Rookie training camp is approaching, and exhibition games are coming. The 2023-24 season is a big one for the Carolina Hurricanes, as the expectations are to win the Stanley Cup. There are teams in the Eastern Conference that can spoil their hopes, but if they advance, they have to survive the team in the Western Conference. Here are three teams that the Hurricanes won’t want to face if they reach the Stanley Cup Final.
The Hurricanes are one of the best-structured teams defensively and can suffocate teams in the neutral zone. This is the type of game plan they will need to follow if they want to defeat the Edmonton Oilers.
The Oilers are one of the most dynamic teams offensively, which is easy when you have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. That duo is a threat whenever on the ice, and they both have the highest point totals since the 2016-17 season. Limiting their space and not giving them any open ice is massive in defeating them. However, they are not alone in producing.
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Edmonton also boasts forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, and Evander Kane. They help complement and form a deadly top-six unit, creating matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. Also, this team is excellent on the power play, so if you take a penalty, you better be prepared to kill it. The Oilers had the league’s best power-play unit (32.4 percent success rate), so this team will make you pay when given the chance.
The goaltending may be a question mark, although Stuart Skinner has shown he can shoulder the workload. Also, Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard lead the blue line who played better defensively as a team down the stretch during the 2022-23 season. McDavid and Draisaitl are playing at a high level and hungry to win a championship, so facing them will be a daunting task for the Hurricanes.
Vegas Golden Knights
There is a lot to like about the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Golden Knights are deep, talented, and well-coached. Like the Hurricanes, they buy into the system that head coach Bruce Cassidy has in place and execute flawlessly.
One area that the Golden Knights thrive in that poses a problem for the Hurricanes is their physical brand of hockey. Fans saw during the 2023 Stanley Cup Final how much the Golden Knights wore down the Florida Panthers and bullied their way to victory. During the regular season, Vegas finished with the 13th-most hits given and almost 600 more than the Hurricanes.
These two teams are similar and get consistent production throughout the entire roster. The Golden Knights have shown how hard they are to play against, so in a seven-game series, it can be a tall task. Up next is a team that reached the conference finals last season.
If there has been a common theme the last two playoff years, it was the Hurricanes running into a stellar goaltender. During the 2022 postseason, it was Igor Shesterkin, and that was followed up with Sergei Bobrovsky during the 2023 Playoffs. If the Hurricanes face the Stars in the Stanley Cup Final, the team must solve Jake Oettinger.
Oettinger is young but proven and has solidified himself as a number-one goaltender in the league. During the 2022 Playoffs, he put the team on his back and was sensational in their first-round series against the Calgary Flames, posting a 7.0 goals saved above expected. Furthermore, he proved that was no fluke and helped lead the Stars to a second-place finish in the Central Division. However, he is not the only thing the Hurricanes need to worry about.
The Stars have one of the more well-rounded rosters in the league. They have arguably the best top line in hockey with Joe Pavelski, Jason Robertson, and Roope Hintz, who scored 52 goals as a line and generated the second-most expected goals. Furthermore, the team has great depth with impactful veterans in Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and newly signed Matt Duchene. The Stars play with great speed and have a potent offensive attack, which poses a problem for opposing defenses. They’ll be looking for Wyatt Johnston to take the next step after a stellar rookie season, as well as some younger players on the back end.
Miro Heiskanen will anchor the blue line and be the steady presence back there. However, the Stars have a few young players stepping up to the forefront and will look to make an impact further. The Stars have a talented roster that could give the Hurricanes problems in a potential matchup.
Winning is Tough
Each team poses a challenge, and the Hurricanes must be ready. These three teams are among the elite in the West and have an excellent chance to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
The Hurricanes are one of the top favorites in the East to reach the Stanley Cup, and their story could come to a saddening close if they face these three teams. Winning is tough, but these are the three teams the Hurricanes would want to avoid if they make it all the way.