While getting off to a decent 9-5-1 start, there have been a handful of concerning trends popping up for the Carolina Hurricanes. The team has struggled with most of the high-end teams they’ve faced so far, and both special teams units have performed poorly. On top of that, injuries are starting to mount, with starting goaltender Frederik Andersen and first-line forward Teuvo Teravainen recently joining Max Pacioretty among the injured ‘Canes. Furthermore, the offense has been highly inconsistent, averaging 2.25 goals per game over the last four… which doesn’t seem that bad until you realize that’s nine goals, and seven of those came in one game. Incidentally, that was the only game the team won in the stretch.
However, today isn’t a day to tackle those negative narratives; instead, we’re going to look at the brightest star from the Hurricanes’ opening five weeks: forward Martin Necas. After the roughest year of his (short, in fairness) NHL career, the 23-year-old winger is looking like a man with something to prove early in 2022-23. Currently leading the team – and tied for 10th in the NHL as of Sunday afternoon – with 19 points in 15 games, he looks well on his way to a career year. Things are obviously early and can change in a hurry, but it’s looking like the Hurricanes got one heck of a deal when they gave him a two-year “bridge” contract extension in August.
Necas Becoming A Star on a Cheap Contract
It shouldn’t be understated how important team-friendly deals can be on a team that spends to the salary cap, especially when that team is trying to compete for a Stanley Cup. The logic is obviously pretty simple: less money to players who then outperform their dollar figure allows that capital to be spent elsewhere. It’s comparable to when a player on an entry-level deal makes a big impact, which we’ve seen in the past with players like Andrei Svechnikov and Seth Jarvis. Now, the Hurricanes have work to do in that latter area with a plethora of underperforming veteran players they need substantially more from in order to reach their ceiling. If and when those players do find their games in this still-early season though, Necas’ breakout campaign will be that much more beneficial.
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While it wasn’t that long ago that Necas looked like a rising star and building block for the Hurricanes, last season presented a lot more questions than answers. In a contract year, many were looking to the speedy Czech playmaker to take a big step and prove himself worthy of a long-term deal. Perhaps that ends up being a bit of luck for the Hurricanes after all; getting the kind of production they have thus far from a player at just $2.5 million this season and $3.5 million in 2023-24 is a huge benefit, and allowed the front office to go after veterans like Paul Stastny, Brent Burns, and Pacioretty. The latter two have hefty cap hits, and it’s highly plausible that one or both of them wouldn’t be on the roster right now if not for the savings on Necas.
Considering Necas will be just 25 years old when the contract expires, there’s still plenty of time for him to make a pretty penny in his NHL career. If he continues at even a relatively similar pace to the bar he’s set early in the 2022-23 season, it’s safe to say a substantial raise will be in the cards when the summer of 2024 arrives, and negotiations commence once more. Furthermore, it’s also to the Hurricanes’ benefit as he’ll still be a restricted free agent (RFA) at that time, meaning they’ll have a good shot to lock him down long-term if he continues to prove himself to be a star in the NHL. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Necas a Prime Example of the Importance of Confidence in Hockey
It’s always been obvious that Necas had the game-breaking speed and puck skills to be a dominant offensive player in the NHL. After the struggles of yesteryear, the start he has had this fall is a clear example of how important confidence is in the game of hockey. He didn’t have it last season, to put it bluntly, as he deferred far too often and overthought simple plays. He just didn’t seem to have the confidence to patiently break down the defense, hold onto the puck and create magic out of nothing. Now he’s back to being what the Hurricanes always felt he could be: a dynamic presence that drives the play and is a threat every time he’s on the ice. He is getting the results of a superstar in large part because he’s beginning to believe in his ability to make those sorts of plays again.
Although it may sound simple spelled out like this, the mental side of hockey is just as important as the physical one, and can really wreak havoc on a player’s game when lost. Necas’ running mate this season, Svechnikov, had a pretty similar dip himself, back in his third season in the NHL. A lot of calls didn’t go his way which seemed to kickstart his struggles, compounded by some truly awful puck luck. He got into a rut he simply wasn’t able to overcome – although perhaps it wasn’t to the point where some fans soured on him, as was the case with Necas last season. Good ol’ adversity, one of the biggest mountains a young player has to climb to make it in the NHL.
With added strength and maturity, Svechnikov, too, has turned into an absolute force, capable of taking over a game at any given moment. The two linemates could form one of the deadliest second lines in hockey for a long time – or, even, bump up alongside superstar center Sebastian Aho at some point, forming what could potentially be the most electric first line the franchise has ever seen – with all three players drafted and developed by the organization, too, which makes it all the more exciting.
Big-time players can make things happen when their team needs it the most. After multiple late-game snipes and beautiful assists in crunch time this season, it’s becoming obvious that Necas wants to be that guy now, desperate for the puck on his stick when the game is on the line. The lightbulb has come on, and the Hurricanes are awfully lucky to have a player of this caliber on such a team-friendly contract. If he can stay consistent throughout the season, his actual play may warrant triple that cap hit, and it’s going to raise the bar for this team in a big way.
Brandon Stanley covers the Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings here at THW. Born and raised in Raleigh, NC, in addition to writing about the Hurricanes for about five years now, he played hockey in NC for about 15 years. Many of those in the Carolina Junior Canes program, and hockey has always been his biggest passion. A graduate of North Carolina State University, Brandon also co-hosts and edits a podcast with two other writers (one of which, Alex Ohari, is also a writer here at THW) called Tracking the Storm. The pod covers everything Carolina Hurricanes, from prospects, to game recaps, and everything in between. Always available to chat anything hockey related, don’t hesitate to shoot him a tweet or DM anytime on Twitter @bwstanley26!