With Kuzy missing the first game of the upcoming road trip, Eller will be taking his spot on the third line.
However, I believe that there is a case to be made that the switch should be permanent, or at least long term. To be clear, this isn’t meant as a demotion for Kuzy, so much as it is a promotion for Eller.
Now, I understand the arguments for why this is a bad idea.
- The 3rd line is finally gelling together
- Kuzy has the fourth most points on the team at 5v5, behind only a Norris Candidate, a Rocket Richard hopeful/greatest goal scorer of all time, and Jakub Vrana.
And, to be clear, those are valid points. But I just think that there’s a lot of untapped potential here that’s just waiting to be found in swapping these two players. And here’s why:
Kuznetsov is outplaying himself
The Capitals’ center may be 4th on the team in points, but there is a disturbing statistic underlying it. His 5v5 Shooting% is 18.84%. What’s wrong with that you ask? It’s over 6% higher than it’s ever been.
That’s just completely unsustainable. I can’t predict the future, but I can guarantee that that number is going to drop. The problem is, when he is on the ice, the Caps are basically not shooting, and they’re certainly not shooting from any high risk areas.
And as soon as that shooting percentage drops, even to something as high as 15%, which would still be his best season, that’s going to take away enough goals, that it’s going to cause problems. The Caps are being egregiously outshot with him on the ice. If he stops scoring even for a second, he’ll be in the negative in terms of on ice-scoring.
Unless of course, he had some shut down defensive players for teammates to balance out his utter lack of defense. You know, like Hagelin and Panik, who through a strong forecheck and low turnover rate (something that has been afflicting the Caps of late) have kept the puck out of the net. Not only could Kuznetsov benefit from their defensive prowess, but they could benefit from someone who is putting pucks in the net at a much higher rate than he has any right to. This leads into my next point:
Eller, Vrana, and Oshie have been killing it this year.
Eller has already spent some time on the second line this season, mostly when Kuzy has subbed in for an injured Backstrom. In that time, we’ve seen some serious results from that line. At 5v5 they’ve had almost 60% of the shot attempts, and an even higher percent of the goals. Plus, there’s this:
What’s CRUCIAL about that map is the fact that despite having Vrana on the ice, the other team is not getting much of anything going. He’s probably our second best forward, behind only the greatest goal scorer in NHL history, but good heavens that man cannot play defense, and putting him with Eller basically removes him as a defensive liability.
Not to mention a big portion of Eller’s assists have come with the second line. Of course, Vrana is guaranteed to improve anyone’s point production this year, but there is clearly a weird chemistry here.
The Caps are really good. They haven’t looked like it lately, but make no mistake, they are one of the top 2 teams in the league, both in terms of talent, and grit, which is a recipe for playoff success. Which means that they can afford to mess around, and see what happens when you put a guy like Kuzy on the 3rd line.
It would force other teams to make a decision: Do we play our second line against their second line? Or do we risk letting Kuznetsov skate circles around our third line guys. The fact that the Caps legitimately have that option, while remaining under the salary cap is fantastic.
I know there’s a lot of doom and gloom around the Caps right now. And there certainly is some cause for concern. But they have a lot of talent, and pretty much all of the issues can be corrected with just a little bit of execution, and a few roster moves. (If neither Dylan DeMelo, nor Alec Martinez are Caps by the 24th, I will be salty). I may be the only one who thinks this, but I really think it’s worth testing to see if, for now, Kuzy belongs on the 3rd line.