Hurricanes Need Depth Scoring to Make Next Big Step

The stage is set, and the date is confirmed. The Carolina Hurricanes and the rest of the NHL will begin play on Jan. 13, 2021 — ten months after COVID-19 put the 2019-20 season on pause — with a 56-game schedule.

The Hurricanes can shift their worry from whether a season will happen at all to whether they end it on top. The team has plenty of talent at nearly every position, but it will still need good play and a little bit of luck to become champions again. The most significant area of improvement for Carolina will be scoring from middle and lower players on the depth chart. 

If the entire team can be a threat to score, the Hurricanes can be dangerous in the new season with their solid defense behind them.

SAT Line Reliance

Last year the Hurricanes boasted one of the league’s most exciting offenses led by one of the most exciting forward lines, the “SAT” line, comprising of young goal-scorer Andrei Svechnikov with star playmakers Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. Together, all three led the team in points, goals and assists in the 2019-20 season. 

Sebastian Aho Carolina Hurricanes
Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Though the SAT line was fun to watch, the problems arose once the depth lines were on the ice. 

The SAT line accounted for 43.5% of all points accumulated by forwards last season and over 35% of all goals for the team. Despite the high scoring first line, Carolina still ranked middle of the pack in total goals (15th with 217) last season.

Head coach Rod Brind’Amour relied heavily on his top line and made it a point to keep them out on the ice for as long as possible. Aho and Teravainen each averaged over 19 minutes of ice time per game, the most of any forward on the team by a wide margin, with only Jordan Staal ahead of Svechnikov’s 16:44 of average ice time. 

The playoffs highlighted Carolina’s depth scoring struggles after they met the Boston Bruins and their intimidating defensive play. The SAT line met the mighty “Perfection Line,” consisting of impressive two-way players Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Boston’s Perfection Line took away the firepower of Carolina’s SAT line — they held Aho without a goal, and the three forwards totaled nine total points in the series. And the rest of the team struggled, never scoring above three goals and totaling 30 shots in just one contest before losing in five games. 

If the depth scoring doesn’t see improvement at the beginning of next season, Brind’Amour may have no choice but to break up the SAT line in order to divide the scoring threats across other lines.

Fitting In Jesper Fast

Hurricanes’ general manager Don Waddell didn’t make many moves during the offseason to the roster, a decision that surprised many, but he did add one veteran to replace Justin Williams, who retired at the end of last season. Carolina brought in 29-year-old winger Jesper Fast on a three-year deal worth an average annual value of $2 million. 

Jesper Fast New York Rangers
Jesper Fast, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Though he isn’t expected to be the mentor and locker room leader that Williams was, he does come in with some pressure to nudge the depth scoring in the right direction. With the Rangers last year, Fast had 12 goals and 17 assists in 69 games. He can add pace and playmaking to the third, or possibly even the second line with the ability to score efficiently, as he has a career 12.7 shooting percentage.

Fast seems like a good player for the Brind’Amour system with his solid two-way capabilities. Waddell praised the signing when the organization finalized it in October.

“We play a very fast system; [Rod Brind’Amour] likes to be on the attack with the puck,” he said. “There’s a lot of good players in free agency, but we look at more of what players can play the way we like to play. Jesper [Fast] was one of the guys that we identified early, and as soon as we were able to, we contacted his agent and started the process of acquiring him.”

No matter how they do it, whether it be the rise of Fast or another, possibly younger, player like rookie Morgan Geekie, the Hurricanes need to find depth scoring for the new season if they truly want to contend with the big dogs.