One of the many things that I like about Kirk Muller is that he has been willing to give many young players a chance to succeed. Since his arrival, Muller has been the "Anti-Paul Murice" of sort where he has given most of the Hurricanes younger players top-nine minutes during their call-ups instead of just plugging them into checking line roles. He sort of did this out of necessity when he took over last season since the Hurricanes were starved for top-six forwards and one of the younger players was going to have to step in sooner or later. Guys like Drayson Bowman, Jerome Samson, Zach Boychuk and Zac Dalpe all got a shot under Muller and while Bowman was the only one who stuck, all of them were given an opportunity to succeed after Muller took over.
The Hurricane's don't have any A-level forward prospects in their system right now, so asking one of these players to fill a top-line role would be unreasonable. This season was a different story. The Hurricanes had only spot open in their top-six, which was on the second line and every spot in the bottom-six was basically up for grabs. Brandon Sutter's absence obviously left a big hole to fill as the third line center, but with Jordan Staal taking over his role as the tough-minutes center, all the Canes needed to do was build a third line that could drive possession in soft minutes. Considering that they spent most of last season over-slotting third-liners in the top-six, one would think that assembling a competent third line shouldn't have been an issue for the Canes. Between Drayson Bowman, Patrick Dwyer, Chad LaRose, Riley Nash, Chris Terry, Brett Sutter, Tim Brent, Zac Dalpe, Jeremy Welsh, Andreas Nodl, Tim Wallace, Zach Boychuk and many others, the Canes had enough players that should have been able to succeed in a soft-minutes role.
The third line has gone through a ton of changes this year and hasn't been able to provide any secondary scoring, so this strategy didn't work out, but the plan wasn't terrible going in. Look around the league and you'll see other teams employ similar strategies. Both the St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators have gotten decent production out of their bottom-six while composing them of mostly younger players or grinders who didn't fit into scoring roles. The Hurricanes strategy wasn't terribly different from their's but the execution wasn't as good. Some of it relates to players under-performing, but some of it also relates to Muller and Rutherford not utilizing all of the forward options that they had at their disposal.
Earlier I rattled off a list of of players who could play in a bottom-six role and most of them are competent enough to be able to do so. As third and fourth liners, all they were going to be trusted to do was to drive possession, provide secondary scoring and possibly kill penalties on occasion. On paper, most of these players were capable enough to do that based on their past production or potential. We all know how the story ended, but the odd thing is that quite a few of these players were able to produce while they were in Carolina but were either sent down or not given much of a chance?
This might sound like a tired excuse and there are obviously small sample size issues, but it's interesting when you look at the point-production rates of Carolina's bottom-six forwards and how often they got to play.
|Player||GP||TOI/60||Corsi ON||On-ice Sh%||OZ Start%||P/60||Scoring Chance Diff/60|
I want you to pay attention to each player's time on ice, games played, and points per 60 rate here. Take note of how most of the players near the top of the list were either plugged on the fourth line or sent down abruptly after a few games. The only exceptions being Riley Nash and Patrick Dwyer and the latter has been used in a top-six role for most of the season. We have been through this Dalpe situation over a thousand times now and I still think he should have never been sent down in February. He has only played 10 games, bu the has performe dwell in every aspect of the game during that time. Dalpe has driven possession, created scoring chances and produced fairly well relative to his ice-time. He struggled to adapt in his first couple of seasons, but I think he really made strides to his game this year and should have been in the NHL. Why he wasn't able to secure a full-time role is kind of a mystery to me.
Dalpe isn't a unique case, though. Both Chris Terry and Jeremy Welsh have also produced in limited ice-time. You can't draw any conclusions from what they've done because they've played in so few minutes (and got some buttery soft minutes on top of that), but the Canes have needed scoring from depth roles int the worst way and these two provided that when they were up here. The chances of them sustaining this production was probably very slim, but I still think it's odd that they were quickly sent down while guys like Bowman, LaRose, Wallace, Brent & Westgarth got to play in more games while not producing any points. LaRose and Brent have an advantage since they've been in contribute in ways that don't show up on the scoresheet, but it still doesn't excuse the rest of the bottom-six's lack of production.
With the exception of Dalpe and Dwyer, none of these players were given very difficult assignments and a good chunk of them struggled to drive possession despite that. Bowman, Wallace and Westgarth being the main culprits here. All three of them were given at least 20 games to show what they could do while some of the other call-ups were given a much shorter leash for whatever reason. I'm not sure if Muller has the final say in who gets sent down to Charlotte, but he seemed to give endless chances to guys like Bowman but restricted Welsh to a fourth line role and never gave him much of a chance to show what he could do while he was with the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes obviously have a ton of other problems right now, so Dalpe, Terry and Welsh getting more games would not save their season, but one thing that I think people can agree on is that the Hurricanes need more production from guys other than their star players. They were able to get that from those three players while they were with the team, but it was only short-lived because they were with the Hurricanes for only a few games. Yet guys who were not producing in 20+ games continued to stay in the lineup and get ice-time even though the results weren't coming. Poor shooting luck played a role in Bowman & LaRose's lack of production, but the point remains. The Hurricanes had a lot of options available to them this year, and I do not think they used all of their resources wisely.