Good times kept on rolling for the Carolina Hurricanes in the third month of the season, as they strung together an eight-game winning streak to kick off the month, while flirting with first place in the NHL throughout much of the past few weeks.
It was the unsung heroes who got them up and running in the early parts of 2020-21, but Carolina’s big guys were back in the spotlight this past month, and the product was a stellar March record of 10-2-2. Here are the three players who went above and beyond – the Hurricanes’ 3 Stars of March:
Third Star: Dougie Hamilton
Expectations were high for Dougie Hamilton coming into this season, after his dominant 2019-20 run was cut short by a broken fibula. He’s also in the midst of a contract year, which means the 27-year-old will soon be heading to unrestricted free agency. He seemed to be a step behind out of the gate, but he’s starting to settle in and is slowly returning to the offensive dynamo Hurricanes fans know and love.
He tallied an assist in a Feb. 27 game against the Florida Panthers, and that was the beginning of a 14-game point streak that carried all the way through March until the final game of the month, when he was held scoreless in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
That’s the longest point streak in the NHL this season, and the longest by a defenseman since Shayne Gostisbehere of the Philadelphia Flyers went 15 straight games with at least a point in 2015-16.
Hamilton is once again among defense leaders in shots (1st), points (10th) and power-play points (5th). Only Adam Fox of the New York Rangers scored more points than Hamilton in March. More importantly than statistics, Hamilton seems to have his swagger back, and along with that, his goofy attitude that’s made him a fan-favorite in Raleigh.
The next step for Hamilton is to get more engaged defensively, both physically and mentally. Playing on the penalty kill helps lock him into a defensive mindset, but at 5-on-5, he can get lackadaisical and fall into a habit of taking bad penalties.
The Hurricanes have the best power play in the league (29.9 percent), and Hamilton is a big piece of that, having scored seven of his 15 March points with the man-advantage. Defensively, Hamilton hasn’t been at an elite level, but his defense partner Jaccob Slavin does a good job of keeping him grounded. There’s still room to improve to get to where he was before last season’s injury, but his big contract day is coming soon and time is running out.
Second Star: Sebastian Aho
Sebastian Aho probably didn’t get the praise he deserved this month, thanks to the recent emergence of a few other notable Hurricanes, but he finally was able to tune his game to the level he’s expected to produce at. Aho paced the ‘Canes with nine goals (first) and 16 points (second) in 14 March games – easily his best month of the season.
Only Mikko Rantanen, Alex Ovechkin, Max Pacioretty and Carter Verhaeghe scored more goals in March than Aho, who stepped up in an even bigger role in the absence of key teammates Teuvo Teravainen (concussion), and Vincent Trocheck. Individually, Aho is leading the Hurricanes in points for the fourth straight season and continues to be their most valuable player. Without their 23-year-old top center, Carolina’s offense would be crippled.
Aho’s body of work in March features a 22.5 shooting percentage, 56.8 percent faceoff percentage and 20:23 average time-on-ice – tops among Hurricanes forwards. He logs major ice time on Carolina’s power play and penalty kill – both of which are top 10 units in the NHL.
Aho now sits at 33 points in 33 games which is about the same point-per-game pace he’s scored at the past two seasons. He doesn’t need a lot of help to rack up points – he typically has a revolving door of linemates – but there’s one man he’s linked up with recently who’s partly to credit for Aho’s recent surge.
First Star: Martin Necas
Easily the most outstanding Hurricane of month and the Robin to Aho’s Batman, Martin Necas was the only Hurricane to outscore Aho in the month of March. With 17 points in 14 games, Necas put on a clinic of confidence and flashiness as he continued his evolution into an NHL star.
Necas’ explosive month culminated in a four-point effort (2G, 2A) Mar. 27 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, when he factored in on every Hurricanes goal to lead them to a 4-3 win. You can’t really say enough good things about Necas’ play this month. The 22-year-old winger has matured into a versatile player who can break the game open with his speed and puck skills. He’s as dangerous on the rush as he is on the cycle, and similarly to Aho, he can both set up plays and finish them.
He’s made headlines all over the league with his highlight-reel plays, even recently earning himself honors as the NHL’s second star of the week. Necas is now up to 28 points in 31 games, which is just two points off the team led held by his linemate Aho.
The road to recovery for Teravainen has been long, and there seems to be no immediate end in sight. But even when Teravainen is set to return, he may not get his old linemate back. Necas has proved he’s just as good with Aho, maybe better, and if they did that much damage in just one month together, imagine what they could do with a whole season.
Hurricanes Have a Heavy Schedule Ahead
It’s going to be a hectic month across the league, but the Hurricanes are facing a particularly brutal schedule in April, with 16 games to be played in 29 days. The good news is that there won’t be much travelling required – they have two long homestands coming in second half of the season that will relieve some of the fatigue.
They’ll play one more game in Chicago on Apr. 1, before returning to Raleigh to play their next eight games at PNC Arena. They’ll follow that up with a six-game road trip against the Lightning, Panthers and Dallas Stars, before returning home for their final game of the month on Apr. 29.
Matt Cosman is a Sheridan College print journalism graduate from Oakville, Ontario. I’ve been with THW since 2019 covering the Carolina Hurricanes, one of my favorite childhood teams. When I’m not in my hockey bubble you can probably catch me jamming out on the piano or losing money at the poker tables.