After netting just 2.39 goals per game a season ago, good for 27th in the NHL, the Carolina Hurricanes went on a mission over the summer to overhaul their forward unit.
So far, the results have been positive. As of December 27, the Hurricanes rank 15th in the league, scoring 2.61 goals per game and the offensive output from their new additions up front has been impressive, and just as important, the offensive output from returning players, especially those at the top of the lineup, has been extremely encouraging.
Carolina’s dynamic duo of Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask has led the team’s resurgent offense. Skinner not only leads the team with 13 goals and 27 points, but he also is continuing to force turnovers like he did last year. His 35 takeaways ranks second in the league.
Fresh off of his six-year contract extension, Rask has proven that he earned it. He leads the team with 16 assists and is second in points with 26. He and Skinner have formed an incredibly dangerous duo both at even strength and on the man advantage, only improving on what they did in the second half of last season.
Jordan Staal's brand of play fits in very well on a secondary scoring and shutdown defensive line. Staal has been an absolute force up front and it seems inevitable at this point that he will be in the discussion as a Selke Trophy finalist. His 57.88% corsi share ranks sixth in the league and his expected goals for percentage of 62.39 ranks first in the league among players with 200+ minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. I find it hard to believe that teams enjoy having to deal with Skinner and Rask for a shift and then have to follow that up by trying to handle Staal’s power game.
Offseason additions Viktor Stalberg, Lee Stempniak, Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho have all found ways to contribute and have done so in different ways.
Free agent acquisition Viktor Stalberg’s fast and physical play has fit in perfectly in Carolina’s bottom six and on their league-best penalty kill. Fellow offseason signing Lee Stempniak started hot but then cooled off in terms of point production, but as of late, he’s started to produce more alongside Aho and Tervainen. His 16 points in 33 games is just about what should have been expected from him entering the season.
19-year-old Sebastian Aho has certainly looked like a rookie at times, but the skill that he possesses is apparent on a shift-to-shift basis. He’s still just scratching the surface of what he can do at the NHL level. This is a player that can be a big-time contributor and his chemistry with Teravainen has been a fun thing to watch. These two highly skilled forwards seem to know where each other are at all times.
Much of what was said about Aho can apply to Teravainen. He’s looked out of place at times in a new system with Bill Peters, but all things considered, he’s been an impact player who is on the verge of being an even bigger force offensively in an expanded role in Carolina.
Perhaps the most surprising emergence this season has been Derek Ryan, who has instantly clicked with Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask on Carolina’s top scoring line.
Ryan served as a primary source of offense for the Checkers last season, and after nearly not re-signing with Carolina over the offseason, he has stepped in and has served as an impressive point producer, especially on the man advantage.
There’s been a lot of good to talk about with Carolina’s forwards, but there has also been some bad.
Elias Lindholm‘s expected rebound season hasn’t come to fruition yet. While he has been a well above average corsi driver all year and an effective faceoff taker, he has yet to find the offense. As of late, he’s started to turn things around, piling up nine points over his last 15 games, including a pair of assists in Carolina’s come-from-behind victory against the Bruins on Friday.
Jay McClement’s offensive ineptitude has been on full display once again this season and his defensive acumen hasn't done much to make up for it. His 46.63% corsi share and 30% goals for percentage both rank last on the team. He’s been on the ice for 14 goals against at even strength, which is four more than Jordan Staal and one more than Teuvo Tervainen despite playing 50 and 125 fewer minutes than them, respectively.
Andrej Nestrasil’s road to recovery from his February vertebrae injury hasn’t been as smooth as was once hoped. He hasn’t been nearly as effective as he was a season ago and he’s only drawn into 16 games this season.
Bryan Bickell’s battle with multiple sclerosis has taken him off the ice and we continue to keep him in our thoughts and prayers as he looks to get to a point where he can return to the game he loves. Despite missing time on the ice, he has continued to be a driving force in the community.
Oh, and did you know he has his own calendar that features pit bulls?
As we enter the 2017 portion of the regular season, the Carolina Hurricanes will continue to want to improve in a plethora of areas, but, as a whole, the production that they have been getting from their forwards is leaps and bounds better than what they were getting at this point last season.