Carolina Hurricanes: Which Fourth-Line Players Will Make Team in Training Camp?

Mark JonesSenior Analyst IAugust 14, 2013

Carolina Hurricanes: Which Fourth-Line Players Will Make Team in Training Camp?

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    Entering the start of training camp next month, the Carolina Hurricanes stand on the verge of one of the biggest roster-spot battles in franchise history.

    GM Jim Rutherford, recognizing how costly the Hurricanes' lack of depth scoring was last year, brought in two more potential bottom-six wingers via free agency. Nathan Gerbe and Aaron Palushaj will compete for valuable NHL positions along with 2013's underwhelming cast and a surfeit of up-and-coming prospects.

    Semi-established NHL-ers Drayson Bowman, Riley Nash, Kevin Westgarth, Gerbe and Palushaj in addition to potential big-league rookies Nicolas Blanchard, Zac Dalpe, Brock McGinn, Victor Rask, Jared Staal, Brett Sutter, Chris Terry and Jeremy Welsh will all engage in a training camp battle for the ages.

    Four forward slots most likely are open for the taking: one alongside Elias Lindholm and either Jeff Skinner or Patrick Dwyer on the third line and three more on the fourth line. For those with one-way contracts—Bowman and Westgarth, to be specific—making the team as the "13th forward" (a healthy scratch most nights) is also a possibility.

    Where do each of those 13 young players stand entering September's training camp? What are their respective odds of making the Hurricanes' opening day roster? A detailed player-by-player breakdown falls on the coming slides.

    Notes: Players listed alphabetically. All Corsi ratings courtesy of BehindtheNet.ca. All other stats courtesy of HockeyDB.com.

Nicolas Blanchard

1 of 13

    2013 NHL Stats (Hurricanes): 9 GP, 0 P, -2, 20 PIM

    2012-13 AHL Stats (Checkers): 61 GP, 9 P, -13, 124 PIM

    Blanchard, 26, played fairly well in his first career NHL stint in April. He lived up to his lofty billing in fighting ability and seemed to mesh quickly with his unfamiliar teammates.

    However, Blanchard is a far less experienced enforcer than Kevin Westgarth and offers no more offensive upside (zero points and the Hurricanes' second-worst Corsi rating) than Westgarth. It's hard to see him ever earning a permanent job at the top level.

    Odds of Making the Team: 5 percent

Drayson Bowman

2 of 13

    2013 NHL Stats (Hurricanes): 37 GP, 5 P, -7

    2012-13 AHL Stats (Checkers): 37 GP, 22 P, +2

    Bowman has the advantage of a one-way contract over most of his competitors—an advantage that earned him a post-lockout NHL job last season despite his largely invisible play.

    The 24-year-old's much-anticipated rookie campaign was a massive disappointment (along with most of the rest of the club's bottom-six forwards), and it's left him with a toss-up chance to rejoin the 'Canes this fall. Expect him to be trade bait as the season progresses no matter where he's playing.

    Odds of Making the Team: 50 percent

Zac Dalpe

3 of 13

    2013 NHL Stats (Hurricanes): 10 GP, 3 P, -7

    2012-13 AHL Stats (Checkers): 54 GP, 42 P, +16

    A perennial star at the AHL level, Dalpe has worked hard to finally break through to the NHL in the past half-decade. His 10 games in Raleigh last season didn't produce much on the box score, but he did quietly register the No. 1 Corsi rating on the team with a 17.94 mark.

    We believe 2013-14 will, at last, be the season this 23-year-old former second-round pick lives up to expectations. He has a decent shot at playing on the same line as Jeff Skinner, with whom he has historically shown excellent chemistry.

    Odds of Making the Team: 65 percent

Nathan Gerbe

4 of 13

    2013 NHL Stats (Sabres): 42 GP, 10 P, -3

    New 'Canes addition Nathan Gerbe is just two seasons removed from a 16-goal, 31-point campaign with Buffalo and boasts a relatively impressive 188 games of NHL experience.

    That's the good news. The bad news is that, at a downright puny 5'6", he's never going to make it as a fourth-line forward. It's third-line wing or bust for Gerbe, and the odds are that he'll end up a mere AHL superstar when it's all said and done.

    Odds of Making the Team: 40 percent

Brock McGinn

5 of 13

    2012-13 OHL Stats (Guelph Storm): 68 GP, 54 P, +7

    2012-13 AHL Stats (Checkers): 4 GP, 0 P, -2

    McGinn, the 'Canes second-round selection in 2012, is coming off a fantastic final season in the junior leagues and earned rave reviews from the entire Carolina coaching staff during July's Development Camp. Despite his smaller frame, McGinn was clearly not afraid to be physical.

    On his draft day a year ago, few would've expected him to contend for an NHL gig in 2013-14. McGinn has steadily emerged as one of the most promising youngsters in the 'Canes system, though, and stands to have an outside chance of making the sudden jump from juniors to big leagues this autumn.

    Odds of Making the Team: 10 percent

Riley Nash

6 of 13

    2013 NHL Stats (Hurricanes): 32 GP, 9 P, -4

    2012-13 AHL Stats (Checkers): 51 GP, 37 P, +14

    Nash surprised many with a stellar NHL campaign this past spring, breaking out of a crowded cast of hopefuls to earn sizable playing time as the season progressed. His scoring occurred only in bursts, but his impeccable defensive mindset was visible most every night.

    Nash has a superb opportunity to establish himself as one of Carolina's reliable bottom-six cornerstones with another strong performance this coming year.

    Odds of Making the Team: 80 percent

     

    For an in-depth graphical analysis of Nash's 2013 play, read our recent column.

Aaron Palushaj

7 of 13

    2013 NHL Stats (Colorado Avalanche): 32 GP, 9 P, -2

    2012-13 AHL Stats (Hamilton Bulldogs): 21 GP, 10 P, -9

    Following his post-lockout waiver claim by the Avalanche, Palushaj was a pleasant surprise—he proved a valuable defensive winger for Colorado as the season moved along.

    Just 23 years old, Palushaj recorded a respectable 32 hits, 13 blocked shots and 2.5 relative Corsi rating. He was also very effective at moving the puck out of his own end, as demonstrated by his elite zone start differential.

    Palushaj is exactly the kind of player the 'Canes have been looking for in their bottom six.

    Odds of Making the Team: 75 percent

Victor Rask

8 of 13

    2012-13 WHL Stats (Calgary Hitmen): 37 GP, 41 P, +14

    2012-13 AHL Stats (Checkers): 10 GP, 5 P, +7

    Another fast-rising former second-round choice, Victor Rask shone brightly in his first 10 AHL appearances. Coupled with his furious scoring pace in his last WHL campaign, Rask is riding high out of 2012-13.

    We believe he needs at least another partial season in Charlotte to hone the grittier parts of his game, but Rask could nonetheless be a dark horse candidate to land along Lindholm and Skinner come opening day.

    Odds of Making the Team: 10 percent

Jared Staal

9 of 13

    2013 NHL Stats (Hurricanes): 2 GP, 0 P, -2

    2012-13 AHL Stats (Checkers): 52 GP, 7 P, -12

    Unfortunately, Jared Staal has essentially zero professional upside, and his minor-league numbers from last year prove it.

    As long as he sticks around, he's bound for at least one call-up per year—if only to get the 'Canes and the Staal family another few national headlines. Conversely, don't expect Staal to ever seriously vie for a full-time gig.

    Odds of Making the Team: 5 percent

Brett Sutter

10 of 13

    2013 NHL Stats (Hurricanes): 3 GP, 0 P, -1

    2012-13 AHL Stats (Checkers): 70 GP, 48 P, +4

    Brett Sutter made his NHL debut all the way back in 2008-09, but (unlike cousin Brandon) he's consistently failed to establish himself in the years since. The 26-year-old's big-league appearances dropped from 15 in 2011-12 to just three in 2013, even as his AHL production jumped from 29 to 48 points.

    Sutter does have a firm acumen in his own zone and has been known to drop the gloves from time to time, too. The 'Canes know precisely what they're getting every time he steps on the ice; for that reason, he could potentially receive more NHL ice time in 2013.

    Odds of Making the Team: 25 percent

Chris Terry

11 of 13

    2013 NHL Stats (Hurricanes): 3 GP, 1 P, +0

    2012-13 AHL Stats (Checkers): 70 GP, 60 P, +1

    Tales of players overcoming size obstacles are always inspirational, but it's just never worked out that way for Terry. At 5'10", 190 pounds, he's on the small side and doesn't respond well to tough play either.

    Year after year, Terry is a top scorer at the AHL level; he's certainly panned out better than most fifth-round picks do. As for his NHL aspirations, though, the odds don't seem to be in his favor.

    Odds of Making the Team: 5 percent

Jeremy Welsh

12 of 13

    2013 NHL Stats (Hurricanes): 5 GP, 1 P, +1

    2012-13 AHL Stats (Checkers): 69 GP, 26 P, -9

    Welsh was signed as an NCAA free agent in April 2012 to much, much ado.

    He then proceeded to put forth a decidedly mediocre and arguably bad AHL debut season this past year, tallying an unimpressive 14 goals and 26 points. The 6'3" 25-year-old didn't do much at the NHL level, either.

    We're extremely bearish on Welsh's training camp chances this September.

    Odds of Making the Team: 30 percent

Kevin Westgarth

13 of 13

    2013 NHL Stats (Hurricanes): 31 GP, 4 P, +1

    Westgarth's play on the puck was indisputably awful in 2013, and his highly touted fisticuff tendencies were somewhat underwhelming as well. To fill his role successfully this coming season, Kirk Muller needs to encourage him to drop the gloves more frequently.

    Given his one-way contract and what the 'Canes paid to acquire him last spring, Westgarth will probably again collect his full $750,000 NHL paycheck in 2013-14. He'll be a healthy scratch on many nights, though. 

    Odds of Making the Team: 85 percent