Southeast Division Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes Preview

Acquisitions/Signings
F Riley Nash, acquired in trade with Oilers
F Jared Staal, acquired in trade with Coyotes
F Jonathan Matsumoto, acquired in trade with Flyers
D Bobby Sanguinetti, acquired in trade with Rangers
D Joe Corvo, signed for 2 years

Departures
RW Ray Whitney, signed with Coyotes
C Rod Brind’Amour, retired
D Brian Pothier, went to Switzerland

The Hurricanes were a pretty big disappointment last year. After making the Eastern Conference finals the previous season, they experienced a plethora of injuries and went through a horrible stretch at the beginning of the year where they lost 14 consecutive games. Key players such as Eric Staal, Joni Pitkanen, Cam Ward, Tim Gleason, Chad LaRose, Tuomo Ruutu and Erik Cole all missed significant time, which had a lot to do with their struggles. The Canes front office was pretty quiet this off-season because the team looked really good down the stretch when their younger players got more playing time. They are hoping to get a similar result from those same players this year along with a healthy supporting cast to produce better results.

Carolina decided to rebuild at the trade deadline last year shipping off guys like Andrew Alberts, Matt Cullen, Joe Corvo (who is back with the team) and Aaron Ward in return for prospects and draft picks. The Hurricanes now have a healthy stable of young talent on their team, but can they play as well as they did towards the end of last year? It’s a pretty good question because most of them were called up when the Canes were already out of the playoff race. Now there’s going to be more pressure and more meaningful games they have to play. Still, the Hurricanes have a lot of solid veterans around their youth, so not too much pressure will be put on them unless a barrage of injuries happens again.

The centerpiece of this team is Eric Staal, who was named the captain last year. His stats regressed quite a bit, but he’s been a point-per-game player for most of his career so there’s no doubt that he can turn it around. With Ray Whitney gone, Jussi Jokinen will take his place on the first line and he should fit in well after a breakout season where he scored 30 goals. They’re also hoping for more production out of Erik Cole who sat out most of it with a broken leg. Brandon Sutter is another player who could have a huge season after scoring 21 goals last year and being very important as a penalty killer. Guys who really seemed to drop off last year were Sergei Samsonov and Tuomo Ruutu and their roles could be decrease this season.

It’s not certain on how many younger players will make the team out of camp but you can bet that Jamie McBain and Brett Carson will likely be on the team since they contributed well last year on defense. Battling for roster spots up front will be Riley Nash, who was one of the Oilers top prospects, Zach Boychuk, who will be a top-6 forward for this team soon, Oskar Osala, a former Caps prospect and 1st round pick Jeff Skinner. These guys all have a ton of potential and should be good soon but can they contribute right off the bat for this Hurricanes team?

The defensive corps is anchored by Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason, the former being one of the best all-around defensemen in the division and the latter being one of the best defensive. The return of  Joe Corvo should help this team’s powerplay which wasn’t anything great last year. Behind them, it’s a lot of inexperienced guys. Anton Babchuk has a big shot from the point but hasn’t played in the NHL in over a year. Jamie McBain, Brett Carson and Jay Harrison were all good in their time last year but let’s see if their good play stays consistent for a whole season. New to the corps is Bobby Sanguinetti who is a potential threat on the powerplay but his careless defensive play could find him in the press boxon most nights. The defense definitely needs to be better with this team since they were near the bottom in goals allowed last season.

The Canes powerplay and PK were both around the middle of the pack for last year but I could see the powerplay getting better with Joe Corvo being back and if Jokinen keeps improving. The penalty killing should be fine if Gleason and Tom Kostopoulos stay healthy. Chad LaRose and Pat Dwyer also kill penalties quite well and know how to play a defensively responsible game.

Goaltending was an issue after Cam Ward had his thigh sliced open by Rick Nash’s skate blade and was out for a significant portion of the season. After waiving Michael Leighton the Canes signed Manny Legace to play in a platoon role with Albany call-up Justin Peters. Peters was good in spot-starts last year and will be the full-time backup in Carolina last year. He’s got good reflexes but gives up too many rebounds to be a #1. Plus, Ward is one of the best in the league when healthy.

You could say that this is a rebuilding year for the Canes but they do have enough talent to compete and create a disturbance in the division. If Staal, Jokinen, Ward and Sutter all turn it on at the same time and their young players show up then they could be scary to play against this year. The odds of all of those things happening aren’t terribly high and they could be doomed if the injury bug hits them again.

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