Jeff Carter is a special hockey player. At 6’4” and 212 pounds he skates like a runaway train and has a quick trigger on a big gun of a shot. That’s a pretty useful combination.
Players like Carter - and there aren’t many - are unique animals in that they don’t need help. While some top talent only thrives when surrounded by other top talent (a guy like Thomas Vanek comes to mind), Carter can create on his own, allowing his coach to pair him with “lesser” players.
Installing Carter on the second line gets him away from the best defensive players on the opposing team. While Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli have been good for the Kings, that line wouldn’t exactly be special without Jeff Carter.
It’s a rare option, and Sutter’s been smart to take it. He could run Carter out there with Marian Gaborik or Anze Kopitar or Justin Williams, sure, but when you have one guy who can move the needle so much on his own, why not use it on a line that might otherwise need some help?
That’s the nut of coaching, really - how do we put our guys in the best position to succeed? How do we maximize our skills and minimize our holes? Dishers need shooters, some guys need powerplay time, and you’re trying to figure out how to best assemble the puzzle.
Getting Jeff Carter the eighth-toughest competition amongst the Kings is accomplishing that mission pretty well - it’s led to 24 points in 24 playoff games (Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown see the toughest opposition).
At the other end of the rink, Alain Vigneault might be missing something. He makes a clear effort to deploy his players as effectively as possible, but I think his usage of Rick Nash is off.
Nash is like Carter in a multitude of ways. He is also large (6’4”, 213 pounds), he is also fast, and he can also score goals. Since Carter joined the league in 2005-2006, he is 11th in total goals and 11th in goals-per-game. Nash is fifth and third, respectively, in those categories over that same time. Like Carter, Nash doesn’t need his hand held. You could put him with me and my cat Jiggs, and he’s still getting an elite number of shots per game (basically like it was in Columbus), and that leads to goal creation.
But for all his raw skill, Rick Nash isn’t built to accent someone else’s abilities. For all his raw dominance, he’s just not a great complementary player. He might create chances for linemates by driving the puck to the net and getting shots, but those type of opportunities - putbacks, scramble whacks and the like - can be buried by basically anyone. You don’t need to run him out there with a center like Derek Stepan, because he’s not a tic-tac-toe type creator.
All it does is allow the opposing team to get their best D-men on the ice against multiple good players, and sure enough, Nash has seen the second-toughest quality of competition on his team. Derek Stepan might be someone who could use some creativity to help raise up the game of a struggling player like Martin St. Louis, but instead he’s playing with a guy whose thought process is “puck net puck net puck net.”
If you were to give Nash a center like Derick Brassard or Dominic Moore, maybe you get him away from so many minutes against Drew Doughty. He’s capable of being so physically dominant that getting him out there against guys who aren’t among the league’s best gives him a realistic chance at breaking open a play.
Carter and Nash are both great players that can easily succeed without top talent on their line. Darryl Sutter has used that to his advantage, Alain Vigneault hasn’t.