As teams continue to reinforce their rosters for the upcoming season, the Carolina Hurricanes’ biggest improvements may come from within.
The Hurricanes’ prospect pool is headlined by winger Andrei Svechnikov and center Martin Necas, two former first-round picks in 2018 and 2017, respectfully. They have taken slightly different paths to the NHL since being drafted, but the two future stars could align as early as next season, as both Svechnikov and Necas will compete to snatch top-six forward spots.
Svechnikov Expecting Sophomore Surge
Svechnikov broke into the NHL last year at only 18 years old and had a solid rookie season for Carolina, tallying 20 goals and adding 17 assists. He also got off to a hot start in the playoffs, scoring three points (2G, 1A) in three games against the Washington Capitals before getting concussed in a fight with Alex Ovechkin. But before that, Svechnikov played all 82 regular season games, and next season looks poised to take on an even bigger role.
With Justin Williams in purgatory, Svechnikov is one of the top right-wingers on Carolina’s depth chart. He’s also had another year to become bigger, stronger and faster, which is gravy for the already powerful Russian forward.
Svechnikov’s time-on-ice (TOI) hovered around 14:39 last season, but that’s sure to go up whether or not Williams re-signs – especially if he can crack the top power-play unit. All 20 of Svechnikov’s goals came at even strength last season, and considering how bad Carolina’s power play was in the playoffs (9.6 percent), that should be an area in which Svechnikov gets a longer look.
For the 2018 second-overall pick entering his second NHL season, a whole 82 games with more minutes and better linemates could mean the 30-goal mark is within reach.
Necas Ready to Take the Leap
While Svechnikov makes his ascension, another beast lies in wait.
When theHurricanes drafted Necas 12th overall in 2017, he was a small, 167-pound kid who scouts deemed a work in progress. But two years later and 20 pounds heavier, Necas is now well equipped to see full-time NHL action.
Necas is a smooth skater with remarkable vision and a deceptively quick trigger. He’s primarily a pass-first player, but also has the ability to unleash deadly one-timers. Versatile at center or wing, Necas also brings an element to the Hurricanes forward corps they currently lack – a right-handed shot.
Strangely, every single forward on the Hurricanes’ roster shoots left. In that sense, Necas’ utility is a blessing. His right-handedness can be an advantage for key face-off situations and also help create different options on the power play. Though he struggled at the face-off circle with Carolina last season (36.4 percent), that’s an area head coach Rod Brind’Amour and center Jordan Staal are well-versed in.
Now, at 20 years old, Necas has an opportunity to prove himself and keep a spot on Carolina’s roster. He impressed at training camp last year and began the season with the Hurricanes, but only saw about 10 minutes a night in a sheltered third-line role. In seven games, he tallied a goal and an assist before ultimately being demoted to the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers.
The patient approach to his development allowed Necas to thrive with the Checkers, collecting 52 points in only 64 games, finishing fifth in AHL rookie scoring. Personal achievements aside, he also contributed 13 points in 18 playoff games to help the Checkers win the Calder Cup championship.
Finding the Proper Fit
Although Necas is a natural center, he did play some right-wing with the Checkers last season. His special offensive abilities are already a checkmark in his column, but his right-handedness is an important tool to be utilized – he just needs a bit of sharpening. Don’t be surprised to see him go the Sebastian Aho path by starting on the wing and gradually transitioning to the middle as he continues to polish his fundamentals.
Necas could synergize well with newly acquired center/left wing Erik Haula. Haula’s face-off percentage has been above 50 percent each of the past four seasons. Allowing him to shoulder some of the face-off duties could help Necas adjust to the workload of an NHL center. Haula also has more offensive upside than players like Brock McGinn and Warren Foegele – two of Necas’ former linemates.
While Necas is likely to start on the third line again this season, the possible re-signing of Williams could mean Svechnikov also gets bumped down. That’s where the potentially lethal playmaker-finisher combo of Necas and Svechnikov could finally come to life.
‘Canes Keeping Up in Rising Metro Division
Last season, we saw other former 2017 first-rounders like Elias Pettersson, Miro Heiskanen and Cale Makar break out in big ways around the league. Necas has the ability to do that in 2019-20, and with the possibility of Necas, Svechnikov and Aho threatening on three different lines, the flood gates could quickly open for the ‘Canes’ budding young stars.
Carolina’s 243 goals-for last season was its highest total since 2007-08. If Aho and Teuvo Teravainen can replicate their career seasons, and Svechnikov and Necas continue to mature, the Hurricanes may soon be looking at their best forward lineup in years. And for a team with one of the deepest defensive cores in the league, an improved attack could be the tipping point that propels Carolina to another deep playoff run.