The Hurricanes are lacking talent in their top-six. You know it, I know it, everyone who watches hockey knows it. Fortunately, the team is finally blessed some organizational depth and have a few forwards currently on the roster who have top-six potential. If there was good thing that came from the injury to Jussi Jokinen, it was that Paul Maurice finally gave players like Anthony Stewart and Zach Boychuk a chance on the second line to see how they would fit in. Fast forward a week later and Stewart is a healthy scratch, Boychuk has played only 13 shifts over the last two games, Jiri Tlusty has been bumped to the fourth line and Zac Dalpe is still only getting 3-5 minutes of ice time per game.
Certainly there has to be a reason for this, right? Let’s see how these players performed when getting top-six minutes.
Stewart was the original replacement for Jokinen on the second line with Tuomo Ruutu moving over to center. His first game was against the Washington Capitals two Friday’s ago. In that game alone, he was on ice for six Carolina chances and two of Washington’s. He scored a goal by doing exactly what he is supposed to do: Go to the front of the net, screen the goalie and tip in a point shot. He doesn’t have much of a skill-set but if he does that every game then good things will come. The next game, he started off on the second line, was on-ice for two Dallas goals in the first period and he ended up playing less than seven minutes. He had six shifts in the first period and seven total the rest of the game and has been a healthy scratch since then.
You heard that right. Stewart played very well one game and was then abolished to the fourth line (and soon the press box) after one bad period. I’m not a huge fan of Stewart and believe that he doesn’t bring much to the table, but I am not sure what he did to earn himself a spot in the press box when there’s a couple other players who are doing worse. I know he’s probably on a shorter leash than some players but it’s odd how one bad period got him exiled after playing well the previous game.
This one makes the least sense and I’ll let the numbers do the talking here.
Here are the games where Boychuk has played in the top-six and how he performed:
In the two games that Boychuk received top-six minutes, he was able to create offense and play well territorially against pretty decent competition. Hell, he managed to be on ice for five scoring chances and only one against in the Devils game despite starting only two of his draws in the offensive zone. After the Rangers game, Boychuk has found himself back on the fourth line again and has skated has skated only 13 shifts in his last two games. Add in the fact that his corsi percentage with the score tied is .632 and you have to think that he has done nothing to lose his spot in the top-six. I understand Maurice wanting to move Staal to the wing and put him with Brandon Sutter but it would make more sense to at least roll four lines to give Boychuk some more ice time. You can’t say that he hasn’t earned it.
I talked about Tlusty a couple weeks ago and wondered if he would be able to stick on the first line. Ever since I made that post, he has gotten to play three more games on the first line and has posted a scoring chance rating of only 22.2%, so that answers my question. He played for a couple games, played poorly for three and he soon found is way back to the fourth line again. How long will this last? Your guess is as good as mine. He is having a good season, so I hope the banishment isn’t too long.
Has yet to play more than six minutes ever since he came back from his injury stint. He hasn’t done much on the fourth line but he hasn’t really been given a chance. Given his talent, I think that should change.
I am not advocating for any of these players to get top-six minutes (except Boychuk), but I really think they should be playing more than they are now. I know rolling four lines is hard to do when you’re playing from behind but the Canes are having trouble scoring and creating chances right now. These players should be able to help that cause just a little bit. We’ve seen Boychuk do it and it makes almost no sense for him to be playing so little after producing in the top-six. I also think that Dalpe should at least get a chance to show what he can do when given more ice-time. What harm could it bring at this point?