Hurricanes are young, fun, worth watching

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Every year we go through the same cycle with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Throughout the summer, in to training camp, and right up to the start of the regular season they are a hot analytically-driven pick to be the surprise team in the league.

Look at the possession numbers, we say. Look at how good the defense is, we scream. If only they could find a goalie, we plead. Then once the season actually begins they typically stumble out of the gate and put themselves in a deep hole, never recover from it because the goaltending never works out and they never have enough pure finishers to take advantage of the possession numbers, and then process repeats itself over the following summer.

It was the same story this summer, especially after the addition of Dougie Hamilton from the Calgary Flames to further bolster their defense, the drafting of Andrei Svechnikov with the No. 2 overall pick, and some of the other promising young forwards that are starting to hit the NHL.

But now that the games have started and the season is underway, things are for once looking a little different on the ice.

Is this the year things finally change? Maybe!

Thanks to Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks, the Hurricanes are off to a 3-0-1 start, which is their best start to a season in years. Over the past six or seven years it’s typically taken them anywhere from ten to 12 games to record seven points in the standings. They have done it this year in four. Even more important than the early wins, is the way they are playing and the way the roster is constructed.

Bottom line: This team looks fun, and there are a lot of reasons for you to pay attention to them.

At the start of the season they are the fourth-youngest team in the NHL, and they finally seem to be working in the type of players up front that they had been lacking in recent years. Specifically, potential impact players.

They have one of the league’s most anticipated rookies in Svechnikov, who has already made a massive impact in what has been a very limited role. Through four games he has averaged less than 12 minutes of ice-time per game and has already averaged a point per game. His potential is massive and if he reaches it could be the franchise-changing player they have been lacking up front.

The rookie that is probably making the most surprising impact has been 22-year-old Warren Foegele, who has already scored three goals this season and , and we haven’t really seen anything from Martin Necas, the team’s 2017 first-round pick, quite yet.

Along with the core of young talent, there just seems to be a different energy around this team. The way they play, and the fact they are trying to just make things … fun.

Stuff like that won’t make a difference in the standings, but it can help build excitement. It can help get eye balls on the team. It can maybe help get more people in the building and give people a reason to take notice of them. And that, too, is important.

If you take advantage of those extra eyes and that extra attention by winning, it’s even bigger.

[Related: Hurricanes’ new victory celebration is pretty awesome]

I argued last season that even after years of preseason anticipation that never manifested itself in victories that this could still be a team on the verge of a Winnipeg Jets-like breakthrough. For years the Jets were another team that had strong talent on paper, would at times be a strong team analytically, but would always fall short because they lacked a couple of key ingredients, whether it be finishers up front or quality goaltending.

The drafting of Patrik Laine at No. 2 helped change that. The development of Mark Scheifele helped changed that. The emergence of players like Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor also helped change that.

While the Hurricanes do not have quite the level of talent that the Jets did up front (to be fair, who does?), the Hurricanes are further ahead of where the Jets were at the start of last season on the blue line.

They may not have quite the offensive depth up front, but they do have talent. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen are legitimate top-six forwards, Jordan Staal and Justin Williams are solid veteran two-way presences, and we already talked about the rookies.  They still need some things to go right. They need Svechnikov to become their version of Laine. They need Necas and Foegele to work out, and they need somebody to emerge as a reliable starter in goal (though, to be fair, it would be nearly impossible for Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek to play worse than they did a year ago for their respective teams).

I don’t know if the Hurricanes are going to keep winning this year, and I don’t know if they are a playoff team just quite yet. But I do know based on what we have seen so far they are definitely a team worth paying attention and might be able to bring a level of excitement and intrigue that few others can. They also might be able to finally become the team we have been waiting for them to become for years.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Maple Leafs stars keep rolling; Hurricanes win again

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Three Stars

1. Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks. A lot of Sharks players were great on Tuesday night as they exposed a lot of the Philadelphia Flyers’ flaws, but Kane might have been their best player. He finished the night with a pair of goals (giving him four on the year), was a plus-three, had seven shots on goal, and nine total shot attempts. The Flyers had no answer for him.

2. Nick Foligno, Columbus Blue Jackets. The captain was great for the Blue Jackets on Tuesday in their 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche, recording three points including a pair of goals, his first two of the season. Foligno is coming off of a down year that saw him score just 15 goals and 33 points in 72 games a season ago. If the Blue Jackets are going to make the playoffs and actually get out of the first round this season they are going to need more from him. With four points in three games he is off a nice start.

3. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. Then there is Auston Matthews, who just keeps filling the back of the net and putting points on the board. He scored two more goals for the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night in their 7-4 win over the Dallas Stars, giving him seven goals in the team’s first four games this season. He has also recorded at least a pair of points in every game this season. Just because the Maple Leafs offense is totally unfair, John Tavares scored two more goals (giving him six on the year), while Mitch Marner and Morgan Reilly each had four point nights in the win. They may not be able to stop anybody defensively, but there are not many teams that can stop them offensively. If nothing else, they are going to be an incredibly fun team.

Highlights Of The Night

Sven Baertschi scored a pair of goals for the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night, with his first goal of the night being a beautiful move after taking a perfect outlet pass from veteran defenseman Alex Edler.

It was not enough for the Canucks as they were on the losing end of a 5-3 decision to a Carolina Hurricanes team that is now 3-0-1 on the season and look like a ton of fun.

Yes, the Hurricanes did their victory celebration again as young forwards Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Warren Foegele all contributed to the offense again.

Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau is one of the NHL’s most exciting players, and he made the Nashville Predators defense look bad in the first period on Tuesday night when he set up Elias Lindholm for this power play goal to get the Flames on the board. Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were particularly dominant for the Flames on Tuesday with the Monahan scoring a pair of goals in the 3-0 win.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored his first NHL goal in more than five years on Tuesday night when he gave the Los Angeles Kings an early 1-0 lead on a nice pass from defenseman Drew Doughty. That would be the only offense the Kings would get on the night in a 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The close score does not illustrate how ugly this game was for the Kings as they were outshot by a 39-17 margin.

Factoids

The San Jose Sharks’ defense is loaded with a pair of Norris Trophy winners in Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. On Tuesday they teamed up for a goal, making them the first Norris Trophy winners to combine for a goal since 2009.

Auston Matthews is off to some kind of a start for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Scores

Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Colorado Avalanche 2

Carolina Hurricanes 5, Vancouver Canucks 3

San Jose Sharks 8, Philadelphia Flyers 2

Calgary Flames 3, Nashville Predators 0

Winnipeg Jets 2, Los Angeles Kings 1

Toronto Maple Leafs 7, Dallas Stars 4

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Young Hurricanes shine; Kovalchuk reaches milestone

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Three Stars

1. John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs. It has only been three games but so far John Tavares has been everything the Maple Leafs could have hoped for. He and Auston Matthews are carrying the offense right now, while Tavares recorded his first hat trick as a member of the Maple Leafs on Sunday night in a game that featured everything but defense.

2. Warren Foegele, Carolina Hurricanes. It has been a great start to the 2018-19 season for the Hurricanes with a 2-0-1 start that was highlighted by Sunday’s 8-5 win over the New York Rangers. It turned out to be a huge game for some of the Hurricanes’ young players, with 2018 No. 2 overall pick Andrei Svechnikov scoring his first NHL goal (the game-winner) and picking up another assist in the win. He was not the only young Hurricanes to make an impact on Sunday as Warren Foegele picked up a pair of goals and an assist. In just five games over the past two seasons the 22-year-old Foegele (a third-round pick by the Hurricanes in 2014) already has four goals and two assists. The Hurricanes were great on Sunday, right through the post-game celebration.

3. Jack Campbell, Los Angeles Kings. With Jonathan Quick sidelined for the time being the Los Angeles Kings have to turn to Jack Campbell in the short-term. He enters the season with just seven games of NHL experience so he remains a bit of a mystery even though he is a first-round draft pick from 2010. On Sunday night he played one of the best games of his brief career, turning aside 36 of the 38 shots he faced from the Detroit Red Wings. The only two goals the Red Wings were able to get behind him on Sunday night were power play tallies.

Highlight of the Night

The Blackhawks dropped their first game of the season on Sunday night, largely due to their defense and goaltending, but were still able to gain at least a point in the standings thanks to their performance of their offense. The best play of the night was this tic-tac-toe goal in the first period that gave them 2-0 lead.

Factoids

Ilya Kovalchuk recorded his first point for the Los Angeles Kings in his return to the NHL, and it was a big one for him as it was the 400th helper in his NHL career. He is just the 88th player in league history to record at least 400 goals and 400 assists in his career. Who knows what his career numbers would look like had he not spent the past five years playing in the KHL. He added another assist later in the game giving him two points on the night. Those two points have also made him officially a point-per-game player again, giving him 818 total points in 818 games.

The Blackhawks received goals from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on Sunday night, a development that usually results in them winning the game. That did not happen against the Toronto Maple Leafs, making it the first time in 44 games that the Blackhawks did not win when Toews and Kane both score in the same game.

 

Scores

Carolina Hurricanes 8, New York Rangers 5

Toronto Maple Leafs 7, Chicago Blackhawks 6 (OT)

Los Angeles Kings 4, Detroit Red Wings 2

 

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

It’s Carolina Hurricanes day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Carolina Hurricanes.

2017-18

36-35-11, 83 pts. (6th in Metropolitan Division, 10th in Eastern Conference)
Missed playoffs.

IN:

Dougie Hamilton
Micheal Ferland
Adam Fox
Jordan Martinook
Calvin de Haan
Petr Mrazek

OUT:

Noah Hanifin
Elias Lindholm
Marcus Kruger
Jeff Skinner
Derek Ryan
Klas Dahlbeck
Cam Ward
Joakim Nordstrom
Lee Stempniak

RE-SIGNED:

Trevor van Riemsdyk
Phillip Di Giuseppe

The Carolina Hurricanes now sit in the aftermath of one heck of an offseason storm.

A full-blown shake up from top to bottom has the Hurricanes now heading into the 2018-19 with a new head coach, a new general manager and under the direction of a new owner (who took over midway through the season) who appears determined not to let what’s happened for nearly the past decade to continue — missing the playoffs.

Indeed, Bill Peters (who left for Calgary) has been replaced with franchise legend Rod Brind’Amour behind the bench. Don Waddell has taken over Ron Francis’ post (after the latter was relieved of his duties). Tom Dundon, the architect behind the winds of change, became the owner midway through the 2017-18 season. And some of the team’s most well-known names — Cam Ward, Jeff Skinner, Noah Hanifin — won’t be wearing Carolina red this coming season.

[Building off breakthrough | Under PressureThree Questions]

The Hurricanes haven’t graced the playoffs since 2009, and while they put up a bit of a fight down the stretch last season, they never really found the extra gear they needed, eventually finishing sixth in the Metropolitan Division and 10th in the Eastern Conference.

Dundon has employed a hands-on approach to the team he now runs, which perhaps scared away prospective coaches and general managers during searches for both. Brind’Amour is a household name in the franchise, but unproven behind the bench and Waddell… well his track record with other teams isn’t exactly glowing.

That said, Carolina was handed a gift and then some when they moved up from 11th to 2nd in the NHL Draft Lottery and got their hands on Andrei Svechnikov, who scored 40 goals in 44 games in the Ontario Hockey League last season.

Waddell then went out and traded for defenseman Dougie Hamilton to bolster their backend, gaining gritty forward Micheal Ferland and top prospect Adam Fox in exchange for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. He also signed defenseman Calvin de Haan in free agency and traded away Jeff Skinner just last week for a few picks and a prospect.

While the Skinner trade seemed like a major loss given the return, the Hurricanes do have a bevy of young talent ready to try and make their mark this season. Svechnikov should inject the offense and Martin Necas looks slated to become a top center within the club. Hamilton and de Haan are fine additions on the backend. Ferland adds a little bit of everything. And there’s the wave of youth that’s exciting for any team.

“I don’t want to say it’s a new team, but it will be,” Brind’Amour told NHL.com. “We’ll potentially have 12 new players, so I think everyone’s just excited. There’s been a lot of change, but we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping the pieces we wanted to keep and build around, and then we have a couple young players we’re excited to see, new rookie players that I think will be exciting to watch.”

Prospect Pool

Andrei Svechnikov, RW, 18, Barrie Colts (OHL) – 2018 first-round pick

Svechnikov is the type of elite talent any team would be lucky to have. He has size (6-foot-3), an elite selection of shots, and is crafty both inside and on the perimeter. It’s likely that he steps in right away and begins to contribute offensively this season. Svechnikov had 40 goals and 72 points in 44 games with Barrie this season — name the OHL’s rookie of the year — had four goals and eight points and the world under-18 championships and five assists during the world juniors.

Martin Necas, C, 19, Brno Kometa (Czech) – 2017 first-round pick

Necas has spent the last two seasons playing pro hockey in his native Czech Republic with Brno Kometa, which also features former NHLer Martin Erat. Necas is expected to move into the Hurricanes lineup next season, possibly as the team’s second-line center. Necas had 11 points in seven games at the World Juniors this past year and then five more in the same number of games during the world championships this past spring.

“His game has gotten better, he’s gotten a little bigger, and he’s a lot more confident than he was last year,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour told NHL.com. “I think he’s a night-and-day player already from a year ago.”

Adam Fox, D, 20, Harvard University (NCAA) – 2016 third-round pick (Calgary Flames)

There are several players who fit the mold here: D Jake Bean, F Valentin Zykov and F Warren Foegele — but its Fox, who the Hurricanes inherited in the Hamilton trade, that’s intriguing. Fox is widely regarded as one of the top defensive prospects in the NHL, so it’s a good get for a team that gave up quite a bit going the other way. Carolina has amassed quite the stable of defenseman this summer, and Fox fits right into that. He’s spent the last two seasons playing in the NCAA with Harvard where he’s been a point-per-game player on the backend and had five points in seven games for Team USA in a bronze-medal showing at the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Golden Knights clinch, Sharks sizzle

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Key playoff happenings

  • The Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Colorado Avalanche, collecting the point (and one more) needed to clinch a playoff berth in their inaugural season. They also regained their six-point lead over the Sharks for the Pacific Division crown.
  • The Sharks were once buffer fodder, so just about locking down at least one round of home-ice advantage as the Pacific’s second seed isn’t a bad consolation prize. San Jose managed to grind out a shootout win against Chicago, giving the Sharks eight consecutive wins.

  • The Florida Panthers made no mistake about it against the Islanders, beating them 3-0 on Monday. Florida now has 85 points, one behind the Devils (86) for the final wild card spot. The Panthers have a game in hand on the Devils, too, so this was a big win.
  • Los Angeles provided the latest enormous blow to Calgary’s playoff hopes. In doing so, the Kings climbed back into the West’s wild-card rankings. They also kept pressure on the idle Anaheim Ducks for third in the Pacific. Los Angeles is now the first wild card holder.
  • By falling to Vegas in regulation, Colorado now sits behind the Kings as the second wild-card team. The Blues fall outside the playoff ranks as the ninth-ranked team in the West.
  • While the Capitals look like strong favorites to win the Metro after their win, the Lightning were upset by the Sabres. The idle Bruins only trail the Lightning for the Atlantic lead by two points, and Boston holds two games in hand over Tampa Bay.

Players of the Night

William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault led the charge for the Golden Knights. Each player collected one goal and two assists. With an empty-netter, Karlsson hit the 40-goal mark, while Marchessault generated his 25th of 2017-18. It’s fitting that those two forwards were instrumental in this clinching victory.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

First goals

Lias Andersson couldn’t trigger a Rangers rally, but he did score a goal in his NHL debut:

Warren Foegele collected his first goal and his first career assist as the Hurricanes cruised against the Senators. Here’s the tally, which includes some fun locker room footage as well:

Finally, Trevor Murphy scored his first NHL goal as the Coyotes upset the Lightning:

Factoids

There are likely dozens of ways to contextualize the Golden Knights’ latest incredible achievement. Here’s one.

Here is another:

Scores

Sabres 3, Maple Leafs 2
Panthers 3, Islanders 0
Hurricanes 4, Senators 1
Capitals 4, Rangers 2
Canadiens 4, Red Wings 2
Coyotes 4, Lightning 1
Sharks 4, Blackhawks 3 (SO)
Golden Knights 4, Avalanche 1
Kings 3, Flames 0

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.