I am going to begin my season previews, but this year, I am picking the teams randomly instead of alphabetically. I will start with the Carolina Hurricanes:
Aho – Staal – Lindholm
Teravainen – Rask – Williams
Skinner – Ryan – Stempniak
McGinn – Kruger – Nordstrom
Di Giuseppe, Jooris, Zykov
Slavin – Pesce
Hanifin – Faulk
Dahlbeck – Van Riemsdyk
Fleury – McKeown
Last season, I predicted the would be a playoff team, but stated, if they did not make it, next year they would for sure. I still believe it and stick by my claim. They will make the playoffs.
Now, the lines show Skinner on the third line. Obviously, he will not be on that line. It will just be a matter of which left wingers moves to the right. In my head, they would actually look like this:
Aho – Staal – Teravainen
Skinner – Rask – Williams
Lindholm – Ryan – Stempniak
On the wings, Carolina is very deep. Aho can score 30 goals this year. Teravainen should have his breakout season, and so should Lindholm. Skinner, obviously, is a consistent 30 goal scorer already. Of course, the return of Justin Williams adds to that. He is still a 20 goal scorer and is capable of 45-50 points. His presence as a veteran should also help.
I will admit, down center, they could use some improvement. Jordan Staal is one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL, especially defensively. Even so, he is one of the weakest first-line forwards in the league and would serve better as the second-line center. Rask is also just a second-liner. While adding a first-line center would be ideal, they don’t necessarily need one to at least make the playoffs. I’d say Ottawa would serve as an example. If Ryan can continue his play from last season, I’d say he could be a solid third-line center. Kruger flanked by McGinn and Nordstrom is nice fourth line. Kruger is another great defensive forward, and that line could indirectly help the offense. If they can help neutralize the top lines of the opposing team, it might take some of the duties off the back of Jordan Staal, which could open his offensive game. The only problem is that McGinn has some offensive capabilities himself, so I wouldn’t want to reduce him to fourth-line minutes in a purely defensive role.
The blue line is fantastic. Slavin and Pesce is definitely a top 2 pairing. They came out of nowhere in 2015-16, and have far surpassed Faulk in defensive capabilities, especially Slavin, who was very deserving of the seven year extension. Hanifin and Faulk rounds out the top four. Hanifin is just scratching the surface of what he can become. He could be a top 2 defenseman playing the third spot, and Faulk sitting as the fourth defenseman tells you just how scary the defense of Carolina will be. As of now, Dahlbeck is shown as the sixth defenseman, but I’d expect Fleury to fill that spot. He and McKeown have both been overshadowed by the emergence of Slavin and Pesce, but their potential is still high. They are reaching the point, however, where it is time to make the NHL. They both need to push Dahlbeck down to the “first call-up” position. It is a great problem to have, though.
In net, there is a huge improvement. Scott Darling, one of the many former Blackhawks, is getting his shot at being a number one goalie, and I believe he’ll take advantage of it. I don’t believe it will end up like the Eddie Lack experiment. Darling now pushes Ward to the backup position. Ward is no longer the goaltender he once was, but he does show flashes of the past and will make a very solid backup. It is a much better tandem than what they had.
Right now, I have the Hurricanes pegged as fourth in the division, possibly fifth, making one of the last two spots in the playoffs. The way they’ll do it is by playing the trap. Under the coaching of Steve Smith, the strong defense, along with the many capable forwards they have, they can suffocate the opponent, denying entries and limiting shots and scoring chances. They will be a tough team to play against.