The Carolina Hurricanes had a splashy offseason, both in terms of who they brought back and who they didn’t. Out were mainstays Vincent Trocheck, Nino Niederreiter, and Tony DeAngelo, and in were big names Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty. Unfortunately, with the news recently breaking of Pacioretty’s torn Achilles and subsequent surgery, one of those splashy acquisitions is going to be out for a large chunk of the season. However, that doesn’t mean that Burns alone is going to carry the torch for new players in the organization. Today we’re going to talk about the two “other” guys the Hurricanes added over the summer: forward Ondrej Kase and right-handed defenseman Dylan Coghlan.
It goes without saying that these two acquisitions weren’t met with the same fanfare that the other two were. In fact, the Kase signing basically slipped in at the same time the team acquired Pacioretty and Coghlan from the Vegas Golden Knights. Considering most were busy reacting to the Hurricanes finally getting their highly-sought-after goal-scorer (and simultaneously dunking on Vegas for their cap management) when Kase was announced, I’d bet a large chunk of fans around the league will be like “wait, when did they get him!?” the first time they watch the team play this coming season.
However, a theme we’ll get into today is that while both players weren’t necessarily high-profile additions, they were very “Canes” moves that could play a much larger role than expected in the upcoming season. After the professional tryout for Derek Stepan and two-year contract extension for Martin Necas, the Hurricanes roster for 2022-23 is becoming a bit clearer. So, before we begin to jump into roster configuration and other subjects of that ilk, let’s talk about why these two players should probably be getting a bit more recognition than they have thus far.
Kase a Hurricane at Last
Once upon a time, Kase was reported to be the centerpiece in a potential return for longtime Hurricanes blueliner Justin Faulk. At the time, the talented winger was a young, up-and-coming sniper who the Anaheim Ducks declined to move on from. In retrospect, both teams likely wish that deal hadn’t been vetoed by Faulk; the Czech winger was traded to Boston at the next deadline after that deal was on the table, having scored just seven goals in 49 games in 2019-20. The eventual return for Faulk left a lot to be desired, meanwhile, with Joel Edmundson playing just one season in Raleigh. The centerpiece in the deal with the St. Louis Blues, 2018 first-round pick Dominik Bokk, struggling mightily in his introduction to North American hockey and has since been loaned to the German Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL).
Alas, the time has finally come, and Kase is a Hurricane after all. While he hasn’t quite blossomed into the big-time point-producing forward he was once thought capable of becoming, this is a player with legitimate skill, a ton of versatility that ought to endear him to his new head coach in short order, and the potential to take another step forward offensively if he can stay on the ice. He is, after all, only 26-years-old, and playing with perhaps the deepest forward group he has over the course of his career.
After scoring 20 goals in 66 games in just his second year in the league, Kase has dealt with a string of injuries, most worrisome among them the long history with concussions (from “Leafs forward Ondrej Kase diagnosed with concussion, no timeline for return”, The Athletic, 4/11/22). However, he’s also turned himself into a strong two-way player, consistently relied upon to kill penalties and match up against tough opponents. While he missed 32 games last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was actually scoring at over a 20-goal pace, and doing so while playing a variety of roles.
The Hurricanes likely signed him with a bottom-six role in mind, perhaps on the wing of Jordan Staal to fill the hole left by Niederreiter. Otherwise, he could slot in nicely alongside Jack Drury and make for a big matchup problem for opposing teams. That potential pair would make for a ton of punch on the fourth line, one that would be both reliable in their own end and also able to take advantage of other teams’ own bottom lines more often than not. Few teams can match the sort of skill these players have at that part of the lineup.
However, the injury to Pacioretty also brings another benefit of this move into the spotlight: he’s the type of player that can be plugged in just about anywhere and find success. As already mentioned, this is a player with legitimate goal-scoring ability, as he can really rifle the puck when he has time to fire. He doesn’t have the quickest release in the world though, so many of his goals come from one-timers if they’re from a stationary or from-a-distance position. Perhaps more impressive is his ability to dangle in the dirty areas; he shows a real ability to make quick moves in tight, stretching the goalie out before flipping the puck in over the shoulder or off his backhand. This shiftiness has also enabled him to be a reliable shootout participant, scoring on 50 percent of his 14 career attempts.
Now, again, the injury history is legit. As we just saw with Pacioretty, that possibility is omnipresent and could rear its ugly head at any point. Regardless, this one-year, $1.5 million deal was a pretty no-risk move for the Hurricanes. It’ll be fun to see what this year has in store for Kase considering his fit with the team, skill, and shooting ability, and I have a feeling that this is yet another move we will be looking back on as a savvy one that paid off handsomely for the Carolina front office.
Coghlan in a Logjam, but Could Come Out on Top
The Hurricanes’ top-four is a well-documented monster, with Jaccob Slavin, Burns, Brett Pesce, and Brady Skjei giving the team two pairs capable of shutting down opposing lines and contributing consistently in the offensive end as well. Equally worthy of extensive discourse is the battle for the bottom pair slots as training camp approaches. Jake Gardiner has, surprisingly, avoided a buyout through the windows that recently passed, but there is still some doubt as to whether he begins the season on the Hurricanes’ roster (and, perhaps more importantly, on the payroll with his $4 million cap hit).
There’s at least some chance that the Hurricanes added Coghlan simply to be a depth defenseman they could carry as a healthy extra, or even an American Hockey League (AHL) defenseman considering there is currently a whopping *one* right-shot defender projected to be on the Chicago Wolves roster. The thing is, why would the Hurricanes feel the need to grab an AHL defenseman in a deal like this one, that has already netted you a bonafide star at forward? This seems like he was specifically targeted as a player the Hurricanes want, and I have a theory as to why.
Coming up through junior and into his AHL days, Coghlan was especially known for a very specific trait: a monster shot. He scored 15 and 17 goals in his last two years with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League (WHL), then 26 goals in two seasons in the AHL. Reportedly, while with the Wolves (when they were still the Golden Knights’ farm team), the team’s power play strategy was “get it to Coghlan“.
If you read our Burns profile, you know there is reason to think a huge bounce-back in the goals department could be in the cards, due to his fit inside the Hurricanes’ game-plan of, shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. He’s going to have the green light to hammer away at goalies from anywhere and everywhere. However, perhaps he’s not the only newcomer who was brought in with that ideal in mind.
If Gardiner does end up off the roster, a hole remains on their second power play unit. Slavin has had his moments but is so imperative in other situations that Rod Brind’Amour has shown an aversion to using him on the man advantage when he already logs monstrous minutes in the other two situations. Pesce doesn’t really have the kind of playmaking instincts to fit on that unit, and the same can likely be said for his partner, Skjei. That leaves the third pairing guys, and while Ethan Bear may also make for an option there with his own big shot, it’s intriguing to consider what a kid with Coghlan’s shooting ability could potentially do whilst surrounded by the Hurricanes’ skill players that’ll be on that unit. They could certainly use that sort of triggerman, especially on a second unit that got far too stale last season.
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After running out the third pair of Brendan Smith and Ian Cole a majority of the playoffs last year, it seems the Hurricanes are looking at a shift towards a more offense-leaning bottom pair this year. For a team whose biggest concern was putting the puck in the net in the postseason, this makes for an interesting thing to watch as the 2022-23 season draws near. Coghlan has always been known more for his offensive proclivity than defensive play, which isn’t what one would normally expect for a third-pair guy. Still, his skating ability and youth make it seem like a decent upside play for the Hurricanes, especially if he improves in his own end under his new coach. With their defensively-dominant top-four, a sheltered, offense-leaning role for Coghlan on the third pair may be just what the doctor ordered.
This is obviously all speculation, and something we’ll get a little clearer picture of once training camp and preseason rolls around. However, while the initial reaction to the trade makes it seem like Coghlan was little more than a throw-in on the deal, it seems far more likely that there was more purpose than a simple depth pickup for a team that operates like the Hurricanes do (especially with as little cap room as they have). We’ll see if the big defenseman can change that narrative, and prove the Hurricanes were smart to pick up the 24-year-old defenseman that’s shown legitimate offensive upside in the past.
Very “Hurricanes” Moves
In many cases, the moves that few pay attention to play just as large of a role as the ones that grab all the headlines. This is especially true with high-end teams with Cup aspirations; often times you don’t really need to mess with chemistry and bring in a big-time player, but a tweak here and there. A depth improvement can end up being the thing that puts a team over the edge.
For a team as close to Stanley Cup contention as the Hurricanes are, it’s not like they needed that kind of big splash. And sure, they kind of did, but Pacioretty filled a big need as a goalscoring power winger, and Burns was a necessary move to replace the right-shot, top pair defenseman that they just lost. Still, otherwise keeping the status quo for the most part was the right move. Look at the Cup-champion Colorado Avalanche, for example; they didn’t need a huge shakeup to break through from their former status as a talented young squad to champion. Rather, they added the right pieces to make marginal, but important upgrades throughout their lineup (their trade deadline deals acquiring Andrew Cogliano, Nico Sturm, Arturri Lehkonen, and Josh Manson immediately come to mind).
The Hurricanes have made their bones as a savvy, creatively-maneuvering team that may not always be in on the top free agents or pulling off blockbuster moves. Yet, their moves do have a tendency to pay relatively large dividends for them. We just saw this with DeAngelo last season, a bargain signing who ended up giving them top-pair-level production. While these two players may not quite be on that level (because they obviously come without the same set of unique circumstances DeAngelo did), they have a chance to play larger roles than you may think this coming year. Perhaps that’s all a team with as much skill and potential already in their NHL lineup truly needs.
While losing Pacioretty for so long is obviously a really tough blow for the Hurricanes to suffer (in case that wasn’t clear by the 100 times I mentioned it in this post), the Hurricanes are still that team with an immeasurable ceiling. They were already amongst the league’s best in 2021-22, and a step forward from some of their up-and-coming stars such as Andrei Svechnikov, Seth Jarvis, and Martin Necas could have them poised for big things – especially once their big offensive acquisition does return around the All-Star Break. Still, don’t be surprised when players like Coghlan and Kase play a significant role in getting them there, too.
Brandon Stanley covers the Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings here at THW. Born and raised in Raleigh, NC, in addition to writing about the Hurricanes for about five years now, he played in the Carolina Junior Canes program for another 15; hockey has always been his biggest passion. A graduate of North Carolina State University, Brandon also co-hosts and edits a podcast with two other writers (one of which, Alex Ohari, is also a writer here at THW) called Tracking the Storm. The pod covers everything Carolina Hurricanes, from prospects, to game recaps, and everything in between. Always available to chat anything hockey related, don’t hesitate to shoot him a tweet or DM anytime on Twitter @bwstanley26!