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Carolina Hurricanes 2016-17 Season Preview: Canes Country Staff Predictions

Guaranteed wrong or your money back, here is how the CC staff sees this year playing out.

NHL: Preseason-Washington Capitals at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The National Hockey League season starts tonight. For the Carolina Hurricanes, though, they get one more day before opening their campaign in Manitoba, facing the Winnipeg Jets tomorrow night.

What better time for the Canes Country writing staff to make themselves look like fools by attempting to predict the season ahead?

Below is our staff’s prognostications for the 2016-17 season. Feel free to remind us of these come April. Here are the questions our writers answered:

  1. Who will be this season's breakout player?
  2. What should a successful season be defined as for the Hurricanes this year?
  3. Who finishes the season as the top point scorer and the top goal scorer, and how many of each?
  4. What will be the biggest surprise of this season?

Finally, we’ll each list our projected order of finish in the Metro standings, and our predictions of which teams will make the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Andy House, staff writer

  1. Breakout player: Teuvo Teravainen. He comes to Carolina and will assume a more offensive role (after having over 52% of his "zone starts" taking place in the defensive end last season) and will be presented more offensive opportunity. His time on ice should increase incrementally from last season in Chicago as well. Couple those factors with the concept of Teuvo continuing to grow as a 22 year-old player in the NHL, he is primed for a breakout.
  2. Successful season: A successful season is making the playoffs. The team can improve and not make the playoffs, but that is simply not taking a step back. For the season to be a success a playoff spot has to be in the cards.
  3. Top scorers: The top point scorer will be Victor Rask. He continues to grow, and the addition of further offensive talent will only aid him in piling up the points. I'll say 56 points. I think streaky Jeff Skinner will again lead the team in goals with a 30+ season (let's say 35).
  4. Biggest surprise: Lee Stempniak will slip right into this team and be in the top 3 in points on the team. He is the type of veteran with some scoring touch that this team was in need of, and if he is healthy, he should be a great fit.

Matt Krombach, staff writer

  1. Breakout player: Andrej Nestrasil. After recovering from a possible career ending injury, Nestrasil will be more motivated than ever. He has an underrated skill set of hands with the ability to stop on a dime. Although he's normally stopping opposing teams' top lines, expect him to have a career high of at least 20 goals.
  2. Successful season: The only way to mark this season as successful is if the Hurricanes qualify for the playoffs. A seven-year playoff drought is long enough and they got pretty close last year. Ron Francis has done his job rebuilding as best he can up to this point. It's time for Bill Peters and the boys to get a good start to the season and make things happen on the ice.
  3. Top scorers: Victor Rask will have the most points as he continues to be an offensive presence and a skilled playmaker. His consistent growth should see him obtain 60 points. Jeff Skinner will have a better supporting cast and will again lead the team in goals with 38.
  4. Biggest surprise: Eddie Lack. After a subpar season with a new club last year, Lack will begin to feel more comfortable in net and the team in front of him gains more confidence in him. He was able to record a shutout and two wins against the Chicago Blackhawks last season. Expect Lack to have 2.40 GAA and a 9.10 save percentage.

Peter Dewar, staff writer

  1. Breakout player: Sebastian Aho. The #AhoHypeTrain is real, and it is warranted. Aho has proven himself in Finland's elite league and on the world stage (3 separate times in the past year, I might add), and will thrive from the start in the NHL with the help of fellow Finn Teravainen.
  2. Successful season: It's playoffs or bust this year. Seven years with no postseason berth means that it's time for this young and promising team to take the next step. They came closer than expected last year, and now it's time to end the drought.
  3. Top scorers: Jordan Staal will continue his resurgence, leading the Hurricanes with 57 points, just beating out Skinner and Rask with 54 and 51, respectively. Skinner will lead in goals, however, with 33.
  4. Biggest surprise: The 4th line. The Hurricanes have long struggled with forward depth, but adding Bickell and Stalberg in the mix with McClement and (maybe) Di Giuseppe makes for a sneaky strong group of grinders with some scoring flair.

Justin Lape, Checkers beat writer

  1. Breakout player: Teuvo Teravainen. Acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks in the offseason, Teravainen may be slotted on a line with Elias Lindholm and Sebastian Aho which are great complimentary players for his skill set. 45 points is not out of question for the young Finnish winger.
  2. Successful season: Being a fringe playoff team. The Hurricanes have not made the postseason since 2009 and a postseason berth would bring confidence to a young team brimming with promise. It won't be an easy feat in a tough division but it seems the Hurricanes finally have the talent to make a playoff push.
  3. Top scorer: Jeff Skinner with 35 goals and 65 points. Skinner seems primed to improve on his point totals and catch the NHL's attention once again in the process.
  4. Biggest surprise: Sebastian Aho. Aho will quickly assert himself as a dark horse candidate for the Calder trophy and earn respect from his peers around the NHL. The young Finnish rookie will finish somewhere in the 40-50 point range, contributing on the Hurricanes’ best line this season.

Cody Hagan, staff writer

  1. Breakout player: Victor Rask. While putting up good numbers last season, look for Rask to truly step up and be right on the heels of Jeff Skinner in scoring while becoming a staple defensively. This is the year Rask can step up and take over the number one center role and become a face of the franchise.
  2. Successful season: For the first time in what feels like a century, Caniacs have a team they should expect to truly compete for a playoff spot. After years of attendance numbers dropping and fan interest declining, the Canes have a legitimate shot now. Anything short of the playoffs would have to be considered a disappointment. Therefore, if the team makes the playoffs, it would be considered a successful season.
  3. Top scorers: Jeff Skinner will lead the team in goals during the 2016-2017 campaign. Meanwhile, Victor Rask will take home the scoring title for the Canes. My prediction is 33 goals for Skinner and 61 points for Rask.
  4. Biggest surprise: The biggest surprise of the upcoming season will come when Haydn Fleury takes over Ryan Murphy's job in Raleigh and plays extremely well. Fleury has looked excellent in camp and in juniors the last two years and is poised to make noise this season. The team wants Murphy to get his 40 games in for him to be considered for the expansion draft, but this won't occur because Murphy will be gone by season’s end, either in Charlotte or elsewhere, and Fleury will find himself being compared to Hanifin, Pesce, and Slavin from last season.

Zeke Lukow, staff writer

  1. Breakout player: Teuvo Teravainen. Teravainen was one of the Chicago Blackhwaks top prospects. However, after the emergence of Artemi Panarin, Teravainen saw a decreased role with Chicago. He will be given every opportunity to succeed in Carolina, and he will be more motivated than ever after his experience in Chicago.
  2. Successful season: A successful year for the Carolina Hurricanes will be making the playoffs. There is a lot of buzz surrounding this team and they are trending in the right direction. They need to keep fans involved and motivated by continuing the trend. Anything less will feel like another disappointing season.
  3. Top scorers: The top point scorer will be Jeff Skinner with 35 goals. Last year Skinner scored 28 goals, but will be surrounded by even more talent this season. The player with the most points will be Jordan Staal. He normally leads minutes played for forwards and plays in all situations. Much like Skinner he will improve over last year and will have 56 points.
  4. Biggest surprise: Sebastian Aho. Aho is known by most Caniacs, but he will prove to be the biggest surprise for the entire hockey fan base. Aho finished second in MVP voting last season in the Finnish Elite League - not wasn’t a junior league, but a league of senior players. He will continue his success with the Hurricanes and will eclipse 20 goals this season.

Kyle Morton, senior writer

  1. Breakout player: Elias Lindholm. Lindholm will finally show signs of becoming the player the Hurricanes hoped he would be when they used their fifth overall pick on him in the 2013 draft. Finally making the full time move to his natural position of center, Lindholm will be flanked by two young Finns in rookie Sebastian Aho and the newly acquired Teuvo Teravainen. With the level of skill that those two wingers will provide, Lindholm will evolve into a legitimate top-two center.
  2. Successful season: For the 2016-2017 season to be classified as a success for the Hurricanes, they would either need to make the playoffs or finish within five points in the standings of doing so. The expectation of a playoff berth might be a bit lofty, but it's certainly an attainable goal, and that five point range would signify adequate growth over last season's final spot.
  3. Top scorers: Jeff Skinner will claim the team lead in goals, coming in with somewhere between 25 and 35 as long as he can remain healthy. He's a very safe bet to average somewhere in that range over 82 games. As far as points go, I do see Lindholm taking that mantle over from Staal, Rask, and Skinner this season. I expect him to come up with somewhere in the 55-60 neighborhood.
  4. Biggest surprise: Eddie Lack will bounce back from his dreadful season in 2015-2016 and recapture the form that saw him gain the starter's crease in Vancouver prior to his move to Carolina. Look for him to bring his save percentage into the .918 range and grab more starts than Ward over the course of the season, assuming reliable health.

Mike Robinson, staff writer

  1. Breakout player: Phil Di Giuseppe plays aggressive and has shown spurts of being an effective playmaker. The 23-year old recorded 17 points in only 14 minutes per game in half the season. He will have the opportunity to move up from the fourth line.
  2. Successful season: The Hurricanes have not made the playoffs since the 2008-2009 season, so obviously making the playoffs would make for a successful season. The Hurricanes finished 10th with 86 points last season, 10 points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild card spot. Surpassing 90 points should be considered a successful season, with a playoff berth in mind.
  3. Top scorers: Top Point Scorer: Jordan Staal with 54. Top Goal Scorer: Jeff Skinner with 25.
  4. Biggest surprise: The Hurricanes beat out the New York Rangers for the final wild card spot in the final week of the season. The last Hurricanes’ last three games include the Islanders, Blues at home then the Flyers, while the Rangers play the Capitals, Senators, and then finish the season against the Penguins. The Hurricanes stun the Rangers and beat them out in a tight playoff race.

Craig Johnson, senior writer

  1. Breakout player: Teuvo Teravainen. Poised last year with the Blackhawks, he was moved around and shuffled all over the place. Teuvo will likely spend a lot of time with Aho and Lindholm, both of whom are known for their playmaking skills. Teravainen is also known to have great vision and plays a very fast game. While he’s expected to score, this is the season that he proves it.
  2. Successful season: There is only one definition of success for this Hurricanes fan and that is a playoff berth. As the resident optimist of the group, I’ll even go so far as to predict (okay, hope) for the #3 spot in the Metro. Everything will have to come together including significant scoring from the back end, but after watching preseason tilts, we’re well positioned, especially given the goaltending looks to be no worse than league average.
  3. Top scorers: Elias Lindholm will be the top points man with 68 points. Centering Aho, Teravainen, and likely Frk some as well, he has a history as a good playmaker. Now he’ll have some finishers next to him. Jeff Skinner will be the top goal scorer again potting 35. Rask is a better passer than some give realize and PDG and/or Stempniak will likely slot in as the 3rd member of that group. One clears space and the other is an under-rated passer too.
  4. Biggest surprise: Both goaltenders will surpass expectations and Cam Ward, in particular, will have a noteworthy season. With a year under their belts in front of the new and still improving blueline, Eddie and Cam both will surprise to the upside. Even though Cam will be better than he has in many years, expect Lack to get 3-5 more games than last season.

Kevin LeBlanc, prospects beat writer

  1. Breakout player: Elias Lindholm. It’s been a couple years in the making, but Lindholm takes a step forward offensively this year. Last season, Lindholm had a 5.5% - 5on5 shooting percentage which has plenty of room for growth and if he returns to even average shooting percentage levels, he will easily increase on the 11 goals he scored last season. Look for Elias to push towards a 45-50 point season, which would be a career high, as he will be a vital part of the Hurricanes’ power-play unit for the fourth season in a row.
  2. Successful season: In the minds of most fans, it should be playoffs or bust. The reality is, this is still a very young team. Continued improvement among the young defense, and steps forward from the core of Lindholm, Teravainen, Rask and Skinner within the forward group and this team will continue to build towards being a contender for years, rather than one season on and one season off. If that formula equals playoffs as early as this season, then even better.
  3. Top scorers: Points: Justin Faulk with 54 points. As balanced as the Canes forward group is going to be (they could have as many as six to seven 40 point forwards this season) I think it’s Faulk who benefits the most. If healthy, he will play a ton of minutes both at even strength and on the power play. Before his injury last season, Faulk was on pace for a 52 point season, so finishing up around 55 isn't out of the realm of possibility. Goals: Jeff Skinner with 31 goals. An increase of three over last season, mainly due to an uptick of power-play goals. 24 of Skinner's 28 goals were scored at even strength last season.
  4. Biggest surprise: The Hurricanes will finish in the top 12 in the league in both power-play and penalty kill percentage. The last time the Canes accomplished this was the 2000-2001 when they finished eighth in the league in power-play percentage and second in penalty kill percentage.

Jamie Kellner, senior editor/community manager

  1. Breakout player: Noah Freakin' Hanifin (I mean really, did you expect me to say anyone else?). It was a huge advantage for young Noah to get all his NHL 'firsts' out of the way at age 18 and I think this season his shot will be improved, he'll be more physical, and he'll use his elite skating and vision to drive play in a way that reminds fans that in any draft other than 2015 he might have been the first overall pick.
  2. Successful season: Don't take a step backwards, and be fun to watch play hockey. Seriously, as a fan that's all I'm asking for. I'm still on the fence as to whether they have enough talent to get to the dance, but it's a lot easier for me to stress (yet again) about them making the playoffs if I genuinely enjoy what I see on the ice and think they're continuing to move in the right direction from a management, coaching, and development perspective.
  3. Top scorers: The alternating 'A's are going to lead the stats. Victor Rask will lead in points (56) and Jeff Skinner will be tops in goal-scoring (matching his 28 from last season).
  4. Biggest surprise: The team will not relocate to Quebec. More specifically, attendance will surprise a lot of people because it will be higher than expected, especially as excitement builds over a shot at the playoffs (so don't blow it, fellows, and play well in front of your home crowd). #PNCUThere Canes fans. Let's do this.

Brett Finger, senior writer

  1. Breakout player: After a disappointing 2015-16 campaign, Elias Lindholm will bounce back and show on a game-to-game basis why he was selected with the fifth overall pick in 2013. On a line with two talented Finns in Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho, Lindholm will see an uptick in his production and become a big time contributor on this Hurricanes club, just like he was expected to be. A 50-point season for the Swede is well within the realm of possibility.
  2. Successful season: If the Hurricanes take another step forward as a team, playing in Bill Peters' system, that should be considered a successful season. Carolina is among the three youngest in the league entering the regular season, so all you can ask for is for them to continue to grow as a team and prove that last year's surge wasn't just a one-hit wonder.
  3. Top scorers: Jeff Skinner will lead the Hurricanes in both points and goals this season. Skinner stepped up in all areas after the departure of Eric Staal and he will continue to take steps forward this season. He will finish the season with 33 goals and 62 points.
  4. Biggest surprise: Bill Peters will win the Jack Adams Trophy for the NHL's coach of the year. With a plethora of big additions up front, Peters' defense-first system will start to produce more goals and elevate the Hurricanes into a playoff spot, finally giving him the league-wide recognition that he deserves.

Andrew Ahr, staff writer

  1. Breakout player: Noah Hanifin. After a solid rookie campaign and a successful summer of strength training, Hanifin will hit the ground running this season with more confidence in his game. Hanifin's offensive game will benefit from his NHL experience and he will become a steady point producer on the back end. Hanifin will put up 30 points this season and he will show the potential to put up even more later in his development.
  2. Successful season: Securing their first playoff berth since 2009. Making a postseason appearance would serve as valuable experience for the young talent in the organization and get a team and fanbase behind Ron Francis and the new direction of this Hurricanes club. Any progression from last season in the Peters' still-new system would likely be enough to push this team over the edge into a playoff position come April.
  3. Top scorers: I anticipate Jordan Staal building on his impressive 2015-16 season while surrounded with more talent this year. Jordan will put up 60 points for the Hurricanes this season in his new "top line center" role. While I think that Elias Lindholm could be a breakout goal scorer this year, I still believe that Jeff Skinner will pot the most goals this season with 35. Skinner has shown a lot of chemistry with line-mate Victor Rask and that will work in his favor this year when they are likely slotted with a newcomer to the roster.
  4. Biggest surprise: Eddie Lack will storm out of the gates hot this season and win the starting netminder job early on. Lack has the tools to be an excellent NHL goalie and his early success will give him the necessary confidence to have a solid campaign in the 2016-17 season. Great goalies steal games for their teams, and Lack's impressive play will help propel the Hurricanes into a playoff spot.

Brian LeBlanc, managing editor

  1. Breakout player: Victor Rask. His appointment as a part-time alternate captain came as a minor surprise, but it's indicative of the high hopes the Canes have for their third-year center. One of either Rask or Elias Lindholm is going to take a big step forward this season. My money is on Rask, who will have the good fortune of spending large chunks of the season centering Jeff Skinner.
  2. Successful season: It’s still too early to expect the Canes to make the playoffs, although they're closer now than they have been at any point since 2009. A playoff berth this season will likely mean career years for multiple players, and banking on that is just a bit out of reach this season. However, continued improvement and finishing no worse than fifth in the Metro should be expected. Anything less than 90 points will fall short of expectations.
  3. Top scorers: Rask will finish with 64 points, one of five players to score 20 goals and second to Justin Faulk in assists. I feel fairly confident that Jeff Skinner will lead the team in goals, flirting with 30 but falling just short at 29, but watch out for Lee Stempniak, who no one is talking about but is a lock for 20 goals and, depending on the progress the likes of Skinner and Teuvo Teravainen make, could contend for the team lead.
  4. Biggest surprise: I was going to tip Bill Peters as a Jack Adams finalist, but Brett one-upped me by actually predicting he'll take home the hardware, so I'll go down on the farm for mine: the Checkers will win the AHL Western Conference regular season title, and will make at least the conference final with a decent chance of playing for the Calder Cup. Ulf Samuelsson will be the AHL coach of the year, and the hype train for 2017-18 in Carolina will reach unheard-of heights.

Predicted Metropolitan Division finishing order:

Andy Matt Peter Justin Cody Zeke Kyle
Mike Craig Kevin Jamie Brett Andrew Brian

Predicted Eastern Conference playoff teams:

Andy Matt Peter Justin Cody Zeke Kyle
Mike Craig Kevin Jamie Brett Andrew Brian