Some unfortunate news came earlier today when the Hurricanes announced that Jeff Skinner wasn't feeling well at practice today and would not be traveling with the team to Montreal for tomorrow's game. This will leave three key players out of the lineup with Tim Gleason and Joni Pitkanen also injured but that's hopefully only a short-term concern. More people are worried about the health of Skinner and how serious his injury is. As of right now, it's only been announced as an "upper-body concern" but with Skinner's concussion history and the number of hits he has been taking lately, it's easy to get really worried about this.
Skinner is the second highest scorer on the team behind Eric Staal, so losing him would be a significant blow but even if he is out for more than a couple games, the Canes second line should be in decent shape because of the guy centering it, Jordan Staal. One of the reasons the Hurricanes traded for Staal in the first place is because he has shown the ability to carry almost every line he has centered for his entire career and do it while being matched up against opposing team's top lines. He was able to do this with the Penguins and he's been doing a fine job in that role with the Hurricanes so far.
For most of this season, he has been playing in a tough-minutes role alongside Jeff Skinner and Patrick Dwyer and this line has been the Canes best offensive unit in terms of producing scoring chances. The amount of offense they've been creating is actually surprising considering the type of assignments they've been receiving but Staal, Skinner and Dwyer have been getting the job done. I'm sure Skinner has played a big role in this but Staal's ability to drive the play forward at even strength has always been among the best in the league so there is no doubt that he is playing a big role in this line's success, too.
Taking Skinner off this line is going to obviously cause them to lose a lot of offense, but that doesn't mean it will become useless. Staal wasn't exactly blessed with playing with offensive juggernauts during his time with the Penguins as his most common linemates in Pittsburgh include the likes of Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke, Ruslan Fedotenko, Petr Sykora, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz and Max Talbot. None of those lines will strike fear into the hearts of opponents, but Staal was able to make most of them very effective (Sykora being the only one he struggled with) and they ended up being useful lines who could at least drive the play forward. What's to say that he can't succeed with someone like Patrick Dwyer, Jussi Jokinen, Jiri Tlusty, Zac Dalpe or even Drayson Bowman?
The Hurricanes obviously can't stick anyone with Staal and hope things work out because his linemates in Pittsburgh were talented and somewhat useful away from him. However, Staal has proven that he doesn't need a scorer on his wing to succeed, so the Hurricanes can probably get by with overslotting someone on the second line for now without crippling the team's offense.
Staal has been with Skinner for most of the year, but Muller shook things up a bit for the Tampa Bay game and put him with Jiri Tlusty and Patrick Dwyer while placing Skinner on a line with Jussi Jokinen. The Canes ended up losing 4-1 but Staal's play was not the reason why. They were actually very effective at driving the play forward, created four scoring chances as a unit and Staal was on-ice for six total chances throughout the game. They were also matched up with Steven Stamkos' line for most of the contest and completely held him in check.
I don't want to get carried away over one strong game, but Staal really played well that night and he was doing it without having a top-end talent on his line like he did in Pittsburgh. If he can continue to do that with someone like Dalpe, Dwyer or Bowman then the Hurricanes might be in good shape without Skinner. At the very least, they should be able to be a line that keeps the puck in the opponent's zone and creates scoring chacnes whenever they are on the ice. The Hurricanes are going to be weaker offensively with Skinner out of the lineup and I'm not sure who will take over his minutes on the powerplay, but I'm confident that the second line will be fine as long as Jordan Staal is the one centering it. This might actually be a good test for him to see how much he can elevate the play off his linemates.