Watch out for the Carolina Hurricanes

AP
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Anyone who was surprised by what the Florida Panthers did in 2015-16 clearly hadn’t been paying attention to what they’d been building in Sunrise.

So let’s talk about the Carolina Hurricanes, because this could soon be another “surprise” team (that nobody should really be surprised by).

Today’s acquisition of Teuvo Teravainen from Chicago gave the ‘Canes yet another talented youngster. The 21-year-old Finn joins a forward group that already included Jeff Skinner, 24, Victor Rask, 23, Elias Lindholm, 21, and Sebastian Aho, 18, while on the back end there’s Justin Faulk, 24, and a couple of 19-year-old blue-chippers, Noah Hanifin and Haydn Fleury.

Aho and Fleury have yet to play in the NHL, but both have the potential to be significant contributors. The former just signed his entry-level deal after a big season in Finland’s top league. The latter was drafted seventh overall in 2014; he represented Team Canada at the 2016 World Juniors.

On top of all that, even more high-end talent will be added in the upcoming draft. The ‘Canes have their own selection at 13th overall, plus they’ve got the Kings’ pick, 21st overall, from last season’s Andrej Sekera trade. They’ll also pick 43rd, 67th, 74th, and 75th.

Now, granted, some big questions remain about their roster.

For starters, is there a legitimate first-line center? Jordan Staal is solid, and he’s still only 27. Eventually, Lindholm could maybe do the job. But the most recent Stanley Cup winners have had Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, and Patrice Bergeron. That’s the bar that’s been set for centers. It’s a high one.

That’s why many expect the ‘Canes to target a center next Friday. While it’s unlikely that Logan Brown or Clayton Keller will still be around when the ‘Canes pick at No. 13, it’s possible that one of them could fall that far. And if not, there are others like Tyson Jost and Michael McLeod that could be had.

Another big question is, who’s the goalie of the future? Last season with Cam Ward and Eddie Lack, Carolina’s team save percentage (.902) was better than only Calgary’s (.892). The ‘Canes have a decent prospect in Alex Nedeljkovic, but he’s only 20 and hasn’t even played a pro game yet.

So patience will still be required. When GM Ron Francis took over in 2014, it was never going to be an overnight turnaround.

“We came up with a plan and we’re sticking to that plan,” Francis told reporters recently. “We think we’re moving in the right direction. … I know it’s been tough and a struggle but I certainly think we’re making strides toward [getting back to the playoffs].”

Related: Hurricanes GM latest refutes reports of possible relocation