Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce was deemed a game-time decision for Carolina’s contest against the Florida Panthers on Friday night, according to Rod Brind’Amour.
Pesce has been absent over the last eight games after suffering a lower-body injury in the Hurricanes’ 7-4 loss to Seattle on Oct. 19.
While there is no certainty he appears in Friday’s contest or Saturday’s matchup with Tampa Bay, he traveled with the team and it is clear that his return is near.
With that, a question arises: how will Carolina’s lineup look when he assumes his spot along the second defensive pairing?
During his absence, Jalen Chatfield and Tony DeAngelo have both assumed Pesce’s spot in the lineup with the other playing alongside Dmitry Orlov.
But, with seven defensemen soon to be healthy, Pesce’s return will force the hand of head coach Rod Brind’Amour, as it’s the first time all season that the Hurricanes will have every skater healthy.
Andrei Svechnikov missed the beginning of the season while recovering from ACL surgery and Sebastian Aho’s three-game absence overlapped with Pesce’s stint on the IR.
Now, with 20 skaters for 18 spots, who will be left off?
Forward Brendan Lemieux appears to be one of the two healthy scratches after appearing in just one of the last five games, which was due to the absence of Michael Bunting.
Brind’Amour could send out a lineup of 11 forwards and seven defensemen, which was utilized at times to start the season, but the traditional structure of 12 forwards and six defensemen seems to be the best route long-term for Carolina.
That would leave either Jalen Chatfield or Tony DeAngelo as the second healthy scratch.
DeAngelo has played in all 13 games and tallied six points this season, but even after netting a power play goal on Tuesday, he still possesses a +/- of minus-8, the lowest on the roster.
On the other hand, Chatfield has seen action in 11 contests, splitting time on lines with either Brady Skjei or Dmitry Orlov. He has registered one goal and one assist on the year, but has used his speed and aggressiveness to aid the Hurricanes’ defense.
With Pesce undoubtedly taking over his role on the second defensive pairing with Skjei, whichever one of DeAngelo or Chatfield will play alongside Dmitry Orlov.
After a slow start for Orlov, which is not a surprise when joining Carolina’s system, he has come into his own over the last five games, amassing four points and his first goal of the season.
His two-way presence provides value for the Hurricanes, as he also has not been on the ice in the last five contests when the Hurricanes have allowed an even strength goal. This can partially be contributed to the play of his partner Jalen Chatfield.
In Pesce’s absence, there has been a clear cut answer as to who Orlov performs best with: Jalen Chatfield. Chatfield’s presence allows more flexibility for Orlov on the offensive end, where as with DeAngelo, who provides little defensive presence, Orlov was boxed into a position that doesn’t showcase his talents.
Carolina’s forward lines have undergone a bit of reconstruction, both in practice and even over the course of games, but there seems to be little question of who the top 12 are.
And with a 12 forward, six defenseman lineup there also should be little debate over who plays alongside Orlov on the third defensive pairing.
Whether it be on the two game road trip or when the Hurricanes return home to Raleigh beginning on Nov. 15, Rod Brind’Amour will have to make a long term decision when Brett Pesce is once again penciled into the lineup.
For now however, Brind’Amour is focused on the current lineup and understands how the situation they’re in can be seen as a positive.
“I’m not going to worry about it until Pesce can play,” said Brind’Amour when discussing rotation choices. “Again, that’s a good problem [to have].”