Heading into Wednesday night’s season opener against the Ottawa Senators, questions surrounding Carolina’s lineup lingered up until close to puck drop.
Both defenseman Jalen Chatfield and forward Brendan Lemieux were present for the morning skate and warmups, leaving some uncertainty on how the Hurricanes would distribute their 20-man lineup.
Would they go with the traditional 12 forwards and six defensemen or, with their abundance of talent on the blue line, put seven defensemen out on the ice?
Ultimately, the latter proved to be the answer, as Jalen Chatfield was the extra defenseman and Lemieux was a healthy scratch.
But, while Carolina carried seven active defensemen, Chatfield accumulated just 4:39 of ice time on seven shifts in the 5-3 victory. One minute and 21 seconds of action were on the penalty kill, as Brett Pesce tallied four penalty minutes.
Chatfield’s four minutes and 39 seconds of playing time were the lowest among all NHL defensemen in action on Wednesday.
With the lines of Burns/Slavin, Skjei/Pesce, and Orlov/DeAngelo locked in for the contest, Chatfield logging the fewest minutes among defensemen, or the entire roster, should come as no surprise.
But playing under five minutes did raise a few eyebrows and Rod Brind’Amour addressed the situation following the win.
“Obviously, it’s not ideal for him that’s for sure, but were going day by day with this,” said Brind’Amour.
Brind’Amour went on to address the professionalism it takes to accept a smaller role and the difficulty of disrupting lines.
“It’s not easy. It’s not easy for the guy sitting out either. [Lemieux] didn’t get to play, but again, we’re in the big leagues here,” said Brind’Amour. “It’s part of it. How they’re going to handle it when it doesn’t go your way [is also part of it].”
On any other roster, Jalen Chatfield is likely an every day player, or even a top four defenseman, who consistently contributes with his physicality and speed.
However, with Carolina boasting one of the best blue lines in the game, finding a consistent spot in the rotation, at least to begin the season, may be difficult.
Entering training camp, five of the spots on the blue line were solidified, as Burns, Slavin, Skjei, Pesce, and Orlov were guaranteed fixtures in the lineup.
Bringing in Tony DeAngelo for a second go-round in Raleigh created competition for the sixth defensemen spot. DeAngelo’s previous success on the power play and the struggles last season on the man advantage likely played a factor in last night’s decision.
In addition, the Hurricanes secured six power play opportunities, where DeAngelo accrued 6:28 of ice time and Chatfield none.
The balance of the lineup and decision-making is likely to get even tougher with the return of Andrei Svechnikov in the near future. This could potentially force a 12 forward lineup with likely Lemieux or Jack Drury as the healthy scratch.
But, Chatfield’s position as a seventh defenseman is not set in stone and nor should it be. Last season, he saw action in 78 regular season contests and was more than serviceable as a bottom line defenseman.
He wasn’t expected to be that impactful when training camp broke at this time last year, but he forced his way into the lineup.
Chatfield certainly offers more defensively than Tony DeAngelo, but DeAngelo’s presence on the power play and ability on offense for a team that struggled to score at times is a difference maker.
As Chatfield is one game into the final year of his deal, Carolina is getting his services at a bargain after what he proved a year ago and after fighting back from playing in 126 AHL games since 2018, he may force his way onto the ice once again.
After all, Rod Brind’Amour is aware of his talents and that the Hurricanes just possess a plethora of depth on defense.
“Should he be playing? Could he be playing? Yes,” said Brind’Amour. “But, we’re blessed right now to have an abundance of good defensemen.”