To put Jeff Skinner on the first line or not?

Every team needs scoring balance in their forward corps. It’s how teams like Washington, Detroit, San Jose, Vancouver, etc. manage to do so well during the regular season and it’s why a lot of Canes fans want to keep Carolina’s second line of Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner in-tact for at least next season. However, one thing the teams mentioned above have that the Canes don’t is a top-six full of forwards capable of scoring at least 20 goals. This is why I am very tempted to make the case for placing Skinner and possibly Jokinen or Ruutu on the top line with Eric Staal because it gives the Canes that one big line that teams fear to go up against. There are A LOT of reasons why this shouldn’t happen, though. Which is why we are going to weigh the pros and cons of placing Skinner on the first line in this post. 

Pros of Skinner on the first line:

  • Two dangerous offensive threats on the same line and a goal-scorer to play on Staal’s wing. This line has the potential to be scary if both can replicate what they did last season. Makes sense to put one of your best goal scorers on the top line, no?
  • Anthony Stewart gets a more fitting place in the lineup on the second line. Why is this the case? Because Stewart needs the benefit of protection to be successful (or at least have a chance to put up numbers like he did Atlanta, which wasn’t much) and Carolina’s second line got the most protection out of the entire forward corps last year.Makes a little more sense than putting him on the first line with Staal or on the third line where he’ll have to take on some tough assignments.
  • A chance for Skinner to take on tougher competition and challenge him more. After all, he’s going to have to do this at some point in his career, right?
  • It’s possible that Carolina’s lower lines could other team’s weaker defense pairings as most of the focus will be on this line.
  • Skinner and Staal have experience playing together on the powerplay so it’s not like this will be completely new to him. Of course, even strength is a completely different story.
  • There are two wing spots to fill on the first line and Skinner’s a better option than Zach Boychuk, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Anthony Stewart and nearly every other candidate to play on Staal’s line.

Cons of Skinner on the first line:

  • I’ve refuted this a number of times but him, Jokinen and Ruutu were one of the Canes best lines last season and it would seem foolish to break that up. Do you really think Anthony Stewart is going to replace Skinner’s production even with soft ice time? I shouldn’t even need to show you the stats to tell you he won’t but I will anyway. YIKES. That’s a serious drop-off. 
  • As I said earlier, you need scoring depth to be successful and Carolina would have a big hole in the second line to fill there. It’s unlikely that Jussi Jokinen touches 30 goals again and Ruutu’s ceiling is probably 25 at the most. Skinner makes that line better. Also, if you refer to the post I made on Eric Staal a few weeks back, you’ll see that Staal made nearly all of his linemates better. I don’t know if Ruutu can do that as he’s played with two pretty good wingers during his time as a center. There is a better chance of Staal making due with weaker linemates than Ruutu.
  • Skinner is not even 20 yet and it’s probably best he stays on the line that gets the benefit of offensive zone starts for now. It’s better for his development at his stage and his defensive abilities haven’t been too keen.
  • Skinner and Staal have worked together well on the powerplay but at even strength they struggled (refer to my scoring chance by line combination post linked earlier). The only time they had success was with Erik Cole and he’s gone now. They struggled mightly with anyone else on the other wing, especially Chad LaRose. Unless Boychuk is the real deal, that may continue next season.
  • Alexei Ponikarovsky has scored 20 goals before with good linemates and he’ll likely be stuck on the third line if Skinner plays on the first, which will mean there’s a good chance he’ll be lucky to score more than 10 goals this season. Again, a team that’s probably going to struggle to score goals should probably spread the wealth.

In summation, if Skinner (and possibly Jokinen) are placed on the first line then that means Carolina will have one big line and then a very weak forward corps. Yes, the thought of what Skinner and Staal could do together is scary but let’s use that on the powerplay for now and keep our forward corps balanced for the time being. If we run into some major scoring issues then I could see these two placed on a line together. As of right now, I don’t think it’s the smartest thing to do.