After making some bold offseason changes, plenty of people feared a Carolina Hurricanes decline. Instead, the Hurricanes look about as frightening as they’ve ever looked.
Really, it’s impressive just how well the Hurricanes’ big changes have worked out. Of course, a select group of naysayers won’t be impressed until this long-brewing storm results in the Hurricanes making a truly transcendent playoff run.
Here’s a look at one major area of strength for the Hurricanes: depth. This team seems well-insulated in the event of injuries, and versatile enough to win against a variety of opponents.
Maybe all of that depth could also inspire the Hurricanes to load up at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, too? Let’s dive in.
Balanced, deep scoring options part of arsenal for Hurricanes
Understandably, when someone brings up the Hurricanes’ offense, you might think of their (typical) top line of Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen. Such a view wouldn’t be outdated; Aho (34 points), Teravainen (25), and Svechnikov (24) rank as the Hurricanes’ top three scorers this season, even with some missed time.
But those absences served as an opportunity for other Hurricanes to show that this team boasts quite the cache of other weapons.
Take Jesperi Kotkaniemi, for instance. When you look at his full season of stats (eight goals, 15 points in 31 games), you probably won’t be impressed.
But there have been glimpses of a more interesting player here and there. That’s most obvious right now; heading into Friday, Kotkaniemi is on a five-game point streak (1G, 6A). Kotkaniemi (2.11) is one of seven Hurricanes averaging at least two points per 60 minutes at even-strength this season, which ranks them among the top 100 skaters in the NHL.
You can summarize the Hurricanes’ scoring more simply, too. Consider that 21 Hurricanes players have scored at least one goal this season, and three players are at 10+ goals.
[Hurricanes remain atop PHT’s Power Rankings this week]
Beyond that top line, it’s easy to picture other playoff heroes emerging. People see plenty of future (and maybe present?) greatness in Martin Necas and Seth Jarvis. When Nino Niederreiter is hot, he can be truly deadly.
It’s to the point where you risk forgetting about Vincent Trocheck, a player with a 75-point season on his resume. This expected goals chart from Evolving Hockey highlights the Hurricanes’ options beyond the obvious:
That great scoring depth extends to their defense. With sturdy options available to do the heavier lifting, the Hurricanes have been able to deploy Tony DeAngelo much like the Rangers did: with offense as his primary focus.
It may not necessarily be the most feel-good story, but DeAngelo’s been a boon for the Hurricanes, generating 22 points in 24 games with a bargain $1M cap hit.
Hurricanes could look different soon — maybe starting at 2022 NHL Trade Deadline?
The Hurricanes don’t just boast an array of options that makes them a versatile threat. They also employ plenty of players with the undeniable motivation of that next contract. Consider the noteworthy players in contract years, with cap hits:
- Kotkaniemi, 21, and that funky offer sheet cap hit of $6.1 million (plus some troll change).
- Niederreiter, 29, at $5.25M.
- Trocheck, 28, carries a $4.75M cap hit.
- Like it or not, DeAngelo (26, $1M) could gain a big raise after this productive season.
- Swiping Ethan Bear from the Oilers ranks as yet another shrewd Hurricanes move. Still, the 24-year-old’s $2M cap hit expires after this season.
- Veterans like Derek Stepan, Ian Cole, and Brendan Smith are worth mentioning, even if their cap hits may simply go toward retaining players.
With that array of expiring contracts, there could be added incentive for the Hurricanes to spend at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. After all, that depth might dry up after this season. Maybe.
So many players on expiring contracts could also be a trade deadline boon if the Hurricanes wanted to make money work for a splashy move.
In late November, Jeff Marek noted that the Hurricanes batted around a John Klingberg trade with the Stars. While a Klingberg trade didn’t come to fruition (yet?) for the Hurricanes, it hints at a team with serious ambitions, ones that could surface at the deadline.
Collecting that sort of depth can allow the Hurricanes to trade a quality prospect or player without sweating as much as others might.
Time will tell if the Hurricanes can put this all together. (Asking their goalies and penalty kill to stay this hot might be asking a bit much, for instance.)
But so far, their roster looks like an example of brilliant hockey engineering, and they may just have the sturdy foundation to finally go far.
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.