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Carolina Hurricanes 2016-2017 Season Preview: Analytics

Take a look at who the #FancyStats predict that the hockey gods will be smiling (or not smiling) upon this season for the Hurricanes.

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NHL: New York Islanders at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes have gotten a lot of positive press over the last year or so for being one of the teams at the forefront of the league in the practice of embracing analytical concepts that have become popular online and in some of the more progressive front offices.

With the hiring of Eric Tulsky to the team’s front office, the Hurricanes signaled loud and clear that this new practice was something they wanted to use to gain an edge over their league-wide rivals.

With the team’s emphasis on the ideas readily apparent, the manifestation of those principles in the on-ice product has further solidified the team as an analytics darling. Several of Carolina’s young defenseman and a few of the young forwards show very nicely with further examination of their underlying numbers, and that examination is exactly what the purpose of this post is.

So without further ado, here’s what some of the #FancyStats have to say about what we can expect to see from some of the ‘Canes more polarizing players this season.

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Andrej Nestrasil - RW

Nestrasil was quite a find when the Hurricanes were able to grab him off of the waiver wire from the Detroit Red Wings at the beginning of the 2014-2015 season. Since then, he’s quietly been one of the most productive forwards on the team, and his underlying numbers say there’s a lot to like with this player as well.

Part of the reason for Nestrasil’s success has been his ability to mesh well with Jordan Staal, but there’s also definitive evidence that he’s a well above average player in his own right. According to, with Nestrasil on the ice for the past two seasons, the Hurricanes control 55.14% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts. That’s only slightly behind Staal’s mark.

Further, there’s statistical reason to believe that there’s room for Nestrasil’s production to increase, as his iXG60 (individual expected goals per 60 minutes) of 0.78 easily outpaces his observed G60 rate of 0.49. If he can start to bring that actual number up toward that expected number, then the Hurricanes will have a very, very legitimate top six forward on their hands in Nestrasil.

Noah Hanifin - LD

The fifth overall pick from the 2015 NHL entry draft did not disappoint in his rookie season. Hanifin was comfortably able to eclipse the 20 point mark as a first year defender, which is an impressive feat on his own, but there’s data to back up the idea that the American’s production could easily skyrocket in his second season, particularly in the goal-scoring department.

Hanifin generated 0.62 even-strength primary points per 60 minutes, a mark which surpassed even that of the team’s offensive dynamo from the back end in Justin Faulk. He was also not at all gun-shy when it came to putting the puck toward the net, as his iCF60 (individual shot attempts per 60 minutes) mark of 11.92 at all situations even surpassed many of the team’s forwards.

If Hanifin can couple his elite skating ability with his willingness to shoot the puck in a more effective manner in 2016-2017, it’s very easy to imagine the young defender shooting up the ranks of point producers from the back end around the league. Be sure to keep an eye on that as the year develops.

Jeff Skinner - LW

Skinner rebounded nicely from a frustrating 2014-2015 campaign to put up 28 goals in 82 games (yes, he played all 82 games) last season. That 28 mark fell just shy of where the ‘Canes would ideally like to see him come in (30 anyone?), but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone within the organization who was actively disappointed with him last year.

Simply put, Skinner is a shot volume machine. His all-situations iCF60 of 19.57 led the team by a country mile, and his iSCF60 (indiv. scoring chances/60) of 4.86 did the exact same. Obviously Skinner is the best pure goal scoring talent on the roster, but I think there’s room to grow for him as well. Prior to the trades of Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg last season, there were times where he wouldn’t be getting nearly the amount of ice time that a player of his caliber should command. That won’t be the case this year.

If Bill Peters isn’t leaning heavily on Skinner as the team’s top offensive threat (because make no mistake, that is what he is), then something will be seriously wrong in Raleigh this fall. Look for Skinner to get that requisite ice time both at even strength and on the power play, lead the team in goals, and establish himself as one of the better pure goal scorers that the entire league has to offer.

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Cam Ward - G

You kind of had to know this one was coming. The one player who can divide this fan base more than any other has found his way on to this list, and it isn’t for the best of reasons. Let’s take a look at why.

So last season, says there were 19 goalies who played at least 2,300 minutes of 5-on-5 play, which is where true goaltending talent has been shown to be the most apparent. Of those 19, Ward ranked 17th in high danger save percentage and 15th in low danger save percentage. To his credit, he was 3rd in medium danger save percentage, but I think it’s safe to assume that that was more of an aberration as in the two years prior combined he ranked 26th out of 34 in that same category.

So while some may try to be optimistic (which is completely fine) about the veteran goalie’s chances of improving next season, the numbers unfortunately do not offer a whole lot of hope for that to be the case. We’ll see if they’re (and by extension, I) are wrong soon enough.

Joakim Nordstrom - LW

Nordstrom was a nice story last season. He was somewhat of a throw-in in the deal that brought Kris Versteeg to Carolina, but it was Nordstrom who earned himself a spot on the roster for the long-term. Nordstrom established himself as the third piece to Carolina’s possession extraordinaire line with Jordan Staal and the aforementioned Nestrasil, but he’s probably the guy that you should be the least excited about heading into the new campaign.

According to, Nordstrom’s 5-on-5 shooting percentage was 11.54%. This means that goalies stopped pucks at roughly a .885 clip when he shot the puck, and simply put, that is not very sustainable. Further, Nordstrom ranked 11th amongst Carolina forwards in individual scoring chances per 60 minutes. This despite ranking 7th in goals per 60 minutes.

Due to an increase in ice time this year, Nordstrom’s raw totals may surpass or approach what he put up last season, but don’t expect his rate totals to look quite as nice as they did in 2015-2016.

Jay McClement - C

McClement was brought in in the summer of 2014 for one reason and one reason only: to provide the ‘Canes with the truly capable fourth line center that they’d been lacking for quite some time. While many (including those in the front office) have praised him for adequately doing this, the underlying numbers have been suggestive of a story of a different tune.

With McClement on the ice over the past two seasons, says the Hurricanes have controlled just a meager 44.14% of the even-strength scoring chances. That’s easily the worst on the team in that stretch. Unfortunately, it’s not just shot quality that McClement struggles with driving while he’s on the ice, but it’s quantity as well. Just by 5-on-5 shot attempt share, the ‘Canes post just 44.84% of the attempts. That’s also easily last on the team.

In today’s NHL, it’s highly advisable that teams have four lines that can carry play and contribute to the team’s offense, especially when you’re a team as pressed for scoring as the Hurricanes are. Unfortunately, for Carolina’s fourth line to be able to do that, either McClement will have to drastically alter the way he plays the game, or the team will have to find a younger, more skilled alternative who will be able to get the job done there. If neither of those happen, it seems likely that the fourth line will continue to be a weakness up front.