You know how people write predictions at the beginning of the season and always end up being wrong? Good, me too!
The Carolina Hurricanes will sport a young, revamped forward core this season. That, coupled with one of the league's best two-way blue lines, makes this is a team that could be very dangerous when it comes to putting pucks in the net.
What makes this season so exciting is the new faces. Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis went out this offseason and added size, skill and speed to the organization, which projects to play a big role in the club's success this year and beyond.
So, let's talk numbers. Here's who I think will finish in the top ten in points for the Hurricanes this season, assuming injuries aren't a thing.
Let's start at the top of the list.
An impressive 2015-16 campaign for Jeff Skinner should only reap even better results this season as Carolina comes in with a lot more firepower up front.
Last season, Skinner played his best all-around hockey under head coach Bill Peters, improving his scoring output, defensive responsibility and mental fortitude. This is a player that has matured in all areas in recent memory, so expect nothing different from him when October rolls around.
The only place Skinner really fell below expectations last year was his powerplay point production, where he finished fourth on the team and netted just four man-advantage goals. I'm willing to put this on the side of bad luck and expect that number to go up in 2016-17, thus contributing to a higher point total.
Next on the chart is Victor Rask, receiver of a new, long-term contract over the summer.
Rask has exceeded all expectations since being forced to turn pro to start the 2014-15 season after Jordan Staal broke his leg in preseason action. Now, he has established himself as a top-six two-way center in the NHL.
There's little doubt that Rask deserved the contract he got, but now he has to go out and prove that he is worth it. Branching again on the influx of talent at the forward positions this season, this is a player who can potentially reach the 30-goal and 60-point marks after coming just short of 50 points on an offensively challenged Hurricanes club last season.
I have Justin Faulk breaking the 50-point mark this season for the first time in his pro career. This was a plateau that he likely could have hit last season prior to missing nearly 20 games due to a lower-body injury in practice. Thanks, Brad.
Faulk's outburst in goal scoring last season was unprecedented. He lit up the lamp at an alarming rate, particularly on the man advantage where he led the league at one point and finished the year with a team-leading 12 powerplay goals.
He will likely start the season opposite of Jaccob Slavin on the first defensive pairing. On paper, this is a duo that should be able to take care of opponent's best forward lines and also has the ability to use their speed and smarts to jump up in the rush. With any luck, Faulk and Slavin can form a more-than-respectable top-two.
This is a big season for Elias Lindholm, who failed to improve on a promising 2014-15 campaign last season.
With all the young talent coming through, Lindholm needs to establish himself as a consistent scoring threat, and he should be able to do so. He's a fabulous puck facilitator with a quick release on his wrist shot. Playing alongside skilled players like Skinner, Rask, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, amongst others, this is Lindholm's best opportunity yet to make a big impact.
Speaking of the Finns, let's skip down to Aho and Teravainen. Newcomers could go either way. Teravainen comes from Chicago, a team which didn't necessarily put him in a role to consistently produce points. Despite this, he was able to tally 35 points on a loaded Blackhawks team. With bigger minutes and the opportunity to be a leader offensively, Teravainen is a prime candidate to breakout in his third NHL season.
Aho is very much in the same boat. He broke out as a star prospect this past season with Karpat in the Finnish league and backed it up with big performances in World Juniors and May's World Championships.
The hype train for Sebastian Aho left the station months ago, and for good reason. This is an extremely smart hockey player who has the ability to facilitate offense and beat the goalie with a great release and an extremely accurate one-timer. This is a dangerous player, but don't expect the world from him. This will be his first season of North American hockey and it will be on a team that is going through a fairly significant adjustment period. Is a 40-point season from the rookie realistic? Yes, but there needs to be a combination of quick adjustment on Aho's part and improved play from Carolina's offense as a whole.
The World Cup of Hockey didn't go Finland's way, which could be a blessing in disguise for the Hurricanes as Aho and Teravainen have made it back right in time for training camp. Expect them to potentially crack the lineup in preseason action on Friday or Sunday.
Another newcomer, Lee Stempniak is quite different from Aho and Teravainen. This is a player coming off of a marvelous season split between the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins in which he racked up 51 points.
Stempniak is a veteran presence and a consistent offensive player. He isn't flashy, but he plays the game with his head and finds ways to exploit defenses. Expecting another 50-point season from Stempniak is a stretch, but that doesn't mean that he can't play a big role in Carolina's hopeful return to the playoffs. It is expected that he will play the opposite wing of Jeff Skinner which should be beneficial for both parties.
Rounding out my top ten is Justin Faulk's prospective defensive partner, Jaccob Slavin.
Last year was magical for Carolina's group of rookie blueliners, but standing out above the rest was Slavin, who stepped in and, game-by-game, got better and better in all aspects of his game.
This is the most exciting part of this team. The defensive core that the Hurricanes are throwing out there this year will almost exactly resemble last year's group. There's a sense of familiarity and comfort on the backend this season, and I expect Slavin to take the next step with his game, jumping into the offense a bit more and making a big contribution.
That's my top ten point getter prediction. Let us know what yours is!
P.S. Regular season hockey will be played in two weeks.