With the news that the Hurricanes have locked up Jeff Skinner to an extension, it looks like the Canes top six forwards will be solid for the next few years. The Staal’s, Semin, Ruutu, Skinner, and Jokinen stack up with everyone in the Southeast and most of the teams in the East. But what about that rest of the forwards? Teams need depth and balance to go deep into the playoffs. Two players on the roster who could provide that depth and balance, may be looking at there last chance in the 2012/13 season.
A recurring thought I have during just about every Hurricane game I watch is “what the h@%* is wrong with Anthony Stewart”? When I look at Stewart, I see a guy who should be playing in the top nine and logging 14 minutes a night. Instead I see a guy who is on the 4th line, playing 8 minutes a game. They seem to be a quiet 8 minutes. The only Cane who played less than Stewart was Brett Sutter, and he was only with the team for 15 games. Perhaps Stewart is a victim of high expectations. He was a first round draft pick of the Panthers back in 2003. He played only 20 games his first two NHL seasons, largely because of a wrist injury, and appeared in 59 games in 2008/09, his last with the Panthers. His most productive year was 2010/11, when he scored 39 points (14 G-25A) for the Atlanta Thrashers. Finally it looked like Stewart was scratching the surface of that potential the Panthers saw in 2003. After Atlanta moved to Winnipeg, the Jets allowed Stewart to leave and he was signed to a two year contact by the Canes. I don’t think anyone thought Jim Rutherford was signing a top line winger for Eric Staal, but there are guys in the system who are not making $1.9 million (over two years) who could play 8 minutes a night and score 9 goals. Rutherford has talked about adding toughness to the bottom 6 for this coming year. At 6′ 3″, 230 lbs. Anthony Stewart could be that guy. He doesn’t have to be Bob Probert, (God rest his soul), but he can play that griding forechecking game that the Hurricanes sometimes lack. We see glimpses of it. Stewart needs to provide it every night. The time is now for the 27 year old. There is a role for him with the Hurricanes if he will bring that consistent effort every night.
The other player that may be at a crossroad with the Canes is Zack Boychuk. Like Stewart, Zack is a former 1st rounder who has not been able to crack the everyday line-up. Some would say that Paul Maurice never gave Boychuk a chance to show what he could do. I was one of those people until I saw Kirk Muller do the same thing. It’s not on the coaches, but the player. Boychuk has scored a total of 7 goals in three seasons with the Canes. Like Stewart, we see flashes of skill, but not on a consistent basis. What makes it tough for Boychuk is that Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk became regulars with the first chances given to them. He’s proved he can score in the AHL. Boychuk totaled 65 points in 60 games for the Charlotte Checkers in 2010/11. He is not mentioned much when fans talk about this years roster. There is always room for skill in the new NHL. Boychuk has shown it before. It’s time for him to show it in Raleigh and not in Charlotte.