2nd Line Wingers
This isn’t on Nino Niederreiter specifically, but since he is the 4th top 6 winger, he will be the one who I focus on here. It’s not so much that Nino is even a bad player, but his production took a hit this year. He’s not the blazing talent everyone saw when he first came over from the Minnesota Wild, and that was to be expected. He plays a sound defensive game, and he just couldn’t produce.
He still has a lot of positive uses, for example on the powerplay. A big body with the ability to tip a puck-like Nino is something that should not be under-valued. However, at even strength, his production just wasn’t there. He was playing great hockey, but my word this man sleeps under a ladder or breaks a mirror with every skating stride he takes. He was so incredibly unlucky this season.
Niederreiter put up 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points in 68 games. Not bad totals, but that should not be sniffing a top-six spot. Unfortunately, he is the highest-scoring winger that isn’t already in the top 6, so it’s his by default. I believe that Niederreiter on the 3rd line is a great asset to have, but that leaves a hole to fill in the top 6.
Looking strictly at left-wingers (assuming Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen stay together on the top line alongside Sebastian Aho, and Martin Necas is the other 2nd line winger) there is a wide variety on the free-agent market. Among the bigger names are Florida’s Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov. Either of which is a big improvement on the top 6 forwards for the Canes.
Again, this doesn’t fall at the feet of Niederreiter. He’s being asked to play a role that he is not cut out to play in the top six, and there’s too little production for Nino to stay in the top 6 long term. Carolina become way too reliant on the top line (Svechnikov – Aho – Teravainen) when no one else is producing. It’s difficult to shut the SAT line down, but if it’s done, Carolina cannot win.