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The preseason is wrapped up, rosters have been trimmed down to 23, and we are just days away from the start of the NHL’s 2022-23 season. Well, technically, the season is already underway, with old friend Nino Niederreiter and the Nashville Predators taking down the San Jose Sharks twice in the 2022 NHL Global Series in Prague. Still, for most teams, this week will signal the beginning of the 82-game regular season.

For the Carolina Hurricanes, training camp was a true battle. Some players earned well-deserved roles, and some fell short; young players put themselves on the map for the future, and others proved they were ready to take on legitimate roles now. For a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, it’s helpful when training camp and the preseason has legitimate competition and management has a hard time making those final cuts. In the Hurricanes’ case, I don’t envy the decision-makers who had to send a few legitimate NHL talents to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League (AHL).

But, today, we’re going to focus on those who did make the final roster and those who will make up the opening-night lineup on Wednesday. This is a brief overview of the three position groups and some of the more fascinating storylines to sum up the biggest question marks facing the forwards, defense, and goaltenders. The Metropolitan Division favorites have a deep roster with few holes, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a ton of intrigue early on as roles are sorted and line combinations are tested. So, here’s a look at the newest iteration of the ‘Canes ahead of the season opener at PNC Arena against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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Forwards

Projected Lines & Position Group Overview:

Teuvo Teravainen – Sebastian Aho – Seth Jarvis
Martin Necas – Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Andrei Svechnikov
Paul Stastny – Jordan Staal – Jesper Fast
Ondrej Kase – Jack Drury – Derek Stepan

Extras: Stefan Noesen, Jordan Martinook
Injured Reserve: Max Pacioretty

Despite the offseason losses of mainstays Vincent Trocheck and Niederreiter, the Hurricanes have one of the best forward groups the franchise has ever seen – at least on paper. That was especially true after the team acquired six-time 30-goal scorer Max Pacioretty from the Vegas Golden Knights, who will instead be a pseudo-trade deadline acquisition once he recovers from the torn Achilles he suffered in August. Still, with the number of talented, rising players supporting legitimate stars at the top of the lineup, like Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, this group figures to be a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As impressive as the star potential is Carolina’s depth, with proven veterans like Ondrej Kase and Paul Stastny almost certainly relegated to bottom-six roles out of the gate. Now, we know head coach Rod Brind’Amour doesn’t really have the typical deployment we see from most teams, opting to roll his trios relatively evenly in order to keep his players fresh and able to continue flying around at 110% as his system demands; but therein lies the importance of such a deep roster, as even the projected “fourth line” looks like a unit that can be relied upon in any situation.

Extending beyond that, many talented players who stood out during training camp were cut simply because, well… look at the players listed above. Who are you going to cut from that lineup? Even Stefan Noesen, who plays a rugged style and consistently makes things happen in the dirty areas, is going to have a hard time cracking the lineup. This despite scoring a whopping 48 goals in the AHL last season, then following it up with a really good camp (and shoutout to the great Cory Lavalette on that article linked above – definitely worth a read).

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However, this will be a welcome luxury when injuries inevitably pop up. Beyond the two healthy extras listed here, there is a litany of players beginning the season in Chicago who could slot in pretty seamlessly and wouldn’t force the team to change their strategy or ice time distribution. This category includes veteran Ryan Dzingel, already familiar with the system, along with youngsters Vasili Ponomarev and Jamieson Rees. Malte Strömwall, who scored 19 goals in 38 Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) games last year was also a pleasant surprise during camp. The Swede scored twice in preseason play after signing as a free agent this summer, and his incredible release would absolutely play in any league. These aren’t the only candidates, either, but long story short: few teams can boast this much depth.

Biggest Question Mark: Can Kotkaniemi Fill the 2C Role Adequately?

After Trocheck left for the division rival New York Rangers, Jesperi Kotkaniemi became a key figure in the Hurricanes’ 2022-23 season. Many chuckled when the team signed Stastny late in the summer, assuming this was a condemnation of the 22-year-old Finn rather than just, you know, adding another good player on a cheap contract. But I suppose that’s what social media is for, to make something out of nothing. Right?

Anyway, the Hurricanes will, regardless of what Twitter says, start Kotkaniemi in the second-line center role, and he’s well set up for success considering the extremely talented wingers he’s sure to play with. In exhibition games, he was already paired alongside Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas in an attempt to see how the extremely-talented trio would mesh, and it paid off handsomely. All three players had extremely strong preseasons, with Necas leading the team in points, Svechnikov looking strong, fast, and simply dominant, and Kotkaniemi seeming to settle in and play some of the most confident hockey we’ve seen from him in a ‘Canes sweater.

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The Hurricanes don’t need Kotkaniemi to be Trocheck, scoring 60 or 70 points, killing penalties, delivering consistent physical play and starting skirmishes, or many of the rest of the laundry list of attributes the gritty veteran centerman brought to the table the last couple years. However, if he can continue his steady, two-way style with improved linemates and an increased role, it’s not out of the question that he can replicate something close to that production. I don’t think a 50-point season is out of the question considering these variables, and that’s probably enough for this lineup. If he can carry over the momentum of his rock-solid preseason and see a couple of pucks hit the net early on, big things could be in store in season two of his Hurricanes career.

Most Intriguing Storyline: Which Young Player Is Ready to Take the Next Step?

Kotkaniemi could easily be that player, and I don’t think the Hurricanes would be upset about it. However, the team has plenty of candidates beyond him. Necas has shown he can be an absolute game-breaker when he’s on, but last season, those instances were far too infrequent. He should have something to prove after a bridge deal that came in well under early contract projections. Or perhaps Seth Jarvis takes a big step in year two, being in the top six (and likely on the top line alongside two elite playmakers in Aho and Teravainen) all season long, unlike last year when he made the steady climb from healthy extra to RW1. A 30-goal campaign isn’t out of the question alongside those two, considering his 20-goal rookie pace and excellent postseason.

Jack Drury could also surpass expectations, considering that’s what he’s done at every stop in his career thus far. Be it in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), AHL, or his NHL call-up when he scored at an astounding 82-goal pace (the math checks out), no matter where the New York native goes he makes an impact – and his team sees success. A lot of success.

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Or – and I’ll probably ask this every summer until it happens – is this the season for Svechnikov? The blossoming Russian superstar has the skill and immense all-around ability to be one of the greatest Hurricanes of all time. His ceiling is basically limitless, and at any point in time, it feels like he’s bound to blow up and score 80, 90, or maybe even 100 points. With his attitude, work ethic, dedication to improving himself, and impressive preseason showing, perhaps now is the time.

Defense

Projected Pairings & Position Group Overview:

Jaccob Slavin – Brent Burns
Brady Skjei – Brett Pesce
Calvin de Haan – Dylan Coghlan

Extras: Jalen Chatfield, Ethan Bear

Watching how the exhibition slate played out, there are few surprises on defense. The top four was obvious the minute Brent Burns was acquired from the San Jose Sharks, with Jaccob Slavin having the perfect new defense partner and the second pairing returning to continue their quiet, workmanlike excellence. The bottom pair also became obvious once games got underway. Dylan Coghlan and Calvin de Haan made it clear they were a cut above the rest. While it’s easy to love what Jalen Chatfield brings, he’s probably a bit too high-event of a defenseman for what the Hurricanes want in that pairing. Still, he’s a great depth piece with a never-ending motor who can fill in and find success in a pinch when injuries strike. There’s value in that as a seventh defenseman.

Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes
Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The case of Ethan Bear looks bleak, which stings. He got off to such a promising start alongside Slavin last season, but he never really seemed to recover from his bout with COVID. He simply doesn’t have the legs to be a real factor at this point. Too often in the preseason, it seemed like he was on the wrong end of a goal or scoring chance due to his lack of speed, and I don’t think he’s a great fit with a team that plays at such a fast pace.

We’ll see if the team decides to keep him around by opening night, or if he’s shipped out to a team where he can blossom. It’s hard to believe that there isn’t a roster out there that could use a young, right-shot defenseman that’s had NHL success and plays a pretty well-rounded game. The Vancouver Canucks were among the teams to show interest in recent weeks, so they may be one to keep an eye on. However, Pesce and Coghlan both left preseason games and missed a little practice afterward. They have since returned to action (and the moves were labeled cautionary at the time), but early injury concerns could influence the decision to keep Bear. We’ll find out in the coming days.

Biggest Question Mark: What Do the Hurricanes Have In Coghlan?

Honestly, I’m not sure what else the question could be on defense, and even Coghlan isn’t that much of a question mark. He’s got NHL experience and showed enough in the preseason to make management content with whatever he’s going to be, considering how good the other five defensemen in the lineup will be. They don’t exactly need him to be a world-beater, but with his hockey sense and massive shot, he showed there just might be the potential for a lot more than a run-of-the-mill, warm body on the third pair.

Coghlan got off to a very loud start with four assists, all on the power play, in the first two games. He consistently showed the ability to find high-danger passes through the middle of the ice, both while on the power play in the offensive zone, and also when coming out of his own end with outlet and stretch passes. The question now will be how much of that was simply a product of playing in meaningless exhibition games against half-full (or less) NHL rosters, or if the Hurricanes really found something to unlock in Coghlan that could end up being the real prize of this deal with the Golden Knights.

Dylan Coghlan, Vegas Golden Knights
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dylan Coghlan, with his former team, the Vegas Golden Knights (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

I’ve talked a ton about Coghlan this summer, but that’s because the more you see him the more there is to like, especially after his preseason performance. It’ll be fascinating to see if he can back up the hype and add even more juice to this lineup from the back end. Likely skating alongside one of the most steady veteran shutdown defenders in de Haan, he will be given a chance to roam a bit and hunt his offense and considering his aforementioned offensive toolkit, production throughout his junior and minor league career, and early impressions with the Hurricanes, things are set up for the 24-year-old to have a breakout season. That’ll be a nice little feather in general manager Don Waddell’s cap after a busy summer.

Most Intriguing Storyline: Just How Good Can Burns Be Next to #74?

Despite that he’s had a highly-decorated NHL career, playing on the west coast seemed to keep a lot of fans (and media) in the dark about Burns’ real talent. In fact, when I had Hurricanes play-by-play man Mike Maniscalco on my podcast this week, he said his #1 takeaway from the preseason was “just how good Brent Burns is.” I mean, it stands to reason that one of the most feared shooters of the last decade joining a team that wants to put everything on net would be a nice match, but finally getting to see it was eye-opening.

Burns played in two of the five preseason games, scoring twice in the first, then scoring again and adding two helpers in the 8-1 shellacking of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 3. He didn’t look like a 37-year-old on the decline; he looked like a fearsome offensive defenseman rejuvenated by a move from a bottom-dweller to a Cup contender, ready to make a couple of championship runs before he hangs up his skates. He brings the same dynamic that Dougie Hamilton once did, but with more weapons around him. Plus, he simply might be a better goal scorer, with both an elite shot and the ability to rush the puck and dangle through the offensive zone, which Hamilton didn’t really possess. He’s a defenseman and power forward all in one, and that should excite Hurricanes fans very, very much.

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Plus, there’s the whole Slavin of it all. Every defenseman who suits up next to him sees his numbers take off, and Burns is arguably the best partner he’s had yet (depending on how you feel about Hamilton, but it’s debate-worthy). To quote Maniscalco one more time, Slavin is “the guy who should be winning Norrises,” and suiting up next to a former Norris-winning defenseman himself ought to make for a really fun season for the Hurricanes’ blue line. Don’t be surprised to see both players post massive offensive – and, you know, just all-around – seasons in 2022-23.

Goalies

Position Group Overview

Frederik Andersen
Antti Raanta

To wrap things up, we have what is perhaps the least exciting section, but only because there was never any reason for intrigue or consternation. It was always going to be Frederik Andersen’s crease, with steady veteran Antti Raanta backing him up. Both goalies looked pretty sharp in the preseason (the Florida Panthers game from Andersen aside, when he barely saw any action and let in a few he’d like to have back), which was good to see after both were banged up late in 2021-22. As will always be the case, and not to sound like a broken record, their health will be the biggest storyline to follow. If Andersen is healthy heading into the postseason this time around, it’s hard not to like the Hurricanes’ chances.

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Should either goalie miss time, though, the team knows it has a rising star in Pyotr Kochetkov to turn to. In a perfect world, he likely gets a full season with the Wolves as the number-one goaltender, but counting on two goalies to make 82 starts is foolish. He will get his chance at some point, surely, and the Hurricanes know that when the time comes, they’ll have a great chance to keep winning games. After an impressive NHL debut last season, it’s easy to forget he’s been in North America for a little over half a year. His goal this season will be to continue acclimating to the pro game here, and getting comfortable with the English language.

Biggest Question Mark: Can the Impressive Duo Replicate Their 2021-22 Success?

You couldn’t really ask for a better season than the last one for the Hurricanes’ duo. They won the Jennings Trophy as the tandem that allowed the fewest goals in the league, and Andersen finished fourth in Vezina voting. It was one of the best seasons in franchise history between the pipes, and Raanta was almost as good as the backup with a 15-5-4 record and a .912 save percentage (SV%). When forced into the top role in the postseason, he was Herculean as well and nearly pulled off a Conference Semifinal win against the Rangers when the Hurricanes didn’t really play all that well. He single-handedly won them a couple of games in that series.

Frederik Andersen Carolina Hurricanes
Goaltender Frederik Andersen of the Carolina Hurricanes makes a save against the Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers).

Now, the challenge is re-creating that magic, which is never a given with two goalies well into their 30s with a history of injuries. Luckily, they’ll be behind one of the best blue lines in hockey, which will certainly ease the load. The Hurricanes have been known for stymying defensive play under Brind’Amour, and there’s no reason that shouldn’t continue this season with the six defenders, plus a plethora of excellent defensive forwards that know their coach will accept no less than 100% in that end. The calm demeanor of these two goalies fits perfectly behind that sort of defensive play, as many netminders need to feel the puck to get into the game. More often than not, these two seem to be engaged regardless of their workload, and for a team that regularly only allows 20ish shots, that’s highly valuable.

Most Intriguing Storyline: Will Pyotr Kochetkov Be a Factor at Some Point?

Again, there aren’t a whole lot of storylines really worth following here that haven’t already been outlined, but it’ll be interesting to see what it looks like if and when Kochetkov factors into the equation. There are multiple possible routes, including the aforementioned possible injury woes. On the other hand, perhaps it does prove difficult for the tandem to replicate last season’s success, and who says Kochetkov doesn’t prove he’s ready and steal a job at some point? Much crazier things have happened, although it doesn’t seem particularly likely with the level of proven goalies handling the NHL gig.

Regardless, anyone who follows the team knows who the future of the franchise between the pipes is. Kochetkov’s time will come, and fans should be extremely excited to follow the career of the first potential homegrown star in net since Cam Ward. Still, the team is built to win a Stanley Cup right now, and if Kochetkov is deemed the player that gives the Hurricanes the best chance to win, management has proven on multiple occasions that age and experience don’t matter in those decisions. The motto for the team has been “earn it” under Brind’Amour. Perhaps 2006 can be replicated in the franchise’s 25th anniversary, with a rookie earning that starter job and carrying the load en route to hockey’s holy grail.




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