Second-line center is an incredibly important position and one that the Canes have to fill after Vincent Trocheck left the team in free agency. As it stands, the 2C position is the only real weak point in the forward group currently, which is a testament to the team’s depth at forward. Despite this current vacancy, the Hurricanes still have a multitude of options to fill this void.
The most likely player to be the 2C this season is the one that we will be discussing first. After being acquired from the Canadiens via an offer sheet, Jesperi Kotkaniemi started last season as a winger before quickly being transitioned back to his natural center position, albeit on the 4th line.
Last March, Kotkaniemi signed a eight year extension that all but sealed the deal that management believes in him to anchor the second line for years to come. His first test comes this season, as throughout training camp and the preseason he has been positioned on the second line. The real question is, can he keep it?
His game improved throughout the season and hopefully the former 3rd overall pick can finally take the jump to a legitimate top-6 forward. Jesperi had 29 points in 66 games last season, and will without a doubt see a boost in his ice-time. At this point in time, 2C is Jesperi’s position to lose.
Signed to a one-year deal in free agency last month, Paul Stastny was brought in primarily to fill the talent void left by the injury to Max Pacioretty. Stastny is currently slotted to be on the checking line alongside Jordan Staal, and will likely be asked to shut down other teams’ top lines rather than provide offense.
Although he is currently slotted in at the winger position, throughout his career Stastny has made his mark on the league as a center. If for some reason Kotkaniemi isn’t producing as the 2C, I believe Stastny would be next in line to take his place.
Despite his foot speed slowing down over the years, he still has the skill necessary to keep up with the top guys. Paul Stastny had 45 points in 71 games as a member of the Jets last season, which is actually a higher points per game mark than the most recent Canes 2C, Vincent Trocheck. Stastny has the tools to play throughout the lineup, and that includes on the second line.
Although a long shot, Martin Necas was initially drafted as a center in 2017 before being transitioned to a winger during his 2018-19 AHL season. Necas excelled in his first two years in the NHL before hitting a bit of a speed bump last year. Martin has openly stated his desire to play center.
If by chance Kotkaniemi struggles, maybe coach Rod Brind’amour opts to switch him and Necas around. Martin is one of the few right-shot forwards on the team and situationally, he may be taking draws on his side of the ice anyway. If given a full-time role I think Necas’ speed would be on display even more.
As I have said throughout this article, Kotkaniemi looks to be the 2C and so far through preseason he has looked very good. With that being said, he has to fight to keep that position. The team desperatedly needs somebody to step up to 2C full-time, and it looks like Jesperi is the best possible choice to be given the keys.