Every team always has one or two players who are great in a certain role but often get overslotted by the coaching staff and can appear worse than they actually are at times. For many seasons, that player has normally been Chad LaRose on the Hurricanes but last year, it may have been Patrick Dwyer. An excellent penalty killer and defensive forward, Dwyer does a lot of things well and would have a spot on most NHL clubs. That spot, of course, being on the third or fourth line, which is where the Hurricanes normally used him until this year where he became a regular in the top-six.
After the Canes decided to send Zac Dalpe to Charlotte, they needed someone to take his place on the second line until Tuomo Ruutu returned. For much of the year, that player was Dwyer and he was not a terrible fit compared to the team's other options. Dwyer can skate well enough to keep up with the Hurricanes top-six and he has plenty of experience playing a tough-minute role, so he would not be terribly out of place on Jordan Staal's wing. He was also noticeably better at driving the play this year than he was in past seasons, which adds to his overall value. All of these qualities would make Dwyer a fine top-six player, but what makes him overslotted in that role is his offensive upside, or lack thereof.
Despite doing everything else well, Dwyer had a scoring rate of less than 1.5 at even strength, which is pretty low for someone who played top-six minutes. His 16 points in 46 games would be pro-rated to about 28-30 points in an 82 game season and the eight goals he scored this year would tie a career high for him. Dwyer's an effective player and can use his speed to create offense and drive possession, he has just not been able to finish and this is something that has been true for his entire career. This is evidenced by his low goal totals and his 7.1% career shooting percentage.
Not being able to score much isn't the worst thing in the world, though and Dwyer at least makes up for it by contributing well in other areas. The problem was more related to the Hurricanes using him as a second liner when he probably shouldn't have stayed in that role for more than a few games. Dwyer's 16 points would have been excellent for a depth player but as a top-sixer, it's underwhelming and basically the same issue that a lot of fans had with LaRose for years. No one is going to accuse Dwyer of being a bad player and he does a lot of things to help the team, but Dwyer is best suited as a third liner and some problems can arise when he is expected to be more than that.
With that being said, Dwyer was one of the team's better forwards this year and he gave the Canes quite a bargain for his $625k cap hit.
Dwyer's promotion to the top-six is noticeable here, as he started to play more minutes after game 7 and his ice time at even strength stayed fairly consistent since that point. He was never a "big minute" player and usually played fewer minutes at even strength than guys like Jordan Staal, but he typically played about 12-15 minutes a game and was on the edge of getting "top-six minutes" by definition. Add in his minutes on the PK and he got a healthy amount of ice-time on the PK. Dwyer also played a pretty important role on the team as a "tough-minute" player on Jordan Staal's line, meaning he was typically used against the other team's best forwards. His skillset and strong defensive acumen made him fit for this role and he did almost everything well.
|5v5 Fenwick Diff/20||0.764||4th|
|5v5 Chance Diff/20||0.1||5th|
In terms of forwards who played significant minutes, Dwyer was arguably the best defensively. His numbers were a little worse than last season going by the number of goals against that he was on the ice for, but his scoring chance numbers were very strong. Only three forwards were on the ice for fewer chances per 60 minutes than Dwyer and those three players were fourth liners who were playing easier minutes than Dwyer. That being said, Dwyer was still worse defensively than they were last season, but he made up for this by being a much stronger territorial player.
I'm not sure how much of this was due to him riding shotgun on a line with Jordan Staal, who drives the play at an excellent rate, but the puck was moving in the right direction whenever Dwyer was on the ice. Dwyer has never been that good of a play driver in the past, so this was a nice dimension added to his game. It also made his relatively low offensive production not hurt the Canes as much because he was helping the team in other areas and keeping the puck in the opponent's end whenever he was out there. I think you can partially attribute this to better linemates, but Dwyer has the tools to be a solid possession-driver and we saw that this year. Having a lot of guys who can carry the mail against other team's top lines is never a bad thing, so Dwyer's contributions go beyond his point total.
Unfortunately, this didn't results in a lot of goals and points for him, which partially relates to his skillset and his limitations as an offensive player.
5v5 Zone Entries
It's a shame that Dwyer isn't more gifted skill-wise because he had a pretty big role in the neutral zone and was able to carry the puck into opposing territory at an impressive rate for a third liner. Outside of his defensive play, Dwyer's best asset is his speed and this is why he was able to carry the puck in regularly despite being a "grinder" and expected to play dump-and-chase more times than not. I kind of wish Dwyer would gain the zone with possession more often because he led a high number of the team's zone entries, especially for his ice-time, could have created a lot more offense had he done so. If he can continue to do this as a bottom-sixer next year then it should lead to good things because the Canes third and fourth lines resorted to giving the puck away in the neutral zone way too often for my liking.
Season Grade: B+
Dwyer scored at a low rate for a top-six player, but he was on-pace to set career highs in goals and points in a full-82 game season so he did well relative to expectations. His contributions in other areas were also much better than what they were in previous seasons, mostly his ability to control possession which was a nice surprise. I don't think he should have been used on a scoring line because he is clearly not a fit there, but his performance there was not bad and statistically, he had arguably the best season of his career.
The Final Word
You can never have too many players like Dwyer on your team. He does just about everything the coaches ask of him and can play a lot of different roles. He rarely makes a mistake and when he does, he almost always makes up for it on the second opportunity. Plus, having a guy who can do things like kill penalties, play strong defensively and drive possession all for around the league minimum is getting quite a bit for your money, so it's hard to complain with Dwyer's production this year. The only real improvement you want to see out of him is more offense, and that's mainly because of the role the coaching staff put him in. For a third liner, Dwyer's point production is fine and his overall contributions are even better when you factor in everything else he does. Overslotting players into roles they aren't suited for has been a problem in Carolina for years and Dwyer in the top-six was one of those situations. It's more of an issue with the team and the coaching staff than the themselves, though.