Welcome, folks! This is a new series that myself, Alex Ohari, and Caleb Shaw — the Carolina Hurricanes team here at The Hockey Writers — have been discussing starting for a while and one we’re excited to start putting out! Each week here, we’re going to break down a couple of topics, providing feedback on whatever is going on surrounding the team. Hopefully it’ll be insightful, a good time for all involved, and a chance to supply some diverse opinions and analysis.
The Hurricanes are off to a highly impressive 5-0-0 start, cruising to impressive three-goal wins over contenders in Toronto and the New York Islanders, as well as workman-like victories over Columbus, Nashville, and Montreal. They now stare down their biggest test of the season thus far on Thursday night, when the Boston Bruins come to town.
The team has contributions coming from all over the lineup, two players playing at Hart Trophy levels in Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, and, despite the small sample size, all the offseason moves seem to be paying off so far. We have some incredibly exciting hockey happening and lots to get into, so let’s jump right into our discussion.
Topic 1: What’s Been the Biggest Surprise From the Hurricanes You’ve Seen Through Five Games?
Shaw: Anyone could have told you that the Hurricanes have the talent to start the season 5-0-0, but the pace of play they have shown thus far and the precision each unit has operated with have blown me away. The overhaul of Carolina’s depth, infrequently mentioned during the offseason, seems to be paying off dramatically in the first few games of the season. Factoring in the loss of Dougie Hamilton to free agency over the summer, it’s even more surprising to see the Hurricanes offense come out of the gates so well. If they can continue their torrid start, this is a team that will keep opposing goalies up at night all season long.
Ohari: My biggest surprise so far has probably been Jesper Fast. I’ve been a tough critic of him in the past, but his three goals in the first five games have made me take notice. Beyond just appearing on the scoresheet, he’s drawn some tough assignments and has held up strong in all three zones. He looks much more engaged and impactful thus far. The team’s third line of him, Jordan Staal and Nino Niederreiter is as good as any league-wide.
Stanley: My biggest surprise has been just how quickly all the new faces have seemed to fit into this system, which does tie into Caleb’s point about the incredible depth of the team. Alex and I spoke with assistant general manager Eric Tulsky on our podcast a few weeks ago, and he mentioned how much they’re putting on head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s shoulders this season trying to implement so many new players into their system — a system that has proven difficult for new players to acclimate to before. It is tough for a player to immediately jump in and play the aggressive, “Go, go, go” style (as Tulsky himself put it). Hats off to Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ian Cole, Tony DeAngelo, Ethan Bear, and Derek Stepan for coming in and playing the Hurricanes brand of hockey very quickly — all those guys have made real, notable contributions.
Topic 2: Andrei Svechnikov
Question: The young Russian sniper has been lethal to begin this season; however, he began last season scoring at over a point-per-game pace before falling off afterward. Have you seen anything that makes you think 2021-22 will be different?
Stanley: I won’t dwell on this one too long, as I did just talk at length about Svechnikov last week in my analysis of the first three games. However, with his continued high level of play, scoring four more points in the last two games and running his points streak to five games, it was tough to leave the 21-year-old out of our discussion here. I will say, the kid continues to look absolutely explosive, making high-level plays as a passer, flying around the ice with a top speed that seems a touch higher than in years past, and that same deadly release that is going to threaten goalies in this league for a long, long time.
Shaw: Svechnikov has every tool needed to be one of the best power forwards in the entire NHL this season. If he stays healthy, I can see him notching his first point-per-game season. Like the rest of the team, everything about his game seems to be crisper than in 2020-21. With the talent Svechnikov possesses, the only thing holding him back is the amount of penalty minutes he racks up, something I’m sure Brind’Amour has made a focus during training camp and practices.
Ohari: Confidence in his own abilities plays a huge role in his success, especially now in his fourth season in the NHL. He knows what he can and can’t get away with out there. He’s also still developing physically and rounding out that 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame he has. Power forwards have historically taken longer to develop and find their stride, so at age 21, he’s still just scratching the surface — and he’s arguably ahead of schedule. His blend of speed, power and skill is nearly indefensible for the opposition.
Topic 3: How Good Has the New Guy in Net, Frederik Andersen, Been?
The goaltender, signed as a free agent, has been stellar through five games, compiling a 5-0-0 record, 1.60 goals against average (GAA), and .946 save percentage (SV%). However, one of the bigger questions surrounding him has been his heavy workload over the past five years with Toronto. Are you concerned at all about the initial split between Andersen and Antti Raanta?
Shaw: Andersen has been phenomenal. I certainly would have liked to see Raanta in net during the first five games, but Andersen’s scorching start to the season has the Hurricanes as one of just four remaining unbeaten teams, along with the St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers, and Edmonton McDraisatls — I mean, Oilers. It certainly makes sense to ride the hot hand for now and let a long season play out a game at a time. When Raanta finally gets his name called, a lot of questions will be answered about the Hurricanes’ gamble on goaltending this offseason. So far, it seems to be paying off.
Ohari: I’m not sure there’s any legitimate critiques you could make about Andersen that would be anything less than nit-picky. The facts are, this guy has won all fives of his starts and has allowed just eight goals on 149 shots. His movement has been fluid and, quite honestly, better than I was expecting. His poise is unquestionable, and he’s shown that big, timely-save ability that teams covet. With how he’s played so far, I think we’re starting to understand why the Hurricanes wanted a true veteran presence instead of the young, unproven Alex Nedeljkovic.
Stanley: I would tend to agree with you guys; with the Hurricanes relatively light schedule, playing just five games in 12 days without any back-to-backs, Andersen has clearly not shown any early-season fatigue. Perhaps they’re just trying to test the “October Freddie Andersen” theory, as he has always seemed to get off to a slow start in prior years. The new starter sure does look good behind his new defense so far; I probably wouldn’t have taken him out yet, either. However, with the upcoming Thursday-Friday back-to-back, we’re definitely going to see Raanta make his Hurricanes debut this weekend. I’m excited to see what he can bring, and if he impresses as we know he is capable of behind this sturdy Hurricanes back end, we very well may be looking at one of the best tandems the team has ever had.
Topic 4: Anything You’d Consider a Disappointment, or Think Needs Improvement for the Hurricanes Moving Forward?
Shaw: Seth Jarvis needs to play. Whether it’s in Raleigh or in Portland, the Hurricanes need to get him on the ice and keep developing the star prospect. Jarvis showed in the preseason and in camp that he can compete at the NHL level, so it’s really surprising to not see him dress at all so far. The grind of an NHL schedule is, of course, a concern for the rookie, but zero minutes of ice time in five games is perplexing.
Ohari: I agree with Caleb here; my only gripe through five games is the lack of Jarvis. One on hand, I understand it — because teams typically won’t mess with a winning lineup. But something needs to give. His Portland team has struggled without him through eight games, and he could be a real game-changing presence there. Being the go-to, all-situations guy and leader for a WHL team will provide a positive step in his development, and sooner or later, this kid just needs ice-time.
Stanley: I was annoyed about the Jarvis thing at first, too, but I get that the Hurricanes want to put him through practices and the NHL day-to-day, simply giving him a taste before they inevitably send him back to Portland. Plus, with the team healthy and winning every game thus far, it’s tough to make changes. And, hell, this seems a bit nit-picky too, doesn’t it? In fairness, how many “flaws” we would try to point out in an undefeated team wouldn’t seem that way?
On that note, the only “disappointment” I can think of would be the second power play group. I don’t love Brett Pesce on that unit, as incredible of a defenseman as he is, and would like to see Bear get a chance in that spot. He’s shown some real offensive upside with the ability to both find seam passes and get his booming shot through for tips and rebounds. Their fluidity and puck movement will obviously not be able to match the top unit’s, but there is plenty of skill for that quintet to be able to hold up their end of the bargain. So far, it kind of feels like if the top group of Svechnikov, Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, DeAngelo, and Vincent Trocheck don’t capitalize, the power play is more or less a waste; they have scored five of the Hurricanes’ six goals while on the man advantage this season.
It’s almost tougher to do a piece like this when there isn’t much to actually debate at this juncture; these might make for better discussion after the Hurricanes actually lose a game or two or experience a little adversity. We don’t want to sound like cheerleaders, after all.
Still, it’s tough to watch the Hurricanes through the first couple of weeks and be anything but thoroughly impressed with the efforts they’ve put forward so far. This team is winning in different ways; they’re scoring, special teams have been excellent, and the defense and goaltending have combined to make this team look very, very complete. The 82-0-0 watch lives on for another game, as the team’s pristine on-ice performance is matched only by the social media team’s unmatched troll game off the ice.
Five games down, 77 to go, and much is sure to change as the grind of a full NHL season starts to wear on the players. As the ebbs and flows occur, check back here at The Hockey Writers as we’ll continue to give you our analysis on what’s working, what’s not, and breakdowns of everything related to the state of the Carolina Hurricanes.