2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 20.Carolina Hurricanes

Part 12 of 31 in our NHL previews where Waind, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Starting from the worst, we’ll be giving you the reasons why we ranked each team where we did.

Check out the other parts to this series:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils , #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. LA Kings

2016-17 Recap

Record: 36-31-15 (87 Points) 7th in the Metropolitan Division (21st Overall)
GFPG: 2.62 (21st)
GAPG: 2.88 (18th)
PP%: 17.75 (21st)
PK%: 84.16 (6th)
Corsi For %: 52.2 (3rd)

The Carolina Hurricanes are coming off of a season that turned out to be a valuable experience for their young talent, in spite of their overall disappointments in the standings. The Hurricanes turned their young players loose, and it now appears that they have some solid NHL players up front and on the blueline for years to come. Most notably, rookie Sebastian Aho impressed and finished the season as the second leading scorer on the team with 49 points. Elias Lindholm continue his upward progression, Teuvo Teravainen looked comfortable in his debut season with the team, and Jeff Skinner returned to his 30+ goal form.

While all of those are positives, consistent secondary scoring was an issue for this team, which was a problem because of the shaky goaltending performances Cam Ward and Eddie Lack provided.  This was the 8th consecutive season the Hurricanes have missed the playoffs. The Eric Staal, Rod Brind-Amour Stanley Cup days are now 11 years in the past if you can believe it.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Key Additions: Scott Darling, Justin Williams, Marcus Kruger, Josh Jooris

List of Key Departures: Eddie Lack, Ryan Murphy

While the rebuild has been painful in Raleigh, it finally seems like this young group of players is moving in the right direction.

The Hurricanes should score more this season. The addition of Marcus Kruger is important in multiple ways. For one, he’s a solid shut down centreman. What that means is it’ll take pressure off of Jordan Staal in being relied upon to be that shut down player for the entire game, his additional freedom should open up his offensive game. The homecoming of Justin Williams should also be impactful. His veteran presence and finishing ability adds an element this team hasn’t possessed in a while. If the Hurricanes are finally going to make the jump back to the postseason, what better guy to have on your side than Mr. Game 7? Of course step one is to actually get there, and the ‘Canes need their young players to produce.

X-Factors:

Team MVP: Jaccob Slavin

This may come as a surprise to some, because Slavin isn’t exactly a household name as of yet, but what he is already is a legit top-pairing defenseman. At just 23 years old in his first full season, Slavin emerged last season as the Hurricanes’ most valuable d-man of an impressive young group. Slavin played all 82 games and averaged more ice time than any other player on the Hurricanes roster with 23:26 per game. To reiterate, this being more than the more established and well known teammate, Justin Faulk’s, average ice time of 23:08. Slavin made the most of these minutes as well, as he led the team in minutes on the penalty kill; a penalty kill that was the 6th most effective in the NHL last season.

Maybe the most staggering number of Slavin’s breakout rookie season was in the plus/minus column. On a Hurricanes team that had a -18 goal differential last season, Slavin managed to finish the year with a +23 rating. This rating wasn’t just best on the team, but tied for 16th in the NHL. In fact, Slavin had the second best plus/minus in the NHL among players on non-playoff teams. Slavin has proven in just his first full season he can be an impact player in the NHL, and the Hurricanes locked him up as quick as they could this offseason with a 7-year contract extension worth $37.1 million. Slavin’s potential is high, and we should see more growth this coming year as he quietly leads the Hurricanes blueline.

Team’s Strength: Young, Talented Defensemen

As mentioned previously, 23 year old defenceman Jaccob Slavin isn’t the only promising young defenseman on this Hurricanes roster. Actually, he’s one of the “older” ones in their top-6 shockingly enough. This group includes the newly acquired Trevor Van Riemsdyk (26) as the “seasoned veteran” alongside Justin Faulk (25), Brett Pesce (22), Haydn Fleury (21) and Noah Hanifin (20). Each of these players are capable and likely getting better as they continue to play. Maybe I should’ve titled this “Team Strength” as simply “Defensemen” in general, because these guys are legit players and form one of the more solid, deep D corps’ in the league. Aside from Van Riemsdyk, each of these players are homegrown Hurricanes draft picks, a great testament to their organizations ability to scout and develop defensemen. Hurricanes defensive mainstay Ron Hainsey is now gone, and Ryan Murphy has also been shipped out, so the door is wide open for these young players, and it appears the franchise is in good hands.

Team’s Weakness: Goaltending

Now I’m only saying this because I don’t see any one weakness that blatantly stands out that the Hurricanes have. I believe the Hurricanes did a good job this offseason addressing holes that were prevalent last season ie. their fourth line (Kruger, Jooris), established secondary scoring (Williams) and also goaltending (Darling). Why I fall back to goaltending is simply because of the unknown. At 28 years old, this will be Darling’s first season where he is expected to take the reigns as an NHL team’s #1 goaltender, and Cam Ward is certainly not of the starting calibre he once was.

Rookies/Farm:

The Hurricanes will welcome in 21 year old defenceman Haydn Fleury to the team this year. Fleury was the 7th overall pick of the 2014 draft and is coming off of his first full pro season with the Charlotte Checkers. Fleury has the size (6’3”, 205lbs) and skating ability to be a solid shutdown guy for the Hurricanes, and he fits right in with their youth movement on the blueline.

Another prospect that has turned heads this training camp is the 12th overall pick in this past draft, Martin Necas. It’s not often you talk about 18 year-olds cracking the roster out of camp, especially as “late” as he was picked, but Necas’ speed and playmaking ability have really impressed in the early going. But these Hurricanes are deeper up front than they have been in past years. Although Necas appears like he already has the ability to crack a bottom-six role on this team, it’s likely the ‘Canes will allow him to further develop elsewhere because they actually have the luxury to do such a thing now. Head Coach Bill Peters said of Necas that “his challenges are going to be defensively. With his skill set, skating and vision with the puck, there’s going to be no issue whatsoever offensively. Just faceoffs and the details of the game at the pro level are going to be higher than he’s ever played”. Necas played pro in his home country of Czech Republic last season, and it’d still be a positive for him to compete and grow in that setting once again.

Key Player: Scott Darling

The Carolina Hurricanes finished tied for 26th in the NHL last season with a .901 SV%, it goes without saying an improvement in goal is crucial for the team to take the next step. The ‘Canes shipped out Eddie Lack and GM Ron Francis brought in Darling from the Blackhawks in exchange for a 3rd round pick back in April. Darling put up career numbers of a 2.37 GAA and .923 SV% in 75 games as the backup to Corey Crawford while in Chicago over the past three seasons. Obviously these numbers impressed enough to make a clear commitment to Darling, as he was signed to a 4-year, $16.6 million deal without yet playing a game for the team. So the risk is certainly there with Darling, as he has fairly little NHL experience given his age of 28 and this being his first starter’s gig. But the Hurricanes are relying on Darling’s solid backup numbers to translate to the #1 role. They need him to be reliable in order to have a chance at a playoff spot.

  1. Ballantyne: 18th
  2. Burgess: 22nd
  3. Waind: 20th

Given the offseason moves that the Hurricanes made to fill team needs, while adding a veteran presence at the same time, and assuming there will be continued progression from their young players, I believe this team can actually be one that can push up against the final playoff spot. That being said, I can’t stress enough how much of that rides on Scott Darling living up to the starters billing he’s been pegged with. It goes without saying goaltending was the biggest issue for the ‘Canes last season, but the team is hoping the addition of depth to their bottom-six forwards and the progression of their stacked group of young defenseman can help ease Darling’s transition. While there isn’t a tonne of buzz around this team, the Hurricanes feel like a roster that can catch fire and be a surprise in the East this year.

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