Prediction articles are both loads of fun and infuriating all at the same time. People say the stupidest stuff. As the resident optimist here at Canes Country, stupid stuff comes spewing out of my pie hole on a regular basis. Did I actually say that Chris Terry would score 40 points this past season? Or did I just dream it? Well the past is the past and it is time to look to the future. The context for these predictions is that this is to be harmless fun with a modicum of basis in fact, both real and hoped for. Some may be obvious and some are likely outrageous and "never gonna happen". Still, there will be an attempt to explain, justify, or speak to the reasoning. You may not agree with all, some, or any of these, but this will hopefully spawn more discussion.
On to the predictions, in no particular order or with no particular emphasis.
1. Sebastian Aho will make the Hurricanes out of training camp and will contribute significantly to this season's success.
While most know and agree that young Sebastian has been penciled in for a starting Top 9 role, it may come as a surprise that a number of factors could derail the Aho hype train. The kid has played a ton of hockey over the course of the last 12-14 months. This past season alone he has played in 88 games across regular season, playoffs, and other assorted international play. At the end of the prior year he was part of another 10 game playoff run. That's a lot of hockey for a 18-19 year old, so it wouldn't be beyond belief that he might be a little burned out when he gets to training camp. Add in the fact that he will be coming off of his time at the World Cup of Hockey and he could be fairly worn down.
However, rumor has it he's incredibly mature and has a serious training regimen. He loves the game and loves to play in games. The smart money is on him showing up to camp (probably after Finland gives a good showing) and, because he has played so much hockey recently, he's not just in shape, but in better "game shape" than most. As a cerebral player, he likely adjusts to the smaller ice quickly, finding ways to start contributing early. While others may disagree, my sense is that a 30-35 point season from Aho would be successful and a solid contribution. Anything more would be gravy. Included in my prediction is Aho getting his 35 points, meshing well with Elias Lindholm, and helping that line be a very dangerous 3c line (as I think we'll again run the equivalent of 3 second lines).
2. Phil Di Giuseppe's play in camp and early in the season forces him into the Top 9.
Last year at training camp, in the pre-season, and prior to initially getting sent to Charlotte, PDG stayed on the NHL roster much longer than most expected. The reason: he earned it. He played fast, he played hard, and he demonstrated a level of skill many were unaware he had. If one goes back and reads scouting reports, you will realize that this was one of the reasons for Di Giuseppe's draft position (2nd round, #38, in 2012). It all started showing up the year before in Charlotte, but Phil seemed to put much of it together last Fall. Once he got the call up, his work with Skinner and Rask opened many an eye.
My guess is he picks up right where he left off. It is doubtful he'll slot right back in next to his comrades from last season. It is even more likely that he'll start as a 4th liner, but he won't stay there long. In the end he could see some time on Jordan Staal's line if last year's version doesn't continue to gel. But my prediction is that he ultimately slots in next to Aho and Lindholm, providing the grit, net-front presence, and general ruckus that line will need to succeed. If this comes to fruition, I could easily see him banging in 15-20 goals (lots of rebounds) and putting up around 40 points.
3. The Goat will get his 9 games and almost force his way on the team....but doesn't.
If you had the good fortune to get to this Summer's prospect camp, you likely came away impressed. You also more than likely saw that there were 4 or 5 guys there that were a step above the others. Whether it was poise or size or strength or skill, some guys just stood out more than others. In particular Haydn Fleury and Julien Gauthier burned very brightly. Fleury, for his smoothness and the overall readiness, just looked like a professional. Despite a very few rough edges, Gauthier also looked the part. His skating, his strength, and, of course, that wonderful shot all looked like they belonged. Add to this a cheerful confidence and Julien was nothing if not impressive.
He's going to bring that and even more to training camp. I believe he will truly be given a chance to make the team, but his performance will have to be off of the charts to keep him in Raleigh for the entire season. He will be close, oh so close, to proving himself ready. He will score goals in the pre-season and play in most if not all of the games. Julien Gauthier will then be kept on the NHL roster once camp breaks for the maximum 9 games. He may even look pretty good (probably next to Jordan Staal as Nestrasil is given a bit more time to heal). But in the end, he'll be sent back to the "Q" as the value of pushing that contract out one more year is just too large to pass up.
4. Goaltending will neither be bad nor will it be great....and that will be adequate.
Using the ever fallible tool known as "guesswork", both Cam Ward and Eddie Lack will not revive last year's terrible start. Nor will they step up with the near stellar play from December and January. While it would be the Cane-iest thing of all for the goaltenders to repeat last years dumpster fire start, I just don't see that happening. And I don't see that happening for a couple of reasons.
From Cam Ward's perspective, he got a huge reprieve. Any other organization would have bum-rushed him out the door after the season ended. The Hurricanes, however feel something of a misplaced obligation to their Stanley Cup winning hero (unlike the old ex-Captain). Excuses were made, appropriate or not, and financial decisions were prioritized. This feels like the type of onus that an honorable man like Ward will react to. So I'm predicting he comes out of the shoot playing pretty well and settles in at or slightly above league average.
In Eddie Lack's case there are also rumors of him "trying some things" that we can only hope help him gain his confidence back. That is what seemed to be the big problem with Lack. He flailed and he flopped and he leaked, often at the most inopportune moments. Later in the season he seemed to reclaim some of his mojo, but by then the fragile deal he had made with himself was pretty inconsistent. This season, I think he'll still have some inconsistencies, outplaying Cam on some nights and stinking up the joint on others. He should get a few more games this season so his rhythm should be improved. If he did indeed "work on some things", then one can hope that he too will be at least league average.
League average behind what I see as another year of very solid defense should just be good enough.
5. The blueline will be good, it will be young, but it might not look like what we expect.
By and large I expect the youngsters to be fairly injury free, However, there's always a nick here and a bump there so I expect Fleury, McKeown, and especially Carrick to see some time in Raleigh. I remain concerned about Faulk's recovery as we've not heard much since he related that he wasn't yet 100% around the time of the draft. Something also tells me that Hainsey's due for a bad break. His style of play should have gotten him some time in the infirmary already and we've been fortunate as an organization because of this. Regardless, my guess is one or more of those guys slotted to be Checkers will see a fair amount of time with the big club. If I had to guess and take a gamble, I think that Trevor Carrick will see the most time here in Raleigh and maybe even on the 2nd PP unit when he does. More on this a bit later.
Speaking of time on the power play unit, it wouldn't surprise me to see Ryan Murphy get time with the 1st unit. If Faulk isn't 100%, Murphy and Hanifin are the logical fill ins. Murphy has the superior point shot today so if the PP still runs through the point, he's likely to see his fair share of action. That is also why I think we may see some more of Trevor Carrick. First, he's paid his dues and gotten better each year. He's got a very good point shot. Plus there was a recent video snippet of him looking a bit bigger, so there's always that. In the end, I think we'll see continued growth and improvement from the guys who made the big club last season and contributions from guys who start out as Checkers.
6. We won't escape the injury bug...but we'll get through it.
Several people I know and respect spoke to how we really didn't get hammered with injuries last season. My take was the injuries that we did sustain came at the wrong time to the wrong people. Sure it is easy to lament the loss of Justin Faulk; his offense was sorely missed. For my money the loss of Andrej Nestrasil and Phil Di Giuseppe did more team damage. My contention all along has been that Nestrasil, not Staal, was the glue that held the Nesty/Jordy/Nordy line together. He was the guy who seemed to regain possession when we seemed about to lose it. He was the one that tended to find Joakim for his timely one-timers. Similarly, when PDG went down, it was difficult to replace what he brought to the Rask and Skinner line. He was the havoc guy. He's the guy who poked at pucks in front of the net. Most of all, he was the guy who banged the opposition into the boards as the boys were chasing the puck down low. Those guys were missed a little more than Faulk because it felt they made the team click better. The young defenders basically stepped up and did a pretty fair job, Slavin in particular, of filling Justin's skates.
My fear is that we'll have more guys go down with 6-10 game type of injuries. The aforementioned Hainsey is due. Aho and Teravainen are both "slight" and that's putting it mildly. The 4th line will be expected to be physical and McClement especially is no spring chicken. Still, this year feels different. It feels like a guy like Brock McGinn or Andrew Poturalski could step in and fill a role well. If a scorer is needed Sergey Tolchinsky or even a Valentin Zykov could be called upon. It just feels like there are more guys who are close enough and itching for their chance. Yes, I think we'll see our fair share of injuries, but I believe we now have the depth to soldier through with only a minor hiccup.
7. The Swedes step up.
With all the hype about our Finnish contingent, I think the Swedes are getting the proverbial short end of the stick. In the end, they could be and probably will be the most serious difference makers. Victor Rask just seems like the kind of guy who will be a sure and steady thing. Elias Lindholm was called out by Rod Brind'Amour and responded by putting in much more intense off season workouts. Similarly Eddie Lack has spent a lot of time on the ice this Summer. There's video out there of Joakim Nordstrom working out intently as well. Adding Viktor Stalberg gives us speed on a line that never had any. That will contribute mightily to the 4th line's ability to get the puck out of their end.
Added all together, this group of guys has the potential to be the real difference maker. Rask puts up 55 or more points. Lindholm pots 20 goals. Lack posts a .916 SV% and Stalberg gels on a new look 4th line. I predict that Joakim Nordstrom also ends up on that line as the team moves to more of a 4-scoring line approach. That's the recipe for more than a bubble team. Look for the Swedes to make that kind of statement.
8. Teuvo Teravainen breaks out.
Is this a prediction or more wishful thinking? Okay, maybe it is a little of both. There's also an air of inevitability to a prognostication like this. The coaching staff seems to love the idea of an Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen line. Likely slotting against traditional 3rd lines, this group of skilled players could, in theory, fare quite well. Two issues arise that are concerning to some. First, there's not a lot of size and grit in this group. Secondly, there appears to be a tendency with these guys to defer to other guys when it comes to taking the shot. However, both Aho and Teravainen are "slippery", able to dodge big hits and still work well in the down low and in front of the net. In fact, if you review film on Aho's goals he has a fair amount in the dirty areas, banging in rebounds. Teravainen seems to have the valuable knack of finding those open shooting lanes. Neither appears to shy away from physicality. Plus both players are very fast. As Pittsburgh proved in the playoffs, speed can be an antidote to size. Teravainen's speed allows him to find those open spaces and get off a very good wrist shot.
My projection also assumes that Teravainen may not spend the entire year with Sea Bass and Lindy. I suspect he may see time on the 1st line with Skinner and Rask. There's also a chance he could end up on a reconstructed Jordan Staal line. He will almost certainly be part of a rejuvenated power play that takes advantages of his skills. All of this adds up to more points in general and more goals in particular. The upside on this kid is incredible and I'm looking for 45 - 55 points out of Teuvo.
9. The Nesty - Jordy - Nordy line is a thing...until it isn't.
The coaches have said as much. Almost certainly Jordan Staal will start out centering a line that includes Andrej Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom. I suspect that line starts of well, beginning the season where they left off prior to Nestrasil's injury. Ideally this plays a part in some of the Canes' early season successes. Yet, NHL teams don't live in a vacuum. They will adjust and discover how to play against that group. Most likely they will expose a lack of scoring and potentially match up speed against this group's physicality (not to imply that this group is slow).
We all know that Bill Peters loves to tinker with his lines. After some initial successes, perhaps up to or through December, this line might begin to struggle. After all Nestrasil projects to be a 35 - 40 point guy and Nordstrom is closer to a 30 point guy than a 40 point player. The team will need to find and keep consistent scoring. That could open the door for Teravainen, Di Giuseppe, or more likely Lee Stempniak finding themselves next to Jordan. Any of those guys could help unleash Staal's offense. Also, the 3rd member of that line, whomever that might end up being, reaps some of that point production as well.
10. A Checker will rise.
Various factors come into play throughout a season. We've discussed the possibility that the injury bug could rear its ugly head. Guys develop at uneven rates, too. Some will smoothly move forward on their development arc while others stall, regress, or move in fits and starts. This opens doors for youngsters to to fill a void (see Slavin, Jaccob and Pesce, Brett). Realistically, the team is depending on 5 youngish guys to carry a lot of the scoring load: Skinner, Rask, Lindholm, Aho, and Teravainen. If you believe as I do that the battle for the 12/13 forward slot is going to rage between Di Giuseppe, Stalberg, Bickell, Nordstrom, Nestrasil, and McClement, then it is not a stretch to think that none those guys will provide the replacement scoring should an injury to a major scorer occur. We've already experienced what happens when a defender goes down; somebody just has to step up.
Enter the boys in Charlotte. Sure, you'll have NHL guys move up a line here or switch sides there, but opportunity will knock. I like one of these 5 guys to get that chance: Brock McGinn, Patrick Brown, Sergey Tolchinsky, Lucas Wallmark, or Valentin Zykov. Each of these guys has something to recommend him. Each still has his warts too. Personally, I think you'll see McGinn given the 1st opportunity and I think he'll run with it. Should the blueline need a fill in, as I previously mentioned, you'll see Trevor Carrick be given the first crack at the NHL line up. Yeah, I know all about Matt Tennyson and the Haydn Fleury advance press. Carrick, however, proved last season that he's not out of place on the big club. He's the safer bet and he's earned his shot.
There are a number of other things that I thought could or should happen. Most of what I'm predicting assumes that the team continues to progress toward the goal of making the playoffs. Of course things could just as easily go south, but that's not an article I'd enjoy writing in early September.
There are also a number of other predictions I considered. An early season trade is not beyond the pale, especially if goaltending repeats last season. Or if scoring just doesn't materialize, Ronnie could shake things up a bit. A surprise guy could surface out of camp. Rumors of Wallmark's improvement or one of Sutter or Woods beating out McClement all lead one to think about a differently constructed 4th line.
At any rate those are some of my hopeful guesses. Are yours equally optimistic or does the dark cloud of pessimism still reign?