Ending our series of Training Camp Battles I'm going to take a look at our Top 6, who's in, and who (unfortunately) is out. In case you missed it, here's Part 1 covering the 4th line, and Part 2 covering the blue liners.
We're getting ready for the start of hockey. Finally, real life hockey is back! Here are some important notes to keep in mind:
- Tomorrow - Official start of training camp! - Physicals and fitness tests are going on today.
- Tuesday, September 21 - First preseason game, against Atlanta!
- 21 - Number of days to the start of the 2010-11 season!
After the jump, I'll make my predictions for the guys fighting for a top 6 spot. Enjoy!
When it comes to making a top six unit, coaches usually have a group in mind, or certain players already locked in (See: Crosby, Ovechkin, Zetterburg etc). Teams with a glut of talent make it a little tougher because it might take longer than expected to set your roster for the season.
Then there's always those guys in camp who stand out who weren't expected to and they really make you think 'Wow, could he break the top 6 and knock someone out who was almost guaranteed the spot?'
In the case of the Jackets, I don't think that scenario will apply this year (sorry, Ryan Johansen. But hey, I dare you to prove me wrong). I firmly believe this will be a talented group top to bottom but only 7 will be pulling Top 6 minutes.
First, to take a page from Matt's book. Lets get familiar with what a "top line" and a "second line" actually are.
The first line is usually composed of the best offensive players on the team. Teams heavily rely on this line, which generates the bulk of the team's scoring. These players often see the highest number of minutes among forwards in a game.
The second line is generally composed of second-tier offensive players, and helps by adding supplementary offense to that generated by the first line while contributing more two-way play than the offensively-focused scoring line. Higher end (typically first line) players may be put on the second line to spread scoring across the lineup, making a team more difficult for opponents to defend against.
About.com offers something similar:
The first line features the three highest-paid, highest-scoring forwards on the team.
The second line, not quite as rich or skilled, is also expected to score.
So basically the top lines are composed of players who are paid the most, likely because of their skills and talents, play the most, and whom provide the majority of scoring for the team. Write that down.
Paychecks aside, going into camp I think we all know who they are. If not, wake up and pay attention: Rick Nash, Kristian Huselius, Antoine Vermette, Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek, R.J. Umberger, and Nikita Filatov.
The six who were mainstays on the team last year were the top six in scoring last year - no surprise there. Had Filatov stayed all season, he probably wouldn't have been in the top 7 due to his misuse, but he certainly has the ability.
To get this post rolling, I'll start with the first line, then the second and finish with who I think will be left out.
Top Line RW - Rick Nash - No surprise here. Nash will play on a top line for the rest of his career. He is the leader of this team hands down. While he isn't as vocal as many people wish he was, he leads by example leading the team in scoring in every year since 2007-08. There was talk earlier this summer of moving him to his natural position on the left side, after he moved to help accomodate Juice. I can see a temporary move for giggles but I doubt it will be for long. If Juice were to happen to go down, or be traded (if either, please be the latter) watch for Nasher to take over on the left side.
Top Line C - Antoine Vermette - The best center on the roster. A lot of the team's success will hinge on the top two centers ability to win faceoffs, feed the puck, and control the middle of the ice. He does a great job in the faceoff circle and he's a responsible player. As I predicted when we were doing player evaluations, I expect even bigger things from Vermette this year. We can argue all day and night whether he is or is not an "elite" center but we've been there. His position on the top line is his until someone takes it from him.
Top Line LW - Kristian Huselius - Can you believe 2010 will mark Juice's third year on the roster? Feels like it has been a lot longer than that. We all know that when he's on, he can score in bunches and when he's off, its like he forgets how to score. One thing is certain, if he stays healthy, the points will come. Don't expect him to move from this spot in the lineup unless he gets hurt.
Second Line RW - Jake Voracek - Of the "Young Guns", Jake has shown that he is most primed to go to the next level. Having just turned 21 last month, he's only going to continue getting better. The thoughts of him, Brass and Fliatov on a line together have been running through my head for two years and it finally looks like it might happen on a regular basis. Potentially, this line can be deadly. A couple stars need to align but until then, Jake is going to put up a lot of points on his own. He became the 5th of 50-point scorers last year, which set a franchise record. Watch out for Voracek, he's going to be a key to getting back into the playoffs.
Second Line C - Derick Brassard - One guy that has a lot to prove is Brass. After an exciting start in 2008-09, he found himself on the shelf for most of the season. His expectations last year were monumental, no doubt, but it seemed that even he could live up to them. People were talking centering Nasher and Juice, remember that. Instead he found himself playing all throughout the lineup, even seeing 4th line duties. Once again, we'll look to Brass to bounce back and return to his rookie year form. If he doesn't, it could be another long year for him.
Second Line LW - Nikita Filatov - The return of the Filatov Cocktail. I think if I had to choose one player to be most excited for to see this year, its Nikita. His trials and tribulations last year with then-head coach Ken Hitchcock are well documented. Now he's back and he's made the commitment to the team. He might have more to prove to his teammates and even fans, but once he hits the ice and gets into a groove he'll be able to make amends.
He's said he doesn't want to play in the AHL again, and he wants to have big time minutes. Will he be playing a top 6 role because he refuses to play anywhere else? No, GM Scott Howson wouldn't guarantee a spot to appease a player. He's going to earn his minutes like everyone else and he'll play where he's most dangerous.
Odd Man Out - R.J. Umberger - Sadly, there can't be 7 top six guys. I think the odd man out will be Umby. It won't be because he isn't capable of playing a big role. We've seen that he's great in cluch situations. If anything, his incredible two-way game will be a valuable asset to this team. You can look at it as a demotion, but as Aaron Portzline said "you wouldn't put Voracek, Nash or certainly Huselius on the third line." If all he sees is third line duty and significant PP time, as Porty mentiones in that chat, don't look for him to light up the scoreboard. He will be effective nonetheless.
Depth chart, as seen by me:
Huselius - Vermette - Nash
Filatov - Brassard - Voracek
OK there you have it - the Cannon's take on postion battles. Time will tell how the lines, and pairings fill out. Regardless, it's going to be a fun process to watch.
I think a lot of how the top two lines shake out hinge on two players: Juice and Voracek. You look at the first name and think "Wait, what? Juice is the key?" Hear me out. If the injury bug hits (knock on wood) and Juice goes down, this sets off a chain reaction: Nash has the option to move to the left side, and it allows Jake (if he's on a hot streak) to move up to the top line. Furthermore, this would prompt R.J. to take over on the second line. If the team stays in good health, that would be even better. I'd venture to say we'd have one of the deepest lineups in the league. Now this is not me wishing an injury on anyone (especially our guys) but look at the domino affect if one guy should be out of the line up. Be excited, Jackets fans, the season is near!