The All-Star Break has arrived for the Carolina Hurricanes, but that doesn’t mean all the members of the squad will be enjoying seven days off to gear up for the season’s stretch run. Three Hurricanes are headed to the festivities in Las Vegas this week. Honestly, it could be argued that a fourth, Andrei Svechnikov, ought to be there as well, especially with the run of play he’s been on for over a month now. Sorry, I know I probably seem obligated to mention him in every post at this point, but I just can’t help myself. What a fun player.
Anyway, in this week’s Hurricanes News & Rumors, we’ll talk about one of those all-stars a bit, who also happened to take home another honor this week. We’ll also check in on a top prospect who has finally returned to play after an extended absence due to injury. Finally, we’ll discuss a couple of quick notes and themes I noticed over the last few games and why I think this break is coming at the perfect time, despite the positive results the Hurricanes have continued to get.
Suzuki Returns to Action
Drafted in the first round, 28th overall, back in 2019, speedy, playmaking center Ryan Suzuki got a brief taste of professional hockey last season when the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season was canceled and the AHL amended their rules to allow teenagers to play. One of the top prospects in the Hurricanes’ system, he had a largely impressive debut and registered 10 points in 26 games. Many were excited about his 2021-22 season, with the outside chance he could have pushed for a roster spot (despite a few players that clearly seemed ahead of him on the depth chart, such as Jack Drury, Stefan Noesen, Josh Leivo, and Jamieson Rees).
Unfortunately, he suffered a lower-body injury just five games into the season. As is often the case with AHL injuries, next to nothing was available regarding his status. At this point, you can gather one detail, though: it was clearly pretty serious, as the injury kept him out for three months. However, he finally returned to action on Sunday in Chicago’s 4-1 win on Jan. 29. Suzuki took a minute to get going (not surprising after that long of a layoff) and played on the fourth line, but he quickly looked to be back to himself, despite not finding the scoresheet. He was dangling through players, creating off the rush, and getting into the dirty areas regularly.
The final point is what makes him such an interesting prospect. Initially drafted as a largely perimeter-oriented offensive playmaker, Suzuki really started to show some grit in his game while playing in a fourth-line role for Team Canada at the 2021 WJC. He contributed four points in the seven tournament games. He then carried that style over into his pro debut, showcasing a more well-rounded player that can potentially fit in a variety of roles. This, obviously, carries great importance under a head coach like Rod Brind’Amour.
The back half of the season is big for Suzuki. He never seemed like he was going to be a quick riser that jumped to the NHL within the first year or so, despite his first-round draft status. However, he’s now lost another half-year of development just when he was really beginning to round out his game and look like a player that could potentially push for NHL time whenever a need arose. If he continues to look like he did on Sunday evening, don’t be surprised if he has a big second half and starts to make some noise.
Another Accolade Alongside Some History Made for Andersen
As he prepares to head to Vegas to serve as one of the goaltenders for the Metropolitan Division at the 2022 NHL All-Star Game, Andersen received yet another award this week and made some history in the process. On Monday, the big Dane was named the NHL’s second star of the week after going 3-0-0 with a .938 save percentage (SV%) and sub-2.00 goals-against average (GAA). During that stretch, he also set the record for the most wins ever by a goalie in their first 30 games with a team with 24.
Related: Hurricanes Preseason Bold Predictions Revisited
Lots of hand-wringing happened over the offseason when the Hurricanes traded homegrown Calder Trophy finalist goalie Alex Nedeljkovic to the Detroit Red Wings basically for nothing (sorry, Aidan Hreschuk) and let longtime starter/1A Petr Mrazek walk in free agency. All for a guy who lost his starting job to a journeyman bust of a first-rounder?! I’m kidding, Leafs fans, but, also, don’t pretend you didn’t think that about Jack Campbell relatively recently. Yet, here Andersen is, winning 13 of his last 14 games while serving as the backbone for one of the best teams in the NHL.
Andersen heads to the All-Star festivities with a .929 SV%, 2.01 GAA, and 24-6-0 record on the season. He’s been absolutely stellar for the Hurricanes, consistently winning games even when the team doesn’t deserve to (foreshadowing alert!). If he continues this level of play, alongside the continued excellence of the team overall, there’s a good chance this isn’t the last award of this sort the 32-year-old veteran takes home. Heck, we could easily be checking in at season’s end for the Vezina at this rate.
Are the Results Covering for the Process a Bit?
We’ll wrap up considering the last stretch entering the All-Star break and why it may be a blessing that it’s coming when it is. There are two ways you could look at the last week for Carolina, depending on your level of optimism, so I’m just going to lay both of them out here.
A theme I saw on Twitter amongst the fanbase a few times and, admittedly, even fell into myself until I really thought critically about it is the tendency to “play down” to lesser opponents. The Hurricanes headed into the break with four games in a six-day stretch, with the final three of those over the extended weekend against currently-non-playoff teams in the San Jose Sharks (22-20-3), New Jersey Devils (15-24-5) and Ottawa Senators (14-21-4). Carolina would take care of them – as well as Vegas on Tuesday night – but largely in unimpressive fashion. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that the Hurricanes would have lost those three without phenomenal efforts from Andersen (twice) and Antti Raanta.
Now, at the end of the day, these lesser teams make millions of dollars, too, and all three have some highly impressive young players on their teams. They played really hard and gave the Hurricanes all they could handle. So, is the team just getting bored, perhaps just winning all the time and taking a team far down the standings lightly? There’s a good chance that’s the case, and, honestly, that’s the best-case scenario. On the flip side, if they’re worn out because of the busy stretch of schedule, well… that may be a bit more cause for concern if you look at what’s to come after the break. It’s at least something to watch for, considering how reliant the Hurricanes are on tempo and going 100% at all times.
Ultimately, here’s what matters: Carolina played four hard-fought, one-goal games in six days and won all four. When you’re on top, there’s a target on your back. You’ll get every opponent’s best effort. And even on nights that the Hurricanes don’t bring their A-game, they’re finding ways to win, be it with clutch goaltending, special teams, or a timely offensive spark by one of their many impressive forwards. That’s huge. The best teams just find ways to get the job done, and that’s what this version of the Hurricanes is doing.
Think, how many times over the years did the Hurricanes out-shoot someone 40-20, carry play the entire game and lose 2-1 because of one rush and incredible goaltending? The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, in particular, have been doing this for years. Guess what…that’s the Hurricanes now and why I truly believe this team is a real contender and a threat to take down any other team in the league in a seven-game series. They can beat a team any way, any night, and that’s a tough thing to prepare for.
So, sure, you may not want to see them “play down to their easy wins” on the schedule so much, especially considering they had actually already lost to all three of those lower-down-the-standings teams in prior matchups this season. But how much can you really gripe when the team is sitting with a pristine 31-9-2 record at the All-Star Break?
Nonetheless, perhaps this break is well-timed. The team may now get a bit of a physical and mental reset, and, also, star forward Teuvo Teravainen now has a chance to heal up after missing the last two games. Getting a piece as important as he is back and showing up following this week fresh and ready to roll, I’m excited and intrigued to see what kind of run the Hurricanes can get on (or continue on, maybe) as we enter the second half. Enjoy the All-Star Game and Skills Challenge, and catch your breath, too – there’s a whirlwind of hockey games waiting right around the corner.