Fun with Line Combinations!

Whether it's on an NHL video game, on a piece of scrap paper, or while talking hockey with buddies, everybody loves to fiddle around with line combos. Would player "A" look good on a line with player "B"? Who's riding the pine? Should the coach go with balance, or load up on the top two lines? There are a ton of options this coming season, I'll take a look at just a few:

For the purpose of the first part of this exercise we'll assume the following twelve forwards will start the season with the Jackets: Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, Vinny Prospal, Antoine Vermette, Derick Brassard, R.J. Umberger, Derek Dorsett, Samuel Pahlsson, Matt Calvert, Derek MacKenzie, Jared Boll and Ryan Johansen. Of course we know Kristian Huselius is out until after Christmas, but we'll get to him later.

Option 1

Prospal - Carter - Nash
Vermette - Brassard - Umberger
Dorsett - Johansen - Calvert
MacKenzie - Pahlsson - Boll

In this scenario, the top six forwards are the top offensive producers for the Jackets. Two legitimate scoring lines. Vermmy makes the move to wing, where he played in Ottawa. The third line is a bit of a hybrid- rookie Ryan Johansen is the center (Coach Arniel is on record saying that the only way The Johan makes the team is if he is playing up the middle), sophomore Matt Calvert-who supplies endless energy along with finishing ability-is at right wing, with our favorite pest Dorsett making room and causing havoc on the other wing. The fourth line is the shutdown pairing, with defensive stalwart Sammy at pivot, with hard hitting Boll on one wing and forechecker extraordinaire D-Mac on the other.

This scenario would see the coaching staff rolling all four lines. The lines have clearly defined roles, but the question of offensive balance comes into play. Can Johansen put up points on the hybrid line with Calvert and Dorse? Dorsett is one player who needs to improve his offensive output. Calvert showed a nose for the net last season, but he hit the rookie wall. The third line is asking for a lot, so let's change things up a bit:

Option 2

Prospal - Carter - Nash
Dorsett - Brassard - Calvert
Vermette - Johansen - Umberger
MacKenzie - Pahlsson - Boll

This one is a bit of a stretch, but it creates balance. The first and fourth lines remain the same. The second and third lines are interchangeable- both feature a playmaking center, a physical winger, and both lines can score. In both of these scenarios it's clear that if Johansen is on the team, Vermette and MacKenzie move to the wing. I don't think you'll see Brass on the wing, but if he was...

Option 3

Nash - Johansen - Umberger
Prospal - Carter - Brassard
Vermette - Pahlsson - Calvert
Dorsett - MacKenzie - Boll

This scenario does two things-it splits up Carter and Nash, and throws Johansen right into the mix with Nasher. Brass, Carter and Vinny become a solid second line, and the third line features two defensively aware centers. The fourth line features the three guys who ideally would be on a fourth line. To be honest though, I don't like this at all.

The three scenarios that I have discussed so far have all featured Johansen, and no thirteenth forward. Let's remove Johansen, and add two players who may be on the fringe. There is a decent pool of players to choose from- Maksim Mayorov, Tomas Kubalik, Cam Atkinson, Alexandre Giroux, Martin St.Pierre, Ryan Russell, Dane Byers and Cody Bass, for example. I'm going to take one offensive player, and one grinder. Mayorov and Russell? Sure, why not.

Option 4

Prospal - Carter - Nash
Vermette - Brassard - Umberger
Dorsett - Pahlsson - Calvert
Mayorov - MacKenzie - Boll/Russell

There are no surprises with the top six forwards. The third line features the high-intensity wingers flanking Sammy. The fourth line features energy and scoring. D-Mac showed us last year that he can score, and if you give him his very own scorer in Mayorov he could double his totals. Boll and Russell would both be relied on for energy, in Boller's case his fists would be his calling, where OtherRuss would supply a dose of offense. Depending on the opponent, these two guys could alternate. Against teams like Detroit, OtherRuss would be the option, but against a team like the Blues, for example, you'd want Constable Boller out there.

Two final scenarios- when Juice returns to the lineup, that will essentially be a deadline acquisition. The first one we'll do without Johansen, and the final we'll include the Johan.

Option 5

Prospal - Carter - Nash
Huselius - Brassard - Umberger
Vermette - Pahlsson - Calvert
Dorsett - MacKenzie - Boll/Russell/Mayorov

This one provides nice balance, with two scoring lines. The third line features two wingers who can both score and are defensively responsible. The fourth line will be comprised of "leftovers", that would be relied on for occasional offense and energy.

Option 6

Prospal - Carter - Nash
Huselius - Brassard - Umberger
Vermette - Johansen - Calvert
Dorsett - Pahlsson - MacKenzie

This scenario, which I absolutely love, features the offensive go-to guys in the top six. The third line is all about The Johan. He has a veteran in Vermmy riding shotgun, who can take faceoffs if required, and would be a finisher. Calvert would be another gun for Johan to work with. The fourth line is the shutdown line. Boller goes into the lineup when more toughness is needed. Under this scenario, the Falcons would have a very good set of forwards due to the depth in Columbus.

It's always fun to speculate, but there will undoubtedly be injuries, and there is a chance that some players play below their expectations. At this point however, we're thinking positive here and spitballin' some ideas. There are other combos out there, I'd love to see some more!

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