It’s that time again. The 2016-17 season is just around the corner, and for the Carolina Hurricanes, things have been turning around in a big way.
The 2015-16 season was a broad mixture of both positives and negatives for the Canes.
The Hurricanes saw big rookie seasons from defensemen Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin, and Brett Pesce; an all-star caliber year from number one blueliner Justin Faulk; and stretches of fantastic offensive play from forwards Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask and Jordan Staal, amongst others.
Unfortunately, the good couldn’t outweigh the bad, as an overall lackluster offense and below average goaltending cost Carolina a playoff spot at the end of the season. The club finished seven points shy of a postseason berth in the Eastern Conference.
After a big offseason, it’s time to look to the future, one which looks very bright for the Hurricanes.
Carolina Hurricanes 2015-16 Record: 35-31-16 (#6 in the Metropolitan Division)
Key Roster Additions:
- Teuvo Teravainen
- Lee Stempniak
- Sebastian Aho
- Viktor Stalberg
- Bryan Bickell
Key Roster Losses:
- Riley Nash
- Chris Terry
- Nathan Gerbe
- Brad Malone
Key Organization Changes:
The Hurricanes made a necessary move this offseason, extending head coach Bill Peters’ contract through the 2018-19 season. Under Peters, the Canes have made significant strides as they’ve become a shutdown defensive team.
Since taking over as Carolina’s bench boss, Peters has used his years of mentoring from Mike Babcock in Detroit to become one of the top head coaches in the league. He has done so much with, seemingly, so little, and now that he has more talent at his disposal, the sky will be the limit for the third-year coach.
His success has not gone unnoticed. Peters coached Canada to a gold medal finish in May’s IIHF World Championships and will serve as an assistant coach on Babcock’s staff in September’s World Cup of Hockey.
Now that a majority of the roster is familiar with the coach’s system, it’s all about building on it. This should be an exciting concept for the team’s fan base. We’ve seen a dominant defense from the Hurricanes, now it’s all about producing more offense. With a huge overhaul to the forward core, Carolina will be on a mission to score much more.
More recently, the Hurricanes took care of the man in charge of hockey operations, general manager Ron Francis. Like Peters, Francis was extended through the 2018-19 campaign.
- Joakim Nordstrom – Jordan Staal – Andrej Nestrasil
- Jeff Skinner – Victor Rask – Lee Stempniak
- Teuvo Teravainen – Elias Lindholm – Sebastian Aho
- Viktor Stalberg – Jay McClement – Bryan Bickell
The 2016-17 season projects to end the long-awaited debut of Finnish star Sebastian Aho in a Hurricanes uniform.
The 2015 35th overall draft pick has done nothing but improve his stock as a prospect over the past year: finishing the 2015-16 season scoring at a point per game clip in Finland’s Liiga; breaking out on the international stage in the U20 World Junior Championship, and providing steady production for his home nation in this offseason’s IIHF World Championships and World Cup of Hockey.
In Liiga play, we started to see glimpses of the kind of player Aho can be. Netting 45 points in 45 games, the 19-year-old showed that he can score with the best of them and also stay consistent on a game-to-game basis.
He finished the campaign with 20 goals, 25 assists and a second place finish in league MVP voting. He did these things despite missing a significant portion of the season due to injury.
Aho saw continued success during January’s U20 World Junior Championships as he helped lead Finland to a gold medal finish. He finished the tournament with an astounding 14 points in seven games on a line with 2016 top-four draft picks Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. Carolina’s Finn was named one of the top-three players on Finland.
During May’s World Championship, Aho stood out, playing with and against established NHL players. He tallied seven points in 10 games as Finland fell to Canada in the gold medal game. Aho established good chemistry with former Hurricane Jussi Jokinen and Wild forward Mikael Granlund.
Sebastian Aho is a balanced offensive player who thrives both with and without the puck.
When he has the puck on his stick, he uses his vision to facilitate offense. This stands out the most on the power play and during extended offensive zone possession. He has a quick, accurate pass that finds its way through areas of heavy traffic.
On top of being an elite-level playmaker, Aho can score a lot of goals. He has a pin-point accurate shot both when he releases quickly and when he winds back for one-timers and slap shots. He has great offensive instincts and knows when to get to the front of the net and cause problems for goalies. He isn’t afraid to pay the price down low and in front of the net for the sake of offense.
He has good top-end speed, but he stands out as an agile and shifty skater who avoids hits and dances around defenses.
An underrated facet of his game is his ability to play without the puck. He has a knack for finding soft spots in the defense and getting himself open. This often results in one-time opportunities, which leads to quality scoring chances.
Aho took a massive jump on Corey Pronman’s top prospect list. He is now ranked as the #10 prospect in the entire NHL as of his most recent ESPN.com list.
The Sebastian Aho hype train is about to leave the station. Hop on while you still can.
Teravainen was acquired with Bryan Bickell from the Blackhawks in a highway robbery trade in June. The third-year pro is already a Stanley Cup champion, and he has performed very well under pressure. During Chicago’s 2015 Cup run, he had 10 points in 18 games.
The Finnish forward didn’t break out how Chicago wanted last season. He had 35 points in 78 games for the Hawks in an admittedly sheltered role as a third-line forward, primarily.
He didn’t get a lot of ice time in his second year, but that will change this season. On top of likely top-six minutes, he should also get his fair share of power play time.
Teravainen is an excellent skater who is great at weaving in and out of traffic. He has great vision and a precise shot that makes him very dangerous around the net. He plays a sound two-way game, having the ability to generate offense while not giving up much on the defensive end.
Last year, he sported great shot suppression numbers for a Chicago team that wasn’t all that impressive in that aspect. A benefit for him will be that he is moving from one good defensive team to an even, statistically, better club in Carolina.
There’s a lot to be excited about with Teravainen. He’s a former first-round pick with very high offensive upside. The Hurricanes hope that his undeniable offensive skill will be on full display this year and beyond.
Last year’s return to form for Jeff Skinner has big implications for the Hurricanes going forward.
On an offensively challenged Carolina squad, Skinner netted 28 goals, falling just short of his third 30-goal season in the NHL. Paired with his ability to put the puck in the net, he improved his defensive play exponentially, using an active stick and fierce forechecking.
With Carolina’s numerous additions up front, there is little reason to believe that Skinner won’t be able to duplicate his totals from last season.
This may be Skinner’s biggest season as a pro. In each of his 25+ goal seasons in the past, he failed to duplicate it the year after. The Hurricanes need Skinner to be the offensive catalyst going forward, which means the player needs to be consistent.
It’s undeniable that the skill is there for Skinner. Now it’s just about doing what he can do on a season-to-season basis.
Expect big things from Skinner as he enters another season likely being centered by emerging star Victor Rask. The two have developed very good chemistry over the past year
- Jaccob Slavin-Justin Faulk
- Noah Hanifin-Ryan Murphy
- Ron Hainsey-Brett Pesce
One of the hottest defensemen in the league through the first several months of the 2015-16 season, Justin Faulk fell back to earth thanks to a rough stretch of play and a lower-body injury suffered in practice.
Now that he’s healthy and motivated from being snubbed from Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey, this could be the 24-year-old’s biggest season to date.
A 20-goal, 50-point season is well within the realm of possibility for Faulk as he likely would have hit that mark had he not been injured for 17 games last season. That, coupled with Carolina’s influx of firepower up front should give Justin Faulk all the tools that he needs to rise as one of the league’s top defensemen.
Leading Carolina’s charge of incredible young defensemen last season was Jaccob Slavin.
This is a player who didn’t always wow us, but he improved every single game. It’s such a rare thing to see a blueliner like this break in and as a rookie and not have any lulls in his game. He improved leaps and bounds from game one of his season in November to game 63 of his season in April
Slavin is expected to play opposite of Faulk on Carolina’s top defensive pairing. On paper, this is a pairing that should be able to take care of other team’s top forwards and also jump in on the rush with their great skating ability and offensive smarts.
All eyes were on Noah Hanifin last season after he went fifth overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, and despite a few rookie hiccups, he was very impressive.
Hanifin is just 19-years-old, so he has a lot of hockey ahead of him. More so than Slavin, Hanifin has that “it factor”. This is a player who thrives in big games and steps up his play when his team needs it.
Sophomore slumps can hurt a lot of defensemen, but fortunately for the Hurricanes, both Slavin and Hanifin have such fundamentally strong games. Because of this, I don’t project that the second year blues will play a big role on Carolina’s blueliners.
This season is all about Hanifin taking that next step forward. This is a potential franchise defenseman, so we’re hoping that he can bring that kind of upside as soon as this year.
The Cam Ward and Eddie Lack experiment rendered mixed reviews last season. A horrid start led to an above average finish in 2015-16, and the hope is that these two backstops can build off what they did at the tail end of the year.
Good money says that head coach Bill Peters will roll with Ward as the opening night starter on Oct. 13 in Winnipeg, but from there on, it will be a 1A/1B situation with the hotter hand likely getting a majority of the starts.
Another big factor this season will be 2017’s looming expansion draft. The Hurricanes will have to expose one of Ward or Lack to expansion, so this is a big tryout year for both goalies as they try to work their way into the longer-term future of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Elias Lindholm is a player who needs to play well this season.
After a promising 2014-15 campaign, in which he tallied 39 points, the young Swede wasn’t able to improve upon it this past season, as duplicated his previous total and his atrocious minus-23 rating.
The skill is there. Lindholm is a smart player with fantastic vision and an underrated release on his shot. He’s also a very responsible defensive player who uses his stick effectively. However, these good factors in his game are rendered useless if he isn’t able to contribute consistently on offense.
Also, with Carolina’s great drafting over the past few years, forwards like Julien Gauthier, Lucas Wallmark, Warren Foegele, Nicolas Roy and Janne Kuokkanen, amongst others, are knocking on the door of NHL jobs. And that’s not even including newcomers like Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen who will be making a claim at big ice time and Sergey Tolchinsky who just might make this team out of camp because of his absurd offensive talent.
Long story short, Elias Lindholm is still young and has great upside, but this season will be big for him so that he can establish himself as a part of the long-term solution in Carolina.
I expect Lindholm to rise to the occasion and prove why he was the fifth overall pick in 2013. He has shown glimpses of special hockey over the years, but now it’s just about doing this on a game-by-game basis. He will the opportunity to play alongside some very talented players in Jeff Skinner, Lee Stempniak, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.
Player with Most to Prove:
Speaking of young guys coming in and potentially stealing ice time from more established players, this is a make or break season for former first-round pick Ryan Murphy.
The Murphy experience has been a rocky one over the past three seasons. Despite this, he earned himself a one-way contract over two seasons this offseason. If he wants to be a part of this defense going forward, he’ll have to truly establish himself as a full-time NHLer.
I think Ryan Murphy is a largely misunderstood player. This is a guy who has shown glimpses of dominance as an offensive defenseman but almost just as often has played some bad games in his own end.
The offensive upside is there, and he has been an absolute superstar at the AHL level with the Checkers, but Carolina needs him to be a reliable player in all areas as a top-six defenseman and powerplay quarterback.
It’s definitely not the time to give up on Murphy, but if he fails to take a step forward this season, he may be exposed by the team when the expansion draft rolls around.
First Players in the ‘Call-Up’ Line:
General manager Ron Francis has done an amazing job at not only giving the NHL team a lot of talent, but he has also established a rock-solid pipeline and given the Charlotte Checkers one of their best rosters in recent memory.
The call-up line features many players who just might make the team out of camp.
Phil Di Giuseppe played in 41 games for the Hurricanes last season and was able to play some very good hockey alongside Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask. He is a player that sets a good pace and plays a solid power game. He gets to the net and makes room for more skilled guys, even though that’s not to say that he can’t score on his own. He has impressive offensive vision and finishes well around the crease.
Brock McGinn set the world on fire in his NHL debut last October in Detroit, but from there on his production flatlined and he was exposed often on defense. This led to him playing the majority of the season with Charlotte again, but he, like Di Giuseppe, is a contender to crack the NHL lineup out of camp.
McGinn is an aggressive and physical forward, but he also has the skill you want out of a middle-of-the-lineup player. If he doesn’t make the NHL roster out of camp, he’ll get top-six minutes in the AHL and will likely be a prime candidate for a call-up if injuries or poor play kicks in with the big team.
It’s unfair how much talent the Hurricanes have on the blueline, but now they also have depth. The trio of blueliners to watch for is Haydn Fleury, Roland McKeown, and Trevor Carrick.
Fleury and McKeown are both coming off of big seasons in junior and are candidates to make the big club as seventh defensemen. Carrick has been around for two years now and has put up points at a big rate in the AHL. He posted 32 points as a rookie and 42 points in his sophomore AHL season in 2015-16.
Trevor Carrick has had a stellar camp thus far. Not only is he performing well with his big body and his electric slap shot, but he’s also outworking a vast majority of the players on the ice. This is a guy who wants to be in the NHL and given his trajectory, it won’t be that long before he is.
This is the part of the story where I try to explain to you how promising this team’s future is.
Starting up front, the Hurricanes pose a much greater threat with the additions of Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Lee Stempniak, Viktor Stalberg and Bryan Bickell. They will join a group of players including the likes of Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm. This looks to be Carolina’s most lethal forward unit in years.
On the blueline, second-year defensemen Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce will look to build off of very impressive rookie campaigns. The backend will be anchored by two-time all-star Justin Faulk. Other guys chipping in will be veteran Ron Hainsey and the aforementioned Ryan Murphy who is in need of a solid year.
The goaltending situation is still up in the air. If Cam Ward and Eddie Lack can replicate what they did from December-on last season, the team will likely be in a good position in terms of clinching a playoff spot. If they perform like they did in the first few months of last year, the Hurricanes may be in for a long season.
This is a big season in Raleigh. The Carolina Hurricanes are playoff hungry and they have formed a team that can, and I think will make the playoffs this season.