Improving the second line

Jordan Staal came to Raleigh with enormous expectations and in his first 105 games, he has lived up to half of his reputation. When it comes to playing well away from the puck, the Hurricanes don't have many better forwards on their roster, as Jordan is one of the team's best players at driving possession at even strength. He is also used heavily on the penalty kill and is usually matched up against the opposing team's best lines. Most knew this about Jordan when the Hurricanes acquired him. However, something they were expecting was to him to make more of an impact offensively. 

Through Jordan's first 105 games, he has only 21 goals and 58 points. Some might look past that because of how much he contributes in other areas, but the Canes were expecting more for someone who plays as many minutes as Jordan does. He might not have the offensive upside that people hyped about in his Pittsburgh days, but he should be better than a .5 PPG player, which is what he has been since joining the Hurricanes. Although, it's hard to say how much control Jordan has over his low point total. 

When it comes to getting the puck into the offensive zone, creating shots and dominating territorial play, his line is usually the best and it doesn't matter who is on his wings. So why hasn't it translated to more points? Since joining the Hurricanes, Jordan has seen his shooting percentage dip from 13.1% to 9% and his on-ice shooting percentage has gone from around 8.5-10% to 5-7%, currently sitting at 4.5%. So not only has Jordan's goal-scoring gone down, his linemates have as well. Finding out why is the hard part. 

I mentioned earlier that his offense probably isn't as good as it was hyped, but he was a high percentage shooter in Pittsburgh and this was with some less-than-ideal linemates. He regularly scored at least a 15-goal pace there while getting third-line minutes & special teams duty and had some decent chemistry with players like Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke & Pascal Dupuis in various years. Jordan's had chemistry with players in Carolina, as well but it hasn't resulted in many goals. After the jump, we'll take a closer look at his linemates and what can be done to get more offense out of Jordan. 

When you have a player who is as good at controlling territorial play as Jordan, the normal theory is form him to stick with the system and hope the bounces come. Normally, I would agree and say that this is what the Canes should do but it's been 105 games and Jordan's offense hasn't improved. What makes it even more frustrating is that Jordan does almost all the right things to score. He could shoot the puck a little more often, but he still takes more close-range shots than almost any forward on the team and isn't shy about crashing the net or screening the goalie either. He should probably have more than 11 goals at this point in the season.

It's also frustrating because he put up better numbers in Pittsburgh with similar linemates. Just how similar are they, though? Earlier in the year, I wrote about how Jordan was being used and that he is probably not going to produce much offense if he continued to get buried in the defensive zone with wingers who would be in the bottom-six on a contending team. Since then, his assignments have gotten easier thanks to Manny Malhotra, but have his linemates improved?

Here are who he has had on his wings during his "two" years in Carolina. 

Player TOI Corsi%
Dwyer 654.08 52.8
Skinner 560.1 55.6
Gerbe 497.28 54.2
Semin 199.47 53.5
Ruutu 183.46 53
Tlusty 160.3 56.7
Lindholm 153.08 59.4
Bowman 109.4 50.7
Jokinen 96.37 59.8
LaRose 96.35 57.4
Dvorak 34.85 44.4

The argument that Jordan hasn't gotten "any" help in Carolina is a little off-base because he spent most of last year with Jeff Skinner on his left wing. Granted, that hasn't happened much this year, but Jordan has gotten to spend some time with some pretty skilled players like Skinner, Semin, Ruutu & Lindholm. However, a lot of that came during the shortened season. This year, Jordan has spent about 2/3 of his 5v5 ice time alongside Patrick Dwyer & Nathan Gerbe. These three have been one of Carolina's best lines at driving possession and are a great trio to send out against the opposing team's top line, but there's only so much offense they can produce.

Great players "should" be able to produce no matter who is on their wings but as good as Dwyer's play is away from the puck, he has never topped eight goals in a season and his career shooting percentage is among the lowest in the NHL since 2007. Shooting percentage is mostly a product of luck,  but when a player has that much trouble finishing in his career, it probably has more to do with his skillset. Gerbe's scoring woes aren't as bad as Dwyer's, but he is a career 7.1% shooter so finishing has never been his strong suit. 

Dwyer is actually one of the few players who has seen his shooting percentage increase while playing with Jordan Staal, at least during his time as a Hurricane. 

With Jordan Without Jordan  
  Goals Shots Sh% Goals Shots Sh% 5v5 Sh%
Gerbe 4 82 4.88% 4 46 8.70% 6.3%
Dwyer 6 99 6.06% 2 74 2.70% 4.6%
Lindholm 1 9 11.11% 1 10 10.00% 10.5%
Semin 1 43 2.33% 13 156 8.33% 7.0%
Skinner 9 120 7.50% 10 115 8.50% 7.7%
Ruutu 4 25 16.00% 4 61 6.56% 9.3%
Dvorak 0 3 0.00% 3 40 7.50% 7.0%
Jokinen 0 16 0.00% 9 41 21.95% 15.8%
LaRose 1 17 5.88% 0 39 0.00% 1.8%
Bowman 2 22 9.09% 5 105 4.76% 5.5%
Tlusty 1 20 5.00% 21 154 13.64% 12.6%

This is a very small sample of shots, so it's probably a tad misleading but it is a little interesting how much trouble some Carolina forwards have had finding the back fo the net while playing on Jordan Staal's wing. Dwyer, Ruutu, Bowman & LaRose are the only ones who shot at a higher percentage with Jordan than they did on another Carolina from 2013 to 2014. Although, something worth mentioning is that a lot of these guys had trouble scoring at 5v5 in general for the last two seasons so that's probably part of the problem. 

Someone who knows a little about that is Jeff Skinner. It's interesting to see how much was made out of Skinner not having any chemistry with Jordan despite him shooting at around the same percentage as he did when he was on other lines, at least during 5v5 play.

Skinner actually scored all of his 5v5 goals last season while on a line with Jordan Staal and has scored nine on the power play this year, so that's probably skewed people's perceptions a little. Maybe this line wasn't as much of a disaster as people thought? With Ruutu also finding his game, maybe trying these three again won't be such a bad idea? We know that Jordan can at least form a solid territorial line with almost anyone and adding two players with more of an offensive punch like Skinner & Ruutu could help Carolina's scoring depth a little.

As much as Jordan needs to get going offensively, the coaches can help him out by using him with players who can finish. They've thought outside of the box a little by using him with Semin in December, but that was quickly scrapped and he found himself back with Gerbe & Dwyer. As a shutdown line, those three have been great but the Canes will need to upgrade if they want more out of their second line. This is why I'm hoping Skinner and one of Lindholm or Ruutu can stick with Jordan after the Olympic break. With how scattered Jordan's offensive results are, it's at least worth another shot. 

Stats courtesy of Hockey Analysis, Extra Skater & Hockey-reference

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