As the Carolina Hurricanes head into the final leg of their lengthy road trip, the team is showing signs of rounding into form. Despite losing their most recent game in overtime to the lowly Anaheim Ducks, the Hurricanes have taken seven of eight possible points through four stops on their six-game trip. Coming on the heels of a tumultuous month of November, the team desperately needed to find a higher gear and start to see some of their new players settle into the system. It seems as though we’re seeing just that unfold as December rolls along.
As the team receives a brief respite from their travels with a stop back in Raleigh during a much-needed three-day break, the Hurricanes have received both good and bad news on the injury front this week. All that and more will be discussed in this week’s News & Rumors, as we cover players getting closer to returning, players who have gotten banged up, and a little bit of minor-league movement as well.
Hurricanes Receive Some Positive Injury News
To kick things off, the Hurricanes saw an encouraging sign on Thursday afternoon when Ondrej Kase was seen skating with “special advisor to the general manager” Justin Williams. This may not necessarily mean his return is imminent, but it’s still a great sign to see the talented winger back on the ice and getting some work in. With his lengthy concussion history, it was truly a matter of “if”, not “when” he was going to come back in 2022-23 for the Hurricanes, but seeing him on the ice and getting his legs back under him is certainly an encouraging sign. Kase has been in concussion protocol since Oct. 14, and hasn’t played since the season opener.
Furthermore, Frederik Andersen was also rotating in with Pyotr Kochetkov and Antti Raanta at practice on Thursday. Being actually involved in a practice like this does seem to suggest his return is coming sooner than later, and it presents a fascinating scenario for head coach Rod Brind’Amour to sort through. Kochetkov has easily been the Hurricanes’ best goalie through the first one-third(ish) of the season, with Andersen and Raanta both struggling a majority of their time between the pipes. The swagger-filled Russian now leads Hurricanes netminders in appearances, and his save percentage clears his fellow goalies by a pretty substantial amount (the rookie is at .914, versus .894 for Raanta, and .891 for Andersen).
The only real argument for the two veterans is track record and experience, and the goalie position is often all about riding the hot hand. This is a subject I spoke in-depth about a couple of weeks ago, but this may be one of the bigger tests of Brind’Amour’s relatively-short coaching career. Kochetkov has seemingly earned the net for now, but with the other two options not being waiver-exempt, and who certainly wouldn’t pass through unclaimed, it’ll be fascinating to see how the head coach and management handle it. Either way, the youngster certainly won’t be starting every game for the rest of the season. Brind’Amour needs to get one of the other two going so that, if nothing else, they can take some pressure off the 23-year-old.
Aho Banged Up
On the flip side, not all was well when it came to injury news this week. Star center Sebastian Aho is reportedly dealing with a minor lower-body injury, and is questionable to play Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders. According to Brind’Amour, whether the Hurricanes’ top player suits up that night will come down to whether or not he can get on the ice for practice Friday before the team flies to Long Island; if he can skate and feels alright, he’ll play. If not, I’d expect they’ll play it safe with it being early December, even if the coming matchup is against a Metropolitan Division rival that’s right on their heels in the standings. The ultra-competitive Aho will surely do whatever he can to be on the ice and help his team avenge a 6-2 beatdown they received in the last meeting.
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Losing Aho for even a short period of time would be a massive blow to an already-somewhat-thin offensive team. Playing him or sitting him seems like a tough concept to balance, though, as the Hurricanes need him to be as close to 100 percent as possible for the rest of the season. Better to miss a few games now than later in the season – or worse, to play through the injury where it doesn’t heal as well or as quickly as it could. Having it end up lingering throughout the season to the degree that the Finn doesn’t look like his very best self would be highly detrimental; without Aho being Aho, the Hurricanes’ chances of making a deep playoff run are extremely slim.
This does still seem to be a “day-to-day”-type deal as things currently stand, even if the details released (as they always are for hockey teams) are slim. It’ll at least be something to monitor over the next stretch of games, as hopefully the Aho we see on the ice is no worse for wear. Injuries stink, but when they happen to a team’s star player, it certainly can be cause for consternation.
Dylan Coghlan Optioned; Lajoie Recalled
Lastly, the Hurricanes sent defenseman Dylan Coghlan on a conditioning stint with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League (AHL). He has been a healthy scratch for the last 13 games. After he impressed Hurricanes’ fans and media alike with his preseason performance, once the games started to count the former Vegas Golden Knight struggled mightily to make an impact – on the rare occasion he was in the lineup. The stint will give the 24-year-old a chance to stay sharp as the one-month mark since he’s seen live, game action approaches.
The team recalled Max Lajoie in a corresponding move to fill the vacated seventh-defenseman role while on the road. Lajoie has been a solid presence for the Hurricanes when he’s been up, and in particular, his pairing with Jalen Chatfield (who is playing some fantastic hockey lately, by the way), gave the team an impressive third pairing that skates well and is capable of both pushing the play offensively and being relied upon defensively. Regardless, Calvin de Haan is as solid as they come for a defensively-sound third pairing blueliner, so it’s unlikely the move is anything more than insurance if an illness or injury pops up on the rest of the trip.
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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!