Head coach Rod Brind’Amour has never been the kind of coach to shy away from mixing up the lines for the Carolina Hurricanes. Chemistry is essential for the ‘Canes, who aren’t exactly blessed with any kind of generational offensive talent. But now in the midst of another winning streak, Brind’Amour and the team may have finally solidified a legitimate No. 1 line that can compete with some of the most dangerous trios in the game.
For the past four games, Sebastian Aho has centered the top line, flanked by Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov. Stacking the Hurricanes’ three most offensively skilled players on one line seems like an obvious move to generate more offense, but it’s the first time the trio has ever played together on the same line 5-on-5, and so far they’ve been lights out.
It took a healthy dose of NHL experience for Svechnikov to finally get a decent look on Aho’s wing, but in his 100th-career game, the 19-year-old finally got his opportunity. It doesn’t seem to matter who he’s played with this season – Svechnikov has already collected 10 goals and 23 points in 21 games to tie for the team lead with Dougie Hamilton. Alongside the two talented Finns, while getting first-unit power-play minutes, his value skyrockets.
Svechnikov is on pace for 39 goals and 90 points this season, which would blow his rookie totals out of the water, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. He already has nine multi-point games this season, which is trumped only by Leon Draisaitl, John Carlson, Connor McDavid, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. With his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, he’s also riding a three-game scoring streak.
The former 2018 second-overall pick has been creating offense all season while Aho, last season’s breakout star, struggled early, generating only three points in his first nine games. Aho eventually shook the monkey off his back and started to find his game, scoring at a point-per-game pace in his next eight matches.
Aho, Svechnikov and Teravainen have exploded for 17 points and a plus-19 rating in the four games they’ve been together, as Carolina has cruised to a 4-0-0 run. The Hurricanes collectively outscored their opponents 21-11 in that span. They’ve been a streaky team this season, but the formation of a bonafide top line could finally give the Hurricanes the X-factor they’ve been missing since the prime days of Eric Staal.
Goals by Committee
The prospect of a star-studded forward line coming together is exciting for the Hurricanes. It’s been a decade of hardship for the Hurricaanes, especially after losing Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner as they trucked along through a nine-year playoff drought. They haven’t been able to solidify a No. 1 line since. The only question is if these line combinations will stick – and more importantly, will they be supported by secondary scoring?
No player on Carolina’s current roster has ever scored more goals in a season than Aho’s 30-goal 2018-19 campaign, whereas every other NHL team has one or multiple guys who do have that pedigree. It makes the Hurricanes a rare exception in that they not only lack the players with the goal-scoring resume, but many of them are also just outright inexperienced.
The new second line of Ryan Dzingel-Jordan Staal-Warren Foegele plays a hard-nosed, forechecking style of game. Staal excels at faceoffs and corner battles, Foegele brings speed and physicality, and Dzingel adds a lick of offensive upside. Meanwhile, the third and fourth lines have been in disarray while the Hurricanes dealt with injuries to players like Jordan Martinook, and most recently, Erik Haula.
Stacking your most skilled players on one line can be risky – if matched up effectively, opponents can completely neutralize your offense. Luckily for the Hurricanes, there isn’t a huge skill imbalance throughout their forward group like you might see with teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Colorado Avalanche or Boston Bruins.
With Haula, Martin Necas and Nino Niederreiter floating around the Hurricanes’ other two lines, there’s still plenty of scoring ability to balance out the loading of Carolina’s No. 1 line. And judging by the trio’s tenacity and strong possession numbers, that’s a line that needs to stay together.
The No. 1 Line of the Future
Aho and Svechnikov are two of the most exciting players the Hurricanes have had in years and are cornerstones for Carolina’s future. At 22 years old, Aho still has his best years to come, and the Hurricanes have him locked up for the next five seasons. Teravainen, the “elder” on the line at 25, is also signed for the next five years at a team-friendly cap hit of $5.4 million.
Svechnikov will be in for a big payday when his entry-level contract expires in 2021, but the Hurricanes aren’t in any cap jams – they actually have some of the league’s most affordable contracts on their books.
Apart from the obvious in that they’re all young and skilled, the three guys also complement each other’s styles perfectly. Aho’s puck-retrieval ability is elite – he finished eighth in the league in takeaways last season and is currently 12th this season. He’s hard on his stick and great at re-claiming possession. Svechnikov has the roughness and finishing ability, and Teravainen’s toolkit is all about utilizing his strong vision to set up his teammates.
The Svechnikov-Aho connection is one Hurricanes’ fans have been dying to see on the ice since the Russian winger came into the league last season. Based on their ability to create multiple dangerous scoring chances every game, there should be no reason to separate them any time soon as they continue to ascend the standings.