The Carolina Hurricanes have a history of harboring great players in the shadows of their smaller market, and teams around the league are beginning to notice they’ve got yet another gem on their hands.
Martin Necas is only in his second NHL season, but he’s improved into an impact player for the Hurricanes, especially since Teuvo Teravainen and Vincent Trocheck have been sidelined with injuries.
The Czech-born winger is normally stapled to Trocheck, who has been his center for the majority of the season, but Necas has played the last several games on the top line with Sebastian Aho, and they’ve instantly clicked as linemates.
Since the turn of the calendar, Necas has been red hot with 10 points in nine March games. He logged a season-high 21:39 time-on-ice (TOI) in Thursday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and although his team lost in overtime, it was one of Necas’ best all-around showings of the year.
With two of Carolina’s top forwards out long-term with injuries, Necas will bear much more of an offensive burden, and for a team that’s already short on scoring depth, Necas’ emergence is a blessing.
Necas Thriving With the Opportunity
Before Mar. 11, Necas and Aho had never played on a line together – at least not at 5-on-5. But whether it’s even strength, on the power play, or in overtime, Necas and Aho have performed like they’ve been linemates all their lives. They’re both skill guys, so it makes sense they would work well together. But head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s philosophy has been to spread skill throughout his lineup, so they’re accustomed to being the main playmaker on their line.
Aho and Teravainen are the commonplace duo on the top unit for Carolina, but Teravainen has only dressed for 13 of 29 games this season. At the moment, he’s dealing with a concussion, and with no return in sight, Brind’Amour has been regularly tampering with his lines. That hasn’t helped Aho, who has rarely gone more than two or three games with the same wingers. Now that Necas has shown he can not only play with Aho, but actually make him better, keeping him on that line should be a no-brainer.
For my money, Necas is the fastest skater on the team. He’s got great hands, a good mind for playmaking and the deceptiveness to go along with it. But the thing that separates Necas from so many other players of his archetype is that he can make those plays at full speed, and until this season, he hadn’t pieced that all together yet.
Many of the skills Necas has fine-tuned from last year come as a result of him spending the 2019-20 season grinding away on the third line. By no means did Necas have a bad rookie year – he scored 16 goals and 20 assists in 64 games – but he had few opportunities outside of the power play to weave magic with players of a similar mind. You always knew his skill was there, it was just a matter of refining his game to become effective in all aspects.
Confidence is High, but Always Room to Improve
There are few tandems in the league who have connected on highlight reel goals this year as often as Necas and Aho. Using his speed, Necas can create open ice for himself and for Aho, which is what makes them so slippery. Whether it’s on the rush or the cycle, they’re always noticeable when they’re on the ice together. But for Necas, his fingerprints aren’t always on the scoresheet.
He’s scored 21 points in 26 games this season, but has only tallied five goals. His shooting percentage is lacking, at 9.1 percent, so that indicates there are more goals to come. But he’s still making things happen, even when he’s not scoring. Of Necas’ 16 assists this season, 10 are primary, which leads the Hurricanes.
Necas is one of few Hurricanes forwards who has the rare ability to both create and finish high-speed passing plays. There used to be some hesitation in his game when he got the puck, but as his confidence has improved, so has his decision-making. Because of that poise, the 22-year-old has become one of the ‘Canes go-to guys for offensive-zone entries.
Primarily a pass-first thinker, Necas also possesses a lethal one-timer, which is why the Aho-Necas connection is so difficult to defend. When Teravainen is paired with Aho, it’s usually easy to tell where the shot is coming from. But Necas is becoming just as good a passer as Teravainen, and is built with more size, speed, and pressure to his game, which is the perfect complement for the ‘Canes top center.
Of course there’s always room for improvement, and in Necas’ case, he sometimes gets a little overconfident. He’s still learning when to push and when to pull, and he sometimes forces plays that aren’t there. With more strength, he’ll fare better in the tougher areas like the boards and the net-front. But defensively, he’s not as great a liability as he was last season. He’s hard on his stick and his footspeed makes for an excellent gap-closer. The effort is there, and there’s still room to grow in those departments, which we can expect to be part of his next evolution.
Hurricanes Still Clawing for Points Without Teravainen & Trocheck
Trocheck (upper body) is the second-line center the ‘Canes have needed for years, and was in the midst of one of the best seasons of his career. Unfortunately, Brind’Amour recently announced he’ll be out longer than anticipated, which could motivate general manager Don Waddell to make a trade for another forward.
Recovering from a concussion is a tricky area to navigate, and been that’s the case for Teravainen, who first suffered his concussion on Feb. 19 against the Chicago Blackhawks. He returned to play one game against the Detroit Red Wings on Mar. 4, but has since been sidelined again as he still doesn’t feel ready for game action.
The Hurricanes’ eight-game winning streak is in the rearview mirror, and Thursday’s loss to the Blue Jackets was proof that they’re hurting without those two guys. As the ‘Canes wade through the upcoming stretch, Necas will be relied upon to continue elevating his game, especially while Andrei Svechnikov is in the midst of a scoring drought.
Down the road, even when Teravainen and Trocheck return and the Hurricanes are presumably healthy, Necas shouldn’t leave Aho’s side. There’s proof now that the two are more than dynamic together, and he’s earned his spot there with his play so far. With that in mind, here’s what the healthy Hurricanes forward lines could look like with Necas on the top line.
Do you agree with the lineup changes? Should Necas keep his spot on the top line, or is he better suited lower down the ladder when the ‘Canes get reinforcements?
Necas will play his 100th career game Mar. 22 in Columbus, as the Hurricanes prepare to play the Blue Jackets three more times in the coming week.
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.