Grades for Each Carolina Hurricanes Line Early in 2013-14 NHL Season

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IOctober 22, 2013

Grades for Each Carolina Hurricanes Line Early in 2013-14 NHL Season

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Through the first nine games of the 2013-14 season, the Carolina Hurricanes' four offensive lines have steadily grown into a cohesive and dangerous unit.

    While averaging just 2.44 goals per game (19th in the league), a recent resurgence of the highly touted first line and the renewed stardom of Jeff Skinner inspire plenty of optimism that the unit can yet produce at a top-10 level.

    After all, the 'Canes have been either tied or ahead at one moment in every third period so far this autumn.

    How have each of the four primary lines performed through the first ninth of the season? Our grades and analysis fall on the coming slides.

Jiri Tlusty-Eric Staal-Alexander Semin

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    Cumulative Scoring: 7 G, 6 A, 13 P

    Average Ice Time: Staal 21:15, Semin 20:04, Tlusty 15:31

    One of the NHL's most dangerous first lines last season, the revered Staal-Semin-Tlusty pairing took some time to fall into rhythm this month.

    However, with five combined goals in Carolina's last four games, the trio clearly seems to be back in the spotlight.

    Tlusty has become arguably only an honorary member, inserted most frequently in highly aggressive situations to put his incredible 13.6 career shooting percentage to use, but Staal and Semin have become staples in all situations. They've both improved since the spring in shift length, as well; Staal and Semin averaged a responsible 47.4 and 45.3 seconds per shift, respectively, in Saturday's game against the Islanders, according to ShiftChart data.

    While the trio may still be working toward their projected ceiling, 'Canes supporters have little to complain about so far this October.

    Grade: B+

Nathan Gerbe-Jordan Staal-Patrick Dwyer

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Cumulative Scoring: 4 G, 5 A, 9 P

    Average Ice Time: Staal 19:59, Gerbe 18:08, Dwyer 15:08

    After a rough debut season last spring, Jordan Staal has found a much better home this autumn alongside Patrick Dwyer and Nathan Gerbe.

    Staal, albeit boasting only two points in nine appearances, seems far more comfortable in all three zones without the unpredictable Jeff Skinner alongside him. Gerbe's quiet consistency and Dwyer's reliable backchecking have created a quickly meshing checking line with sizable upside.

    Gerbe's six points (three goals, three assists) currently rank third on the team; he's shown few, if any, of the shortcomings that led to his Buffalo contract buyout in June. Dwyer, whose shortage in ice time is largely due to his removal in power-play situations, has also continued the top-nine chemistry he first flashed last spring.

    The Gerbe-Staal-Dwyer combination continues to chug along without concern.

    Grade: B

Jeff Skinner-Riley Nash-Tuomo Ruutu

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    Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    Cumulative Scoring: 4 G, 9 A, 13 P

    Average Ice Time: Skinner 16:05, Nash 14:12, Ruutu 13:14

    Jeff Skinner's career turnaround has been sharp and exciting this fall. Coming off a dreadful performance a season ago, Skinner's move away from Jordan Staal to unheralded two-way center Riley Nash and, now, checking winger Tuomo Ruutu has helped improve his game.

    Skinner is on an exact point-per-game pace with three goals and six assists to date; he averaged just 0.57 points per game in 2012-13. Skinner is also a Carolina-leading plus-six on the year; he fell to a Carolina-worst minus-21 just last season.

    Nash has been one of the squad's more unheralded leaders in the 2013 calendar year, taking over the checking center role without issue (he has two points and a plus-five rating).

    Ruutu has been unmistakably rusty in his four appearances back from injury, but he does still lead the team in Corsi Relative. His physical play should come around soon enough.

    While their role remains somewhat undefined, the Skinner-Nash-Ruutu line has been perhaps the Hurricanes' best over the past few weeks.

    Grade: A

Drayson Bowman-Radek Dvorak-Kevin Westgarth

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    Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    Cumulative Scoring: 2 G, 0 A, 2 P

    Average Ice Time: Dvorak 12:45, Bowman 9:10, Westgarth 3:26

    One year removed from a campaign doomed by a lack of secondary scoring, the ‘Canes are yet again struggling to find any offense whatsoever from their ragtag fourth line.

    Dvorak’s two goals both came as part of the Skinner-Nash line; he’s now gone pointless in seven consecutive matches. Meanwhile, fellow fourth-liners Drayson Bowman, Brett Sutter and Kevin Westgarth have all yet to break their respective scoreboard goose eggs, and battered youngster Elias Lindholm has just one lucky goal in five games.

    Westgarth, after all, has played just 3:42 in his last two appearances combined. The enforcer’s inadequacy is clearly reflected in Kirk Muller’s game management, yet he remains a full-time member of the NHL roster.

    In order for the Carolina offense to make the jump into the NHL’s truly elite tier, they must commit wholeheartedly to a search for stability on the fourth line.

    Grade: D


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