The Carolina Hurricanes are in need of a resurgence from Victor Rask. The forward from Sweden started his tenure with the Hurricanes with an obvious hunger, demonstrated by his play on the ice. He seemed determined to prove he belonged. The team needs a return of that from him.
For the past two seasons, ever since he signed a big contract, Rask has not played up to expectations—expectations, by the way, which were not excessive. No one has him slotted for 40 goals per season. But, he was trending toward 25-30 and has fallen way short of those numbers for the past two seasons. The Hurricanes need a resurgence of the Rask who has shown that he has the talent and the drive to be a reliable NHL center. Assuming he does not get traded, they need to once again see the young, hungry Rask.
Young, Hungry Rask
It was the 2014 NHL Prospects Tournament where Rask staked his claim to NHL ice with the Hurricanes. Rask caught the eye of quite a few observers, including Mark Jones.
Jones wrote at Bleacher Report that Rask may have found the spark he needed at the tournament in Traverse City:
“Rask, the No. 42 overall selection in the 2011 draft, was desperately in need of a career jumpstarter after a disappointing 16-goal, 39-point AHL rookie season. He may have found it this weekend. The (6-foot-2) center racked up nine points (according to the Hurricanes’ website), including the overtime game-winner against the Rangers. He’ll be hard-pressed to surpass either Riley Nash or Jay McClement for a third- or fourth-line center role at the NHL level this coming season, but Rask’s career may be back on track at last.”
Rask did, in fact, surpass Nash and McClement and has not looked back. In the 2014-15 season, he put in 11 goals and had 22 assists for 33 points. Rask progressed nicely in 2015-16, with 21 goals and 27 assists for 48 points. Rask’s career trajectory was trending upward like a rocket. He was a team leader and the expectations surrounding his NHL career were trending upward, also.
In July 2016, Rask and the Hurricanes agreed to a contract that would pay him for six years and a total of $24 million. Ron Francis was the team’s general manager at that time and said that Rask had “gotten better every season that he’s been a part of our organization.” Francis also called Rask a “big part of this team’s present and future.”
At the time the now-25-year old Rask was 23, with life looking extremely good. A huge contract in his pocket, a spot on a young and improving NHL team and the growing respect of his teammates blended together to project a very bright future.
Post-Contract Syndrome for Rask?
It appears fairly often in all of the major sports that when a player gets a big payday, there can be a falling off in performance. Rask is set to make $4 million per season for the next four seasons. It’s as if the hunger and drive that served as fuel prior to getting the big contract fade a bit in their intensity. It may even be a subconscious thing, but in the case of Rask, there has definitely been a downturn in his performance since July 2016 when he inked the fat deal with the Hurricanes.
One of the low points for Rask was early last season when then head coach Bill Peters benched Rask for a game. I wrote about that at that time: “Some are beginning to question whether Rask is really interested in getting his game back, a thought that I find presumptuous. But, everyone agrees that something is off, and Peters is hoping some spectator-time will shake him into realizing the situation at hand. Namely, that the Hurricanes need a healthy, focused Rask.”
Peters said after the game that Rask enjoyed from the sideline, “We’ve got to help Victor right now. We need Victor. We need to get him back to where he was, and not only that, even higher. He’s still a young guy with a big upside. So, we’ve got to find a way to make it work.” It’s questionable whether the Peters or the organization as a whole found a way to make it work last season.
To his defense, Rask sat out the last 11 or so games of the season with a shoulder injury. Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reported on March 21 of this year, “The Carolina Hurricanes announced Wednesday that defenseman Brett Pesce and center Victor Rask would miss the remainder of the season, both with shoulder injuries. Canes coach Bill Peters said Thursday both could undergo surgery, saying, ‘Both guys have been playing with it for quite a while.'”
Calling Mr. Rask
Perhaps Rask’s dropping to 14 goals and 17 assists last season can be attributed to him playing hurt. In four years he has put up 33, 48, 45 and 31 points. His production has dropped 35 percent since it peaked the year prior to his signing the fat contract. It is time for Rask to find the hunger that he had when he was trying to prove himself. It is past time for Rask to regain the confidence he played with two seasons ago.
Many have opined that the Hurricanes need a veteran, proven scoring center. To an extent, they have one in Rask. In much the same way that Jeff Skinner needs a breakout season, so does Rask. Hurricanes fans would be ecstatic with a 35-goal Skinner campaign this season paired with a 25-goal Rask performance.
Along with Sebastian Aho, Martin Nečas, this year’s second overall pick in the NHL Entry Draf—Andrei Svechnikov—Teuvo Teräväinen and a bunch of blueliners who can score, this team could put up the most offense it has in years. This could be a breakout year for the Hurricanes. But, they need a Rask resurgence to make it happen. The resurgence phone is ringing. Will Mr. Rask answer the call?