injured now which leaves spare parts like Tim Wallace and Drayson Bowman who have been on the fourth line more times than not.

I know that coaches don't like to mess with chemistry, but I think having a good second line is more important than keeping a solid third line together. So let's pretend that all of the players I listed above (save for Dalpe since he's out indefinitely) are fair game for the second line. Which players on the roster is the best fit with Skinner and Staal? This means that they have to be at least decent offensively, play competently against opposing team's top lines and be able to drive the play forward. I'm sure that many people reading this already know who their answer is and have their own opinions on certain players on the team. There's nothing wrong with that, but a better way to go about it is to take a closer look at each player's performance on the ice.

So, what I'm going to do is look at how each player has performed in all three zones without mentioning their names and differ to the readers on who they want to see on the second line from the available options. No biases or previous opinions here, just the facts.

Offensive Zone

  ESP/60 SF/60 Shots/60 Chance/60 EV Sh% On-ice Sh%
Player A 0.54 57.78 10.62 6.25 2.4% 3.51%
Player B 0.48 47.55 5.18 2.56 8.3% 4.55%
Player C 0.61 55.02 8.04 5.1 3.7% 4.21%
Player D 1.93 63.87 7.16 4.96 9.4% 10%
Player E 0.78 64.72 6.89 4.21 6.9% 5.65%

Player D has given the Hurricanes the most results, scoring at a top-six rate while getting plenty of shots off, showing that he has been doing a lot to create offense. However, he has also gotten a bit lucky with the team shooting at 10% at even strength when he is on the ice, so that's worth keeping in mind. Compare his numbers to the likes of Player A and they aren't terribly different in terms of their offensive performance. Player A has actually done a better job at getting shots and chances on net but hasn't received any puck luck whatsoever and has a terrible scoring rate as a result. You can make a similar case for Player E, who isn't getting terribly unlucky when it comes to shooting the puck, but the Hurricanes as a team have struggled to find the back of the net when he is on the ice.

So, Player's A, D & E appear to be the strongest options here if the Canes want offense. Is this the same case when we look at their ability to drive the play?

  5v5 SCF/60 5v5 SCA/60 Diff/60 Corsi% QoC OZ%
Player A 3.3 4.79 -1.49 49% 4th 53.4%
Player B 2.05 3.02 -0.97 49.5% 3rd 56.8%
Player C 3.13 4.09 -0.96 49.3% 2nd 53.7%
Player D 4.47 4.31 0.16 53.6% 1st 48.1%
Player E 4.04 4.57 -0.53 53.5% 1st 50.3%

SCF = Scoring Chances for, SCA = Scoring chances against, QoC = Quality of competition, OZ% = Offensive Zone Start Percentage

For the most part, these numbers match up with the previous table. The one exception is that while Player A has been able to create offense on his own, the Hurricanes have been much worse defensively whenever he is on the ice. He has mostly been playing against other team's 3rd & 4th  lines, too so that doesn't make him the best candidate for a tough-minute role on Staal's line. Player D has been the top performer of the bunch here, with a positive scoring chance differential and shot attempt (aka Corsi) differential at even strength while playing against opposing team's first lines. He is also the only player in the group to have started more of his shifts in the defensive zone, too. Player E has also been matched up against opposing team's top lines and has been decent territorially, but worse when it comes to preventing scoring chances against.

Player B has actually been the best defensive player of the group here, but he has produced little to no offense and most of his ice time has come against other team's third lines, so that doesn't make him a prime candidate either. So, in the end we are left with Players D & E as the best options for the Staal line based on their play in the offensive zone. 

Neutral Zone Play

  Entries/60 % of Controlled Entries Shots/60 per Entry
Player A  20.8 56% 11.1
Player B  19.5 27% 7.6
Player C  18.5 46% 9.7
Player D  21.4 55% 13.2
Player E  17.4 51% 9.6

Here we are looking at how often a player enters the offensive and if he is able to do it with control of the puck. This shows who is winning the battle in the neutral zone and is more likely to drive possession at even strength. Remember, players who are able to enter the zone with control of the puck are more likely to drive the play more than those who do not, so we want a player with a high entry/60 rate and a high percentage of controlled zone entries.

Right off the bat we can probably cancel out Players B & D since they do not have many zone entries relative to their ice time and resort to dumping the puck in more times than not. The Hurricanes are creating less than 10 shots per 60 minutes off their entries and one of the main reasons for that is because of their inability to win the battle in the neutral zone. Player E hasn't been very strong in this department either despite his ability to have control of the puck on a little over 50% of his zone entries.

That leaves us with Players A & D, who are getting the puck into the offensive zone a lot and they are making it count. They have control of the puck on at least 55% of their entries and as a result, the Hurricanes are getting a high amount of shots on goal off them. Being able to play territorially is a key asset to have on the Staal line, so players A & D's ability to win the battle in the neutral zone will go a long way there.

Defensive Zone Play

  Touches/60 Success% Turnover%
Player A  31.55 36.8% 6%
Player B  38.99 31.7% 11%
Player C  22.79 42.7% 14.7%
Player D  35.65 37.2% 5.4%
Player E  34.31 37.9% 5.3%

It hasn't been the case so much this season, but the Jordan Staal line usually gets the tough territorial matchups and starts the majority of their shifts in the defensive zone. This is where a player's ability to lead breakouts and exit the zone will be very important. There is usually more pressure placed on defensemen to lead breakouts, but it's necessary for forwards to be able to get the puck out, too. It's especially important if you're playing with two defensemen who struggle in this area.

Player C has been the strongest at getting the puck out of the zone, but he has also turned it over quite a bit and has much fewer entries than the other four players. Player B has also turned the puck over quite a bit and has gotten the puck out much less often, but he has been trusted to handle the puck more in the defensive zone more than anyone else here. That could be due to his own struggles, though. I.e. he is spending too much time in his own zone and therefore, has a lot of zone exit attempts. 

The three remaining players are roughly equally effective at exiting the zone as each other, so the difference here probably doesn't mean much. The only thing that's somewhat worth pointing out is that he has fewer touches than Players D & E but his ability to exit the zone isn't much greater or worse than their's.

So, after everything that has been presented here, which one of these players would you want to see on the Hurricanes second line? Player D makes a very strong case for himself here, but does his high shooting percentage concern you? Are the defensive struggles of Player A enough to completely write him off as a candidate for the second line? Does Player E's ability to keep his head above water while playing against tough competition stand out to you? Tell me about it, because I'm opening the floor to you guys on this one.