Much of the discussion of the Hurricanes this off-season has been concerning their revamped top-six and the issues they have on defense. While there is no doubt that these are very important areas of discussion for next season, something that might be getting overlooked is the team's third line and how different it will look next season. I have talked about this before, but substituting Jordan Staal for Brandon Sutter allows the Hurricanes to change the dynamics of their forward corps and we could see the third line used in a completely different way than before. For the last couple of years, the Canes third line has been your prototypical checking line that was used in a heavy defensive role. Carolina having terrific defensive forwards like Sutter, Patrick Dwyer and Andreas Nodl allowed them to have a unit that they could use in such situations.
With Sutter gone, some might think that the Canes need a defensive center to fill that void but that isn't necessarily true since both Staal brothers are capable of playing against the toughs and they have enough players in their system capable of centering the third line right now. With the top two lines likely handling most of the tougher assignments, the bottom-six could be able to play a more offensive role than they have in the past. I've mentioned the possibility of the Hurricanes running this type of system a few times before and that is mainly because they have a good personnel to do so.
Think about it, one of the team's biggest problems last year was not having enough forwards who were of top-six quality and that they had to use players who would be third liners on most teams on the top two lines. Scoring was hard to come by last season and one reason for that was because their top-six regularly consisted of players like Chad LaRose, Jiri Tlusty, Drayson Bowman and and Jerome Samson. None of whom are bad players but they aren't exactly ideal top-six options. Despite that, they all did a fine job playing in the roles they were assigned last season and could have a lot of success in an offensive third-line role. One player in particular who may have a lot of success in this role is Chad LaRose.
LaRose was used in the top-six for the majority of last season and he ended up having a career year with 19 goals and 32 points, which is still pretty low for someone playing who regularly played in the top-six. His production at even strength was also pretty low (1.50 ESP/60) when you factor in his linemates and how much ice-time he got last season. This isn't a surprise because LaRose has never been much of a scorer throughout his career. His career shooting percentage is only 8.7% and the Hurricanes have shot at a pretty low percentage at even strength for the last few years when he was on the ice. Luck can partially be blamed for this because LaRose doesn't have control over how well his teammate's shoot, but when something like this happens over the course of years, you have to wonder if it's more than just poor variance. LaRose's poor on-ice shooting percentage might be bad luck, but I think it is more than that as far as his personal shooting percentage goes.
So, LaRose doesn't score much but one thing Hurricanes fans know about him is that he shoots the puck a lot. If you look at how many shots on goal each player had at even strength relative to their ice-time last season, LaRose is at the top of the list for Carolina.
This is each forward's even strength shot rate per 60 minutes and you can see that LaRose shot the puck more often than any other player on the Hurricanes for this upcoming season. Yes, more than both Staals, Tuomo Ruutu, Jeff Skinner, Alex Semin and Eric Staal. So while LaRose didn't score that much, he definitely took advantage of his opportunities in the top-six and did his best to create offense. Unfortunately, his scoring upside isn't high so he didn't produce as much as most would like. There are a lot of good things to take away from this, though.
Yes, LaRose isn't best suited for a scoring role but one thing he is good at is driving possession. Him being able to get off so many shots on goal shows that he can get the puck into the offensive zone and keep it there. If that wasn't enough, the Hurricanes also generated a more shots on goal per 60 minutes with him on the ice than any other regular forward. He managed to do that despite Why is that important? Because it shows that LaRose is spending more time in the opponent's end than being pinned into the defensive zone. LaRose was also one of the few Carolina forwards who had a positive corsi differential, which says a lot about his ability to drive the play because most of this team was completely underwater last season.
Having someone who can drive the play forward is an important part on every team and it has been shown multiple times that LaRose does just that even if he isn't lighting up the scoreboard. If the Canes aren't going to use their third line in a strictly defensive role, then their role will likely revolve around driving possession, creating chances and providing somewhat of a physical presence. LaRose fits the bill for that perfectly. It's hard to determine how Kirk Muller is going to roll his lines this year but if he wants to use the third line in a slightly offensive checking role next year, then LaRose seems like a perfect guy for the job.