Finding a top-line winger for Eric Staal is likely going to be one of the first priorities for GM Jim Rutherford this off-season. One of the problems throughout the season has been the lack of top-six wingers and it's definitely had an effect on the Hurricanes' positioning in the standings right now. Staal has recently found chemistry with Jiri Tlusty and a combination of Tuomo Ruutu and Chad LaRose but with Ruutu playing better on the second line and Tlusty's ceiling being only so high, it's safe to say that the Canes can do a better job at giving Staal better talent to work with.
Although, if you look at Eric Staal's most frequent linemates throughout the years, you'll notice that he's never had one or two consistent wingers he plays with from year to year. Ever since 2007-08, Staal's regular linemates have changed every year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see this trend continue next season. Something that I noticed is that some of his frequent linemates had career seasons when playing on his wing, and we are seeing that this year with Tlusty.
A great center can make his linemates better and Staal is in that category, but just how good can he make a certain player? This is something to keep in mind when looking for a winger through free agency because while Staal can make his linemates better, he can't make everyone a top-six player. After the jump, we will take a look at Staal's linemates since 2007-08 and which ones he had the most success with.
What we're going to do here is look at the goal and possession rates for Staal & his linemate from a certain year whenever the two were on the ice. To determine which winger he had the most success with, we are looking for when Staal & his linemate were driving possession AND scoring at the highest rate. Sometimes a line will catch fire and score goals without driving possession at a consistent rate and vice versa. We are looking for the perfect combination of the two. This is all even strength data.
Staal's best linemates
Erik Cole 2007-08
GF/20 mins: 1.175
Cole's line: 22 G, 29 A, 51 Pts
Staal & Cole primarly played with Ray Whitney and Cory Stillman this year and no matter which one of them was playing the other wing, these two were getting the puck in the back of the net. To make things better, these two were also driving play in the right direction as they were able to get the puck into the opponent's end more than half the time they were on the ice. They started a bit in the offensive zone (53.3%) but they were playing their role perfectly and were a great first line. Also, when it came to scoring relative to their ice-time, these two were the second best combination among sampled wingers. Cole didn't even have his best season this year and he still produced at a high rate when he was with Staal.
Tuomo Ruutu 2008-09
GF/20 mins: .901
Ruutu's line: 26 G, 28 A, 52 Pts
This line with Staal, Ruutu and Sergei Samsonov was fantastic for most of the 2008-09 season. Ruutu had his best season in the NHL that year and the aging Samsonov had his strongest season since 2005-06. These three might have formed one of the best first lines the Cdanes have had since the lockouts because not only were they racking up goals, they were creating a lot of shots and scoring chances. Whenever these three played together, 55% of the even strength corsi events were going in the Hurricanes favor. Staal and Ruutu were beasts at even strength and the powerplay that year, but when you take a closer look at the underlying numbers from that year, Staal was the driving force behind this line. Staal was the team's best possession forward at even strength and Ruutu's effectiveness dropped big time when he was separated from Staal.
Chad LaRose 2010-11
GF/20 mins: .683
LaRose's line: 16 G, 15 A, 31 Pts
Whenever Staal is with LaRose, they are doing all the right things and getting the puck in the offensive zone. The problem is that they can never score, and I'm not sure what the reason is. LaRose has never been a good finisher, as he is always one of the team's best players at driving possession and getting shots on net but he's never scored more than 19 goals in his career. It shows that LaRose is best suited for a third line role because he does just about everything but score.
Cory Stillman 2007-08
GF/20 mins: .806
Stillman's line: 21 G, 25 A, 46 Pts
The funny thing is that while Stillman scored less consistently than Staal's other lienmates, he still produced at a pretty decent rate. They did a decent job of driving play and while they didn't score as much as others, Stillman had a pretty productive year when he was with the Hurricanes.
Here are the raw numbers if you want to look at them.
|Year||Player||GF/60||w/o Staal||Corsi%||w/o Staal|
- Here's an unexpected stat: Tlusty and Staal have been on ice for the same amount of goals as Cole and Staal were last season (30). The difference is that Tlusty and Staal have done it with less ice time, which rates them very high on the list. With how much Cole produced at even strength last season, you would think those numbers would be higher but that isn't the case. Cole did spend some time with Ruutu and Jokinen so that could be the case. Another interesting observation is that Tlusty & Staal are controlling possession at roughly the same rate as Cole & Staal did last season.
- Jussi Jokinen had his 30 goal season when he played with Staal and that is the direct result of a high shooting percentage. The reason I say that is because the pace of play at even strength was slightly tilted in the opponent's end when these two were on a line together. Whitney & Staal had much more success when at driving possession despite scoring slightly less.
- Ruutu has been slightly better when he hasn't been playing on Staal's line this season.
- Shooting percentage might be a reason why Tlusty's scoring rate is higher than anyone else's. The Hurricanes are shooting at around 9.5% at even strength when he is on the ice. That's slightly above the league average and his mediocre possession rates make you a little skeptical of how successful he'll be in the long run.
Staal has been able to make 20-goal scorers out of some of his linemates, but he definitely needs talent around him if the Canes want to have a threatening first line. Ruutu, Whitney and Cole are all very talented players and established goal-scorers/playmakers so it isn't too much of a surprise to see that these are the players who he has been the most successful with. The Hurricanes need to keep an eye on this when they look for a winger in free agency because while Staal can make his linemates better, he can't magically turn any player into a first liner. We saw that with LaRose and Stillman as he got older.