Hurricanes’ Depth Propelling Team During COVID Outbreak

Let’s hear a round of applause for the front office of the Carolina Hurricanes.

It wasn’t that long ago that fans of the team cringed every time a player was injured. Borderline NHLers like Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson worked hard and did what they could, but they simply weren’t quite up to the task when they came up to the NHL. Granted, that feels like a lifetime ago in general, considering how much different the team as a whole was in the early- and mid-2010s. They weren’t sniffing the top of the division standings, and certainly not the various power rankings from national outlets.

It was fair to be concerned ahead of Thursday night’s game at PNC Arena. Being down any one of Jordan Staal, Andrei Svechnikov, or, especially, the team’s best player in Sebastian Aho, would be a tremendous blow and valid excuse to lose a hockey game. Being down all those guys – plus Ian Cole, who has been fantastic, rookie sensation Seth Jarvis, and Steven Lorentz? Oh, and playing down two skaters, with just 16 dressing for the game due to cap restraints, as well? I don’t think anyone on the planet would have been surprised if the Hurricanes couldn’t get the job done.

However, Rod Brind’Amour has implemented a culture where there are no excuses. It’s an incredible embodiment of “next man up”, and, much like Jalen Chatfield and Max Lajoie when the first COVID protocol cases struck the blue line, the promoted players from the AHL’s Chicago Wolves not only got the job done but played key roles in the Hurricanes moving to 20-7-1 on the season. So let’s take a peek at the three call-ups, and even look beyond them to get a clear picture of the incredible depth the Carolina organization currently has to work with.

Jack Drury

Let’s start with the 21-year-old, who is one of the top prospects in the Carolina system. It’s been a whirlwind of a year for the son of longtime NHLer Ted Drury, as Jack has won a Swedish Hockey League championship, won bronze at the World Championships with Team USA, signed his first NHL contract, and was the first star in his NHL debut, scoring a beautiful goal and showing the complete, versatile nature of his game.

Jack Drury of the Waterloo Black Hawks
Carolina Hurricanes center Jack Drury, while with the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks (courtesy USHL)

The goal is a great demonstration of what makes Jack Drury such a perfect fit in the Hurricanes’ system. He started his shift on time, streaking towards the middle as soon as he touched the ice, caught a beautiful pass from Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and quickly fired a shot on goal. After releasing the shot from the slot, he didn’t become an idle bystander; he showed his immeasurable compete level, battled through a check, and banged home his first NHL goal in his first NHL period of play. Not a bad way to make an impression.

However, his performance was much more than that play. He played 16:05, had two big blocked shots, laid two hits, fired four shots on goal, and won six of eight faceoffs. He was responsible defensively, even if a few times he showed he was a rookie making his debut and got caught on the wrong side of the puck (a Tyler Bertuzzi power move that Frederik Andersen had to make a fantastic save on comes to mind). Those are the types of things that will dissipate after earning experience to the speed of the game in the best league in the world.

Drury’s stay in the big leagues won’t be too extensive, as the emergency call-up will only have a little over a week before the Hurricanes’ COVID protocol players will be eligible to return and he will have to head back to Chicago. However, between his far-from-out-of-place showing in the preseason, and impressive NHL debut on a short-staffed team, Drury provided a nice preview of what the future holds. He’s going to play in the NHL for a long time, and it might not be that long before he forces his way into a legitimate role.

Andrew Poturalski

This one’s a definite feel-good story. The AHL’s leading scorer, signed as a college free agent from the University of New Hampshire in 2016, has kept his head down and battled for years now. He played in two games at the end of his first full professional season in 2016-17, but since then has been relegated to AHL duty. During the then Hurricanes affiliate Charlotte Checkers Calder Cup run of 2018-19, he led the team in scoring in both the regular season and postseason, with 70 regular season points followed by 23 points in 18 playoff games.

Related: Hurricanes News & Rumors: Stars of the Week, Illness, and World Juniors

After signing with the Anaheim Ducks following that championship run, the points continued to come over the next two years, but the NHL opportunity did not. He returned to the Hurricanes organization in August and has finally been rewarded for his time and effort. In his first NHL game in four years, Andrew Poturalski was instrumental in Carolina’s first goal of the game. Brind’Amour showed a lot of faith putting him out there on a first-period power play, and he got off a quick shot from the top of the circle that was banged home by Nino Niederreiter for his first of two goals on the night. The helper was Poturalski’s first career NHL point.

Andrew Poturalski Chicago Wolves
Carolina Hurricanes forward Andrew Poturalski, with the Chicago Wolves (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

He didn’t play a ton, under eight minutes total, but his offensive production was what got him back to the NHL, and he showed he can help produce offense at this level, too. The 27-year-old may not be here to stay, but he may have earned himself another chance with another team at some point. If nothing else, he proved to be another valuable piece to have in the organization and one who can step up and fill inadequately in a pinch.

Noesen, and a Few Other Notes

Finally, rugged winger Stefan Noesen didn’t get on the scoresheet, but there was a lot to like from the veteran of over 200 NHL games, too. He played a straightforward, north-south style against Detroit, got to the dirty areas, and was relentless on the forecheck. The 205-pound former first-round pick was super heavy on the puck, and multiple times broke up attempted breakouts almost single-handedly. He’s another example of the Hurricanes’ front office identifying players that fit the system and can contribute to the way they want to play.

Beyond these three, though, it’s crazy to think about how many legitimate options didn’t get the call. In so many recent years the Hurricanes hardly enough NHL-quality players to ice on any given night when the team was healthy. Nowadays, there are at least six players that have done enough to earn a look – and that might be while counting Chatfield to flat-out be an NHL player because he sure seems to be despite a still-relatively-small sample with the team.

The Hurricanes will be allowed to call up an additional two players under emergency basis for their next game on Saturday, and the two most likely candidates look to be CJ Smith and Josh Leivo. The former is second in the AHL behind Poturalski in scoring with 28 points in 24 games and has regularly produced at that level. The 27-year-old had an impressive NCAA career prior to that, including 23 goals and 51 points in 43 games his final year at UMass-Lowell.

Josh Leivo Chicago Wolves
Carolina Hurricanes forward Josh Leivo, with the Chicago Wolves (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The latter, Leivo, has already been up with the Hurricanes this year, and, like Noesen, has played over 200 NHL games already. He has produced 19 points in 15 games with Chicago this year and was especially impressive during the preseason. Many thought he had done enough to win a job with the big club out of camp.

And it doesn’t even end there. Young defensemen Jesper Sellgren and Joey Keane continue to look like future NHLers that may be knocking on the door at any time now, and 20-year-old Jamieson Rees, a player I’ve been pounding the drum for years now, is healthy and contributing on the farm, too. Rees, especially, is a player I expect to push for the roster at some point in the next year. He’s a complete pest, never gets out-competed, and will be a key cog in the Hurricanes forechecking machine before long.

Depth Matters More Than Ever

Not to sound like a broken record, but in a still-COVID-ridden world, and with outbreaks seemingly not going anywhere anytime soon, teams truly have to be ready for anything these days. The job the front office has done of supplementing the main roster with an extensive list of NHL-level talent is nothing short of remarkable and probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

I don’t know how many wins the Hurricanes would get if they had to ice this lineup for a whole season, or even for a month or two. However, with Brind’Amour behind the bench, all these players seem to buy into the system unequivocally, and it’s leading to success no matter who has been in the lineup.

Carolina has a tough back-to-back this weekend, starting with a sneaky-good Los Angeles Kings team that gave the Hurricanes all they could handle at the Staples Center a little under a month ago. The next night they’ll see the Nashville Predators, winners of six in a row ahead of their matchup in Chicago against the Blackhawks tonight.

Don’t be surprised if the next two call-ups come up and immediately fit in and contribute, just like Drury, Poturalski, and Noesen did against Detroit. At this point, under the tutelage of Brind’Amour, if the Hurricanes decide a player is worth signing to a contract, we should probably just assume they’re going to be ready when their number is called.

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