With the NHL preseason underway, every team enters the 2011-12 campaign with a clean slate and the expectation of reaching the postseason. Adam Proteau, a writer and columnist for The Hockey News, makes his living writing about the NHL and trying to predict how teams will perform short term and over the grind of an 82-game season.
Adam was kind enough to answer a handful of questions about the Hurricanes' upcoming season, including his insight on some of the ex-Toronto players that he has seen extensively.Canes Country: Can the Canes replace Erik Cole's production, perhaps with Alexei Ponikarovsky returning to the form he had under Paul Maurice in Toronto?
Proteau: I’m not sure Ponikarovsky is the guy to depend on for the 20-25 goals Cole provided. As someone who saw a lot of Ponikarovsky in Toronto, I’d say he’s ill-suited to anything but the third line at this stage of his career – and he won’t get the sort of ice time necessary to replace Cole’s lost offence. Instead, I think it could be Anthony Stewart who steps up. He had a decent season in Atlanta last year (including five power play goals and 10 points) and is five years younger than Ponikarovsky.
Canes Country: Is the addition of Brian Boucher finally the right fit to back up Cam Ward?
Proteau: Boucher is a solid backup, but let’s face it, the Canes still are going to lean on Ward very heavily. If he can give Maurice 25-30 good games, the Canes will be very happy. And I think he can do that.
Canes Country: Do you expect Jeff Skinner to suffer a "sophomore slump," put up similar numbers, or improve?
Proteau: I don’t believe in jinxes based on age or number of seasons. I do believe that young players’ development isn’t always linear. So do I expect Skinner to take a backward step? No. But would I be surprised to see him plateau for a few months and make smaller improvements to his game? Also, no.
Canes Country: Is Carolina's retooled defense (and power play) — featuring Tomas Kaberle replacing Joe Corvo — better or worse?
Proteau: Kaberle is another guy I saw a lot of in Toronto. And like Ponikarovsky, I think his best days are behind him. He didn’t have a single power play goal last season and his power play assist numbers in 2010-11 were a little more than half of what he posted in 2005-06. So no, I don’t expect the Canes’ power play to be significantly better.
Canes Country: Why would the Jets not qualify Stewart, a big, 26-year-old power forward, after he put up 14 goals and nearly 40 points in Atlanta last season?
Proteau: Beats me, but then again, I didn’t understand very much of what the Jets did in the off-season. Yeah, he was a minus-10 for the Thrashers, but they weren’t a very good team in the second half of the year. I think Winnipeg will come to regret that move.
Canes Country: By the sounds of it, Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk were impressive in Traverse City. Do you see either of them getting a shot in Carolina this season?
Proteau: No, not really, although you never can tell what opportunities will be opened up by injuries or poor performances. I think management is happy to let both guys develop without pressure.