The first week and a half of Carolina Hurricanes hockey this season has been full of encouraging ups and devastating downs.
Here, we will focus on the encouraging ups from three players who have stood out as Carolina’s most influential players, and it just so happens that all three of these players have skated on the same line.
First Star - Victor Rask
Fresh off of a six-year contract extension over the summer, Victor Rask has played up to the higher expectations and has centered this team’s most lethal and consistent forward line in the early going of the regular season.
Rask is in a three-way tie atop of Carolina’s scoring leaders with six points in five games. He is also one of just two players to achieve a positive plus/minus.
The most promising part of Rask’s start is that he isn’t just scoring, he’s doing almost everything right.
He has routinely finished at the top end of goals expected and corsi-for percentage, which speaks volumes to not only his offensive contributions but also his ability to keep opponents off the scoreboard. Rask has also played a larger-than-expected role in Carolina’s dominant penalty kill that has killed penalties at a 90% rate.
On the other side of the special teams, Rask leads the club with two powerplay goals.
An underrated facet of his game is his ability to pick corners with his shot. He doesn’t possess a blistering wrister, but he is as accurate as anyone within the tops of the circles.
I’d be remised if I didn't mention the role that his newly acquired alternate captain honor could be playing in all of this. Since he was given the “A” on his chest for road games, not only has he played with a new-found level of confidence, but you can also see it in the way he talks about himself and his team. This is a player that earned an alternate captain role with his silent leadership and work ethic on the ice, and now he’s proving that he undoubtedly deserves it.
The only area where Rask has struggled so far this season is his faceoff acumen. He’s won a measly 45% of his draws, but it’s still early and he has time to rectify that. Expect his faceoff numbers to go back up towards the 51% that he posted in the circle last season.
We may be seeing the evolution of Victor Rask into a very special player, which is something that this Hurricanes team definitely will benefit from for a very long time.
Second Star - Jeff Skinner
Jeff Skinner has built off of a fantastic finish to the 2015-16 season and has continued to grow both as an offensive threat and a two-way player in the first five games of the new season.
We know what we get out of Skinner. Whenever he is on the ice, he can change the outlook of the game with his skill and skating ability, but he is also a tough forechecker and a smart defensive player, which is something that we didn't really expect from him when he broke into the league.
A big area in which he has contributed early on is the powerplay. All of last season, Skinner had seven points on the man advantage. Through five games this season, he already has three, including a hugely important goal late in Carolina’s lone win of the season against Calgary.
He’s still developing his game in all areas, and he is in a perfect situation with Rask and Lee Stempniak. This trio has everything they need to succeed, and that’s exactly what they have done so far.
Like Rask, Skinner has earned his way onto the letter leadership team, and his play has done all the talking so far.
Third Star - Lee Stempniak
Rounding out this week’s three stars is the third piece of Carolina’s top forward line, Lee Stempniak.
This may end up being one of the biggest signings of the offseason. Lee Stempniak has stepped in and played a major offensive role with the Hurricanes on the right side of Victor Rask.
Stempniak has served as the steady veteran on Carolina’s top forward line and seems to be the perfect third player for Rask and Skinner.
This is a player that plays the game with his head. He makes clean passes, reads defenses well and finds soft spots in the offensive end. When he gets his opportunities, he takes advantage of them, which is a much-needed quality on this team.
Stempniak leads the Canes in goal scoring, already finding the back of the net four times. He consistently shows up and contributes when the team needs it.
Like Rask, Stempniak routinely finishes with a positive corsi-for percentage, which again is a testament to his responsible, smart brand of hockey.