Our Carolina Hurricanes 2019-20 Preview is a part of our series covering the entire NHL. Check them out here in the lead up to another exciting season!
Everyone loves a good underdog story. The Carolina Hurricanes became a fan favourite throughout the hockey world as a result of their feisty, youthful, energetic play, their Storm Surge celebrations, and the fun-loving atmosphere surrounding the team and their brand.
The highlight of the year may very well have been the team embracing Don Cherry’s attempt at discrediting them and their energy with the Bunch of Jerks segment on Coaches Corner. The team immediately owned the label and ran with it by selling merchandise and having fun with it on social media.
But, this isn’t just an overview of the team having a successful season in the marketing and branding department. They also did excellent on the ice.
Led by the emotional rookie head coach (and former Hurricanes star) Rod Brind’Amour, the Hurricanes had their most successful regular season since their Cup-winning 05-06 campaign. Although the team did not start off in a dominant fashion, they went on an absolute tear in 2019, starting with a 3-1 win versus the Flyers on New Year’s Eve. Their record after that date was second in the league to the Tampa Bay Lightning. In their first playoff berth in 10 years, they got to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Following the team both on and off the ice, you will begin to see how they accomplished these feats. Off the ice, once the team can loosen up, have some fun, build an excellent atmosphere in the locker room, and develop chemistry, the performance on the ice will reflect these positive changes.
The Hurricanes employ a system that, in some ways, mirrors that which the Vegas Golden Knights find success with. They utilize speed, both foot speed and pace of play, to overpower and control the narrative on the ice. An aggressive forecheck/backcheck and constant pressure make sure they force the opponent to play into their system. This was exemplified exceptionally well in the playoffs, particularly against the Islanders in the second round. The Hurricanes dominated that series in part because they would be playing 2-3 moves ahead of the Islanders and forcing them into the Hurricanes’ gameplan.
This playstyle with an emphasis on speed (footspeed, agility, pace of play) seems to be the direction the league is heading so by being one of the first to transition to using it, the Hurricanes will be setting themselves up well for the future.
Calvin de Haan
The Hurricanes may not be the most impressive roster on paper, but they have the energy, chemistry, and work ethic to make things happen regardless. At centre, they are led by the outstanding Sebastian Aho who is coming off of career highs in all offensive categories. Look for him to continue dominating on the ice and on the scoresheet.
Following him in the depth chart is Jordan Staal, the reliable two-way centreman who, historically, is good for 40+ points but is coming off of a down year in which he only played 50 games with 28 points. If he can stay healthy and return to form, he can be a lower-tier second line centre with a defensive upside that fits in great with the team’s playstyle.
There is room for movement after that, though. Lucas Wallmark held his own while filling in for the injured Jordan Staal as second line centre, but the team will want more offensive production from him before moving any farther up the lineup as he only had 28 points in 81 games last season. Offseason acquisition Eric Haula is able to play centre and will likely get a shot but may end up on the wing for a while longer. Martin Necas is more likely to make a full-time jump to the NHL this season after having a solid year in the AHL with his first taste of NHL action thrown in.
Though it is not likely he makes it this season, look for the highly touted Ryan Suzuki to create some competition through training camp, maybe even getting his nine-game tryout due to the lack of established depth at centre.
Joining Aho on the first line as wingers are the exciting Nino Niederreiter and Teuvo Teravainen. Niederreiter came to Carolina around the trade deadline in a questionable trade for Victor Rask and the early prognosis is that the Hurricanes made out like bandits on the return. Nino quickly fit in on the Hurricanes’ first line putting up an impressive 30 points in 36 games to end the year. With a full season to work together, these three will become one of the deadliest offensive threats in the league.
The loss of Michael Ferland to free agency will be very noticeable as we move through the Hurricanes’ lineup. The hope is that new signing Ryan Dzingel will be able to replace the 40 points Ferland had last season. After a disappointing end to the season after being traded to the Blue Jackets, Dzingel will be looking to reaffirm his value as a 40-point, second line winger. He will most definitely get the chance to at the beginning of the year with questionable depth below him the line-up. Sniper Andrei Svechnikov will be looking to improve on his 20-goal rookie campaign, which may be difficult as neither Staal or Dzingel are particularly great playmakers and passers. His shot could be a better weapon on the powerplay with Aho leading the play instead.
Below that are a collection of gritty role players who make up for lower skill and pedigree with defensive aptitude, high energy, and a strong work ethic. Some combination of Erik Haula (if he is not at centre), Brock McGinn, Warren Foegele, Jordan Martinook, Saku Maenalanen, and maybe even Ryan Suzuki. The team is incredibly stacked down in the AHL, as well, so there are absolutely other options who may earn a spot out of training camp. Morgan Geekie and Julien Gauthier are among the options who could be on the verge of a breakout season. As we saw last year with Martin Necas, however, coach Rod Brind’Amour will not hesitate to keep players in the AHL if they show signs of needing more development time.
Warren Foegele had himself a bit of a breakout year as he became one of the more recognizable Hurricanes by name on the ice for his tenacious, physical, fast play that embodies the majority of the system the team has committed to. Although his offensive production may have to improve before getting an expanded role, he will be deserving of a bigger role if he can continue where he left off last season.
The Hurricanes’ defense is set. On paper, they may have one of the more impressive lineups in the league. The team has a solid group of right-shot defenders (Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce), which are a valuable commodity around the league and is what led to Justin Faulk being the subject of trade rumours over the summer. He became even more expendable once the team signed Jake Gardiner to a very team-friendly contract. Now, Joel Edmundson was acquired in the trade for Justin Faulk with the St. Louis Blues near the end of the summer.
The Hurricanes began to mitigate the loss of a defenseman of Faulk’s calibre by bringing in Jake Gardiner, but Faulk’s presence will still be sorely missed. Even moreso because of Calvin de Haan leaving in free agency.
This loss of these defenders will be significant, but the Hurricanes absolutely have the depth and prospects to make up for it. Trevor van Riemsdyk is the top candidate to slot in as a regular defender this season with the newly opened spot as the third RD. Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean will both have a shot to move up the lineup and newcomers Joel Edmundson and Gustav Forsling will add to the competition.
Edmundson may find himself in a more suitable role on the bottom two pairings in Carolina, as he spent a lot of his time last season as Alex Pietrangelo’s partner in St. Louis. His 2018-19 season was disappointing, but a reduced role and a fresh start could give him a rebound year alongside Pesce or Van Riemsdyk.
The recently signed Chase Priskie, coming over as an unsigned draft pick from the Capitals’ organization, will be making his pro debut this season. Although he shows promise, he will probably be spending most of the season in the AHL to adjust to the pro game and workload.
The Hurricanes do pack a deep offensive punch from the blueline. The team does have three guys on the roster who have shown the ability to get 30-40+ points in a season, which is huge for a team looking to employ the fast paced, quick playstyle the Hurricanes were using. Dougie Hamilton is the most notable offensive threat as he possesses a rocket of a slapshot.
This is the position that appears to be the Hurricanes’ weak link, especially with Curtis McElhinney joining the Lightning this offseason. Although Petr Mrazec played well enough in the 40 games he appeared in last season, he is not a high level starting goalie. Scott Darling was supposed to be the guy moving forward, but unfortunately the signing did not pan out as expected. That leaves the other goalie spot up for grabs between James Reimer and Anton Forsberg. Forsberg had respectable numbers in the AHL last season and Reimer had a poor year in Florida.
The team will be eager for Alex Nedeljkovic to develop into a full-time NHL’er, as he is showing the promise and potential to be a legit number one goalie in the NHL. After a couple developmental years in the AHL, Nedeljkovic made his first NHL start last January and will soon be ready to stick around on the NHL roster. With the lack of goaltending depth on the team as it stands, he will get a shot very soon.
Carolina Hurricanes 2019-20 Prediction
4th-6th Metropolitan Division
The Metropolitan Division remains a tough one to make any headway in. There is not much room for the Hurricanes, especially since we feel some regression will happen this coming season. Much the same as other teams having a spontaneous good season (Colorado in 12-13, Calgary in 14-15, Florida in 15-16, Vegas in 17-18), it is likely Carolina falls a bit in the standings this coming year. Their playstyle suggests they will still remain competitive at least, so long as they can retain the youthful spirit and energy that rallied the team throughout the season. Regression and the lack of goaltending depth will make it difficult, however.