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Prediciting Carolina's Stat Leaders In 2010-11

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Trying to predict what will happen over the course of an NHL season is always dodgy work. There are unforeseen circumstances like injuries that can derail a season, plus you can never be sure when a certain player will break out or slump.

That doesn't mean it's not fun to take a crack at it. Let's take a look at last year's statistical leaders, project who could lead the Hurricanes in 2010-11, and name a dark horse candidate.

Goals

2009-10 Leader: Jussi Jokinen — 30

2010-11 Projected Leader: Eric Staal (29 in 2009-10) — Over/Under of 40

2010-11 Dark Horse: Jokinen

Jokinen was one of the bright lights in an otherwise dark season, scoring a career-high 30 goals for Carolina, 13 more than his previous best. Staal's a safe bet as the team's top sniper in 2010-11, having averaged 38.25 goals the four years previous to last season's 29. As for Jokinen as the dark horse: that may seem like a cop out, but few people around the league — or following the Canes — expect the versatile Finn to repeat what he did last season. Is it possible there's even more to come from Jokinen?

Assists

2009-10 Leader: Staal — 41

2010-11 Projected Leader: Joni Pitkanen (40 in 2009-10) — Over/Under of 45

2010-11 Dark Horse: Jokinen

Not only does Pitkanen play the big minutes, plus he should benefit greatly from the firepower on the blue line. He's undervalued as a passer, and his assist totals have climbed dramatically the past two seasons (just 18 in 2007-08 in Edmonton, followed by 26 in 2008-09 and 40 last year). Jokinen again checks in as the dark horse. With Ray Whiteny gone to Phoenix, someone needs to set up Staal and Jokinen figures to get the first crack. Throw in that their linemate could be Tuomo Ruutu, and the chance for that line to put up some points is there.

Points

2009-10 Leader: Staal — 70

2010-11 Projected Leader: Staal — Over/Under of 82

2010-11 Dark Horse: Ruutu

Naming Staal the projected points leader — and at a point per game, to boot — is easy, but picking Ruutu as a dark horse is a bit surprising. It would've been easy to name Jokinen the dark horse after pegging him as such for goals and assists. But it's Ruutu, who had 54 points two seasons ago, that could become the team's No. 2 scorer and surpass Staal if he falters or goes down to injury again. If everything goes Ruutu's way, it's not out of the realm of possibility he could put up 70 points.

Plus/Minus

2009-10 Leader: Tom Kosopoulos/Staal — plus-4

2010-11 Projected Leader: Brandon Sutter (minus-1 in 2009-10) — Over/Under of plus-10

2010-11 Dark Horse: Jamie McBain

Brandon Sutter received some Lady Byng consideration last season, but the young center should belong in the Selke Trophy discussion for years to come. He will probably face the opposition's top line every night, making it tough to be sure he'll come out on top even though you know he'll be up for the task. As for McBain as the dark horse, the Calder-eligible second-year defenseman was plus-6 in 14 games and should benefit in the plus/minus category by putting up even strength points without having to face the burden of playing against the opposition's top forwards every night. (Note: We only included players who the entire season on the Carolina roster, since plus/minus is best reflected over the course of a year)

Penalty Minutes

2009-10 Leader: Kostopoulos — 106

2010-11 Projected Leader: Kostopoulos — Over/Under of 100

2010-11 Dark Horse: Jay Harrison

Kostopoulos has always hovered around 100 PIMs, so expecting him to lead the way again is not a surprise. But if Harrison can earn a job in the top six, the Canes will look to him to fight in place of Kostopoulos, especially since the No. 6 defender could see limited ice time. He had 50 minutes in the box last year in just 38 games, the highest per game total of any player. His biggest obstacle in piling up the most minutes might be winning a nightly spot in the lineup.

Power Play Goals

2009-10 Leader: Staal — 13

2010-11 Projected Leader: Staal — Over/Under of 15

2010-11 Dark Horse: Anton Babchuk

Staal is always good for double-digit power play goals, having scored 14.4 a season since the lockout. As for the dark horse, there are a lot to consider, especially on the blue line. Joe Corvo has 10-goal potential, as does McBain. But it's Babchuk, who had nine two seasons ago, that could emerge as a deadly — literally — weapon with the extra man. With several options to shoot from the point, Babchuk should have more space to release his deadly shot.

Shorthanded Goals

2009-10 Leader: Matt Cullen/Kostopolous — 2

2010-11 Projected Leader: Chad LaRose — Over/Under of 2

2010-11 Dark Horse: Jiri Tlusty

LaRose has consistently created shorthanded opportunities since becoming an NHL regular, scoring at least one shorty in each of the past four seasons. LaRose will probably log big shorthanded minutes and could benefit from playing along aside Staal or Sutter, who both have the reach and smarts to break up a play and create a shorthanded rush. Tlusty is a true dark horse — the young forward has yet to establish himself as an NHLer, but he'll get his chance this season and should show that he is more than capable at both ends of the ice.

Time On Ice

2009-10 Leader: Pitkanen — 27:22

2010-11 Projected Leader: Pitkanen — Over/Under of 26:00

2010-11 Dark Horse: Corvo

Pitkanen is an absolute horse, capable of eating minutes without showing signs of slowing down. But before Corvo was hurt, he as the one logging the most minutes for Carolina. With a ready-made partner in Tim Gleason, Corvo could play big minutes in all situations and surpass Pitkanen. Still, the money is on No. 25 leading the way.

Hits

2009-10 Leader: Andrew Alberts 178

2010-11 Projected Leader: Ruutu — Over/Under of 225

2010-11 Dark Horse: Patrick Dwyer

Alberts led the way last season despite playing just 62 games in Carolina before being dealt to Vancouver. But it's Ruutu who sets the hitting tone for Carolina. He had nearly three hits a night last season and finished third on the team with 156 while playing just 54 games. Kostopoulos or Gleason could surpass him, but how about Dwyer as a real dark horse? The feisty forward had 108 last season in 58 games last year while playing just 12:30 a night. If he somehow wins a spot on the third line, his ice time would jump and could lead to even bigger numbers.

Blocked Shots

2009-10 Leader: Pitkanen/Aaron Ward122

2010-11 Projected Leader: Gleason — Over/Under 130

2010-11 Dark Horse: Brett Carson

Pitkanen's shot blocking is underappreciated, but Gleason is the best the team has to offer in the category. He's had at least 100 the past three seasons and, when healthy, sacrifices his body more than any other player on the team. Pitkanen could fight him for the top spot, but returning defender Carson could surprise if he wins a top six job. He had 89 in 54 games last season and could play significant time on the penalty kill in 2010-11.