NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars. Hurricanes-Stars stream coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Last season, if Martin Necas entered a Hurricanes – Stars game on a three-game pointless streak, few would’ve batted an eye. This season, it’s noteworthy that Necas has experienced a mini-slump — and it being noteworthy, honestly, is kind of a big deal.
That’s because, after a mesmerizing month of March, Martin Necas is not necessarily someone who’s slipping under the radar.
Really, how could you with all of those vroom-vroom sounds attached to your highlights?
We found the alternate audio feed on last night's NASCAR NECAS video 🔊 pic.twitter.com/eo1hYW84ma
— Bally Sports: Canes (@CanesOnBally) March 28, 2021
From a gradual growth to an explosion
No, Martin Necas didn’t begin his Hurricanes career as a “nobody.” Necas isn’t a barely-drafted budding star like, say, Conor Garland of the Coyotes.
As the 12th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, Necas carries expectations as a key prospect for the Hurricanes. But it’s still a little staggering to see how far along he already is at 22.
Back during the 2018-19 season, Necas found himself in the AHL. He spent virtually that entire season with Charlotte, in part for development reasons … but maybe also with more granular reasons in mind. Like, say, not having to protect Necas during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
Either way, it wasn’t until 2019-20 that Necas really received a chance to prove himself.
[HURRICANES-STARS COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]
By most measures, he did. Necas produced at a solid clip (16 goals, 36 points in 64 games) despite still needing to earn the Hurricanes’ trust (14:10 TOI average). Even so, last season didn’t signal a breakout like the one Necas is experiencing this season with the Hurricanes — at least not this soon.
Even amid this hiccup of a three-game drought, Necas is flirting with a point-per-game, collecting 28 (9G, 19A) in 32 games this season. Again, that month of March is what really turned heads; rolling along with Sebastian Aho (and often Nino Niederreiter), Necas collected an impressive 17 points (7G, 10A) in 14 games.
Necas making a star turn for Hurricanes — and people are noticing
Sometimes people need an explosive game to really notice a breakthrough. Particularly at a “mainstream” level.
If you want to point to one night where Necas really cemented his ascent with the Hurricanes, consider his two-goal, four-point masterpiece vs. the Lightning from March 27.
On one hand, there were those highlight-reel moments that raise eyebrows.
Both the shot, and Marty Necas pic.twitter.com/IxEpaosWG2
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) March 28, 2021
The 22-year-old caught the attention of Sportsnet’s Jeff O’Neill, among others, thanks in part to that monstrous March.
Necas in Carolina is turning into a star. At the World Juniors in Buffalo he dazzled w his line mate Zadina. Just went through my notes.
— Jeff O’Neill (@odognine2) March 28, 2021
In a development that must delight Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, Necas is doing more than just scoring. By just about every “fancy stats” metric, he looks like not just a legitimate first-round talent, but a top-line forward.
Martin Necas had a team-high 23:16 of ice time. In a regulation game. Obviously, that is a career-high.
11:51 5-on-5 TOI
7:45 PP TOI
3:40 SH TOI
He had an on-ice expected goals for of 80.96%. He and Sebastian Aho were #1 and #2 in total ice time and dominated in all situations.
— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) March 28, 2021
At Elite Prospects, Dimitri Filipovic broke down many facets of Necas’ game (sub. required), including how he’s become a “Zone Entry King.” Filipovic also shared some highlights of Necas gaining the zone for the Hurricanes.
What’s behind the breakthrough, and will it continue?
With Martin Necas, the pedigree was there. The Hurricanes are a sharp scouting team, so they did their homework before picking Necas 12th in 2017.
So what changed, and what might change again?
Well, even before his most obvious breakout, the Hurricanes began to trust Necas more and more. He’s been logging 17+ minutes per night every month this season.
And, as Sara Civian noted at The Athletic (sub. required), his skill — and confidence — were no secret.
“He’s never lacked for confidence,” Brind’Amour said. “From Day 1, he’s been trying to make plays. We encourage it, but I think now he has a better understanding of when and where to make plays. You can see it. He’s matured. Physically, he’s a little stronger, which goes a long way to having your own confidence. I think it’s his maturity, physically. He’s always had the confidence.”
When you observe a breakout — surprising, or shocking — it’s crucial to note context. There are two keys that might slow things down, then:
- Puck luck. During that March tear, Necas enjoyed a 22.6 shooting percentage, versus 4.2 in February, and 7.1 in January.
- Teuvo Teravainen‘s injury opened up an opportunity for Necas to get high-level Hurricanes linemates in Sebastian Aho and/or Nino Niederreiter.
So, the bounces will come and go. You can see that even in this bump in the road, including the Hurricanes’ 3-2 loss to the Stars on Saturday. Necas fired four shots on goal in each of his past two games, so he’s getting his chances.
But once Teravainen returns to the Hurricanes lineup, will Necas more-or-less maintain his prominent spot? He’s been a positive influence for Carolina even when the numbers are there, but for the young forward’s recognition to continue to rise, it certainly wouldn’t hurt if he could stick with Aho.
Either way, it looks like the Hurricanes have yet another gem on their hands, and that’s bad news for the Stars and everyone else in their path.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.