It’s time for our annual predictions column, always guaranteed wrong or your money back. Members of the Canes Country staff have answered four questions, and also sent in their projected order of finish for the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference playoff teams. Without giving too much away: we believe this is the year the Carolina Hurricanes will return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Finally.
Here are the questions our writers answered:
- Who will be this season’s breakout player?
- What should a successful season be defined as for the Hurricanes this year?
- Who finishes the season as the top point scorer and the top goal scorer, and how many of each?
- What will be the biggest surprise of the season?
And here are our answers:
Breakout player: Entering his third season, expectations are that this is a make or break year for Noah Hanifin. After Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce signed big extensions this summer, Hanifin will step up his game big time and secure a top 4 defensive spot. While he won’t blow anyone away on offense, I suspect he becomes a key part of the penalty kill and starts getting the attention that Slavin and Pesce are already receiving.
Define a successful season: Playoffs. Has to be the playoffs. Anything short is a shortcoming this year. The Hurricanes have gotten the national attention they deserve and put all the pieces together to make a run. If they fall short this year, it may be time to start rethinking things.
Top scorer: Jeff Skinner will lead the team in both points and goals scored. I predict he surpasses 70 points for the first time in his career and ends up with 74 points. Expect Skinner if he stays healthy to become a All-Star and of those 74 points, 40 will be goals.
Biggest surprise: Jaccob Slavin will finish in the top five for the Norris Trophy and be an All-Star this year. Okay, maybe that wouldn’t be too big of a surprise, but it will shock the national media as they still don’t even see him as a top 50 player or even an All-Star. Slavin is going to take the league by storm and prove he is worth every penny of that big seven-year contract.
Breakout player: This year's breakout player is going to be Teuvo Teravainen, notching 30 goals. He has consistently been improving and he will finally find himself more comfortable on the roster, especially if he plays with Victor Rask and finds time on the power play.
Define a successful season: A successful season for the Hurricanes will be if they make a wild card spot. There have been too many predictions that this team is poised to for a playoff berth this season, and they need to claim one to continue to grow in the right direction.
Top scorers: The top goal scorer this season will be Sebastian Aho who will tally 43 goals. Jeff Skinner will lead the team in points with 78 points. He has been a consistent producer for the Hurricanes and is someone this team will look at to make an impact.
Biggest surprise: Scott Darling will post numbers that will make him an exceptional candidate for the Vezina Trophy. Despite having great success with Chicago, he will be lining up behind a more reliable defense.
Breakout player: With an already stellar rookie campaign under his belt, I think Sebastian Aho has another gear to his game yet. One goal away from a 25-goal, 25-assist season, while seeing less than 17 minutes a night, I think a bump in TOI and another year of growth will put Aho over the 30-goal mark as he hovers just under a point per game average.
Successful season: Given the landscape of the Eastern Conference, and under the assumption that the Metro can't possibly be as dominant and top-heavy as last year, a wildcard spot would make for a successful Hurricanes season.
Top scorers: In his breakout sophomore campaign, Sebastian Aho will lead the team in goals with 36. While I think Aho can flirt with a point per game average as well, I think Jeff Skinner maintains the team lead in scoring in the new season, registering a few fewer goals but more assists than in 2016-17, and bringing his point tally for 2017-18 to 77.
Biggest surprise: Both Canes special teams units will finish top-10 in the league. Last year, the PK group ranked 6th best in the NHL, and that was with Jay McClement featured in a PKing role. This year, with two talented units, I think the power play takes a step forward from last year's middle of the pack conversion %.
Breakout player: The biggest qualifier surrounding the Hurricanes this season is “they will make the playoffs, if they can get league-average goaltending from Scott Darling.” Count me a believer. No, Darling doesn’t have the lengthy track record, but neither did Cam Talbot and he went to Edmonton (granted, behind Connor McDavid) and backstopped the Oilers into last year’s postseason. Darling isn’t going to win the Vezina Trophy, and he may even be in the bottom half of goalies in the Metro - give me Holtby, Lundqvist and Bobrovsky for sure, and he’s neck and neck with Schneider - but he’ll do enough to get the Canes to the promised land.
Successful season: This will eventually sound like a broken record during this preview, but the Canes must - and will - make the playoffs this year. It’s time for the rebuild to bear fruit. Anything less will be a profound disappointment and will lead to legitimate questions surrounding the Canes’ management and coaches. Bill Peters’ seat isn’t hot, and he’s no candidate for a midseason turfing, but another season without the playoffs and there will undoubtedly be changes.
Top scorers: Give me Jeff Skinner to score 80 points and 37 goals. It’s a travesty that he isn’t recognized as one of the top 50 players in the league, and who knows if another 30-goal season will do the trick, but it damn well should. (Bonus: the Canes will have three 25-goal scorers: Skinner and Aho both will tally at least 30, and Justin Williams will come close.)
Biggest surprise: This might be a bit of a cop-out because the third pairing has nowhere to go but up after last season, but Trevor van Riemsdyk will become the reincarnation of Niclas Wallin, stabilizing the bottom pairing and allowing Bill Peters to evenly spread out the minutes among the defensemen. TVR won’t do anything brilliantly, but he will be far from a liability, and he will eventually be recognized as a shrewd bit of business from Ron Francis and company.
Breakout player: Scott Darling has been Corey Crawford's backup in Chicago for the last three seasons and now has his chance at a starting spot. He will earn respect as a viable starter in the league and will record 32 wins. Expect his save percentage to be around the .915 range and a goals against average in the mid to low 2's.
Successful season: Simple: make the playoffs. If they make the playoffs, how far they make it once in will not matter. The Canes have gone too many consecutive seasons without a playoff berth. A wild card spot should be feasible, even in a tough division. A playoff berth will help give the young core confidence moving forward.
Top scorers: The top goal scorer will once again be Jeff Skinner who will also lead the team in points. I was dangerously close last year as I picked him to finish with 35 goals and 65 assists. Expect him to finish with 35 goals and 70-75 points this time around.
Biggest surprise: Marcus Kruger will score 25-30 points this season. His career high is 28 points and the change of scenery plus playing in Bill Peters' system will be favorable for Kruger. When was the last time a 'Canes fourth line forward even sniffed 30 points? It wasn’t Jay McClement, that for sure.
Breakout player: The Hurricanes have a roster teeming with young talent, with many great options in this category. To settle on just one, I am going to go with Sebastian Aho. While the young Finn was already tremendous in his rookie campaign, I believe he still only scratched the surface of his explosive offensive ability. I look for him to share the mantle and burden of leading the Canes offensive attack with Jeff Skinner.
Successful season: There is nothing that could spell success other than making a Stanley Cup playoff appearance. This team has the talent, but crossing that threshold is the next step.
Top scorers: I am again going to go out on a limb and pick Sebastian Aho. I see him potting 36 goals, and combining that with 31 assists to lead the team with 67 points.
Biggest surprise: The Hurricanes power play will provide a consistent threat for the first time in a long time. The unit will finish in the top-10 in the league at season's end.
Breakout player: Noah Hanifin. I don’t think you’ll see a huge uptick in points, as he’ll probably end up around 35-40, but I think we see a more consistent, well-rounded effort from the young defenseman this season. Having a top-four partner will certainly help Hanifin, who played his best hockey last season after veteran Ron Hainsey was moved at the deadline. His success will be a big part towards a potential playoff push.
Successful season: Last year in this column I noted that I still thought the team was a year away. I no longer feel that way. This is a playoff or bust season for Carolina, as their rebuild finally shows the rewards of patience. Simply being in the conversation is not enough moving forward; it’s time for this group to take the next step.
Top scorers: Jeff Skinner for both. I say he goes 35-31-66 with a better power play and more talent in the top nine, aiding his third 60-plus point season.
Biggest surprise: The Canes will look to add rather than sell at the deadline for the first time in some time. Even if it’s not a huge piece added on February 26th, 2018, it will be nice to see some additions to help for a playoff push rather than roster subtractions.
Breakout player: Scott Darling was the more effective goaltender in Chicago last season but still played second fiddle. This year he will come into his own and be comparable to Cam Talbot's breakout season with Edmonton. This is a very realistic possibility, since Darling is four inches taller, and the Canes defense is significantly better than the Oilers defense. I expect him to have a save percentage around .920 and a GAA around 2.40.
Successful season: Making the playoffs, and nothing less. Unlike last season, the Canes made real moves to shore up weaknesses and to start putting an end to the rebuild. The Metro is a tough division, but this can't continue being the excuse for missing the playoffs.
Top scorers: The top goal scorer will be Jeff Skinner. In the past, the only knock on him was that he couldn't stay healthy. Well, that's no longer an issue for the winger. Skinner will pick up where he left off last season, however this season he will break the 40 goal mark. The top point scorer will be Jordan Staal. If the lines stay the same as last season and he plays with Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm, I believe he will break the 20 goal mark and have 40 assists with Aho being in form from the start of the season.
Biggest surprise: The Canes will not just make the playoffs, they will do so as one of the top three teams in the Metro. Many are picking the Canes to make the playoffs, but they are finally deep enough to compete on a night in, night out basis. The Canes are a trendy pick for many to eke out a wild card spot. I believe they will be able to finish third behind the Pens and Blue Jackets in the Metro.
Breakout player: While accustomed to being hindered by a defensive partner of lesser skill, Noah Hanifin will see time on the top pairing with Justin Faulk and will shine. The 2015 first round draft pick will live up to the hype that surrounded him entering the league. I expect Hanifin to post 40 points, an 11 point improvement from last years total. He will realize his offensive prowess playing alongside another offensive powerhouse.
Successful season: A successful season for the Hurricanes will have to end with a wild card berth in April. The summer was an incredible one for general manager Ron Francis. Furthermore, a successful season would see notable rookies on the roster excel and contribute to the first playoff run since 2009.
Top scorers: The top goal scorer will be Jeff Skinner. The winger led the team in scoring last year and he has shown that he's an elite offensive presence in this league. Skinner will break the 40 goal mark and the new offensive support will allow him to at least compete for the scoring title. His offensive command this year will force the entire league to recognize him as a top player at his position.
Biggest surprise: Haydn Fleury. The 2014 first round pick will come into the season hungry to prove his meddle as he did in September. Fleury will display his worth, excelling on the third pairing with the newly acquired Trevor van Riemsdyk. By season's end, Fleury will have made his case for a higher spot in the Hurricanes defensive pecking order.
Breakout player: Based on his finish to the 2016-17 season and his performance in September, Noah Hanifin is my pick for Carolina's breakout player. After Ron Hainsey was moved out of the fold on February 23, the 20-year-old played the best hockey of his career down the stretch, tallying 14 points in the final 25 games as he started to flourish and gain confidence in a top-four role on the blue line. Depending on his defensive partner, his even-strength offense could take a big jump from his sophomore season and he is bound to play a key role on the man advantage. The young star in the making has two years of NHL experience under his belt and this should be the year in which he takes what he has learned and starts shaping into the player that we can expect him to be for the next decade.
Successful season: Entering last season, I said that the Hurricanes needed to take a noticeable step in the right direction in order for '16-17 to be considered a success, and while you couldn't tell from the standings alone, they most certainly did that. This season, it's far more cut and dry - they need to make the playoffs. Whether it's as the second wild-card team in the East or as the President's Trophy winner, they need to play into mid and late April in order for this to be a successful season.
Top scorers: Before I begin, I would like to point out that I predicted 62 points for Jeff Skinner a year ago, and he finished with 63, which, in my opinion, is far more impressive than Justin's close prediction. (Just sayin'.) This time around, I think that the team's goal leader and point leader will be different players for the first time since the 2013-14 season. Skinner is definitely the safe choice for putting pucks in the net, and while I think 40 is a real possibility, I'm going to go with 36 for #53 as he leads the club in goal scoring and comes in the top-three in total points with Sebastian Aho and someone else in the mix.
Here's the kicker, I'm going with Teuvo Teravainen to lead the team in points and finish with 67, 25 points more than his career-high of 42 a season ago. He would have also been my breakout player, but I truly believe in both Hanifin and Teravainen and their upsides going into the season (I also just wanted to wax poetic about both players). Turbo's first year in Raleigh saw its fair share of ups and downs as he was suddenly traded to a new organization after breaking into the league and winning a Cup in Chicago as a rookie in 2015 and playing his first full NHL season the year after. The additions up front and the sense of comfort and familiarity that Teravainen now has with his teammates and the organization as a whole will be a significant factor here. His talent is undeniable and his underlying numbers are phenomenal. If he can bring it every night, he can absolutely be a force both on the power play and at even strength as he will likely share a lot of ice time with Jordan Staal, Justin Williams, and fellow Finn Sebastian Aho, among others.
I am absolutely certain that no one will call me out if my prediction is dead wrong.
Biggest surprise: The Hurricanes will finish with a winning record in games that require overtime and shootout. Since the beginning of the Francis-Peters regime in 2014, the Canes have not had a season with a winning record in overtime/shootout and have gone a combined 24-42 in those games. Peters, his staff, and his players have shown plenty of weaknesses over the years, but finding wins after 60 minutes has been maybe the most painful and almost certainly the most costly. The addition of Scott Darling is huge (literally, have you seen how big the guy is?) and a blue line with equal parts talent and mobility pairs well with Carolina's growing collection of firepower up front to form a team that should thrive in a 3-on-3 setting. Here's to hoping that we no longer have to watch the deployment of two defensemen and one forward. Ron Hainsey, you will be missed.
In the glorified skills competition, er... I mean shootout, Darling again plays a big role as his career .833 shootout save percentage dwarfs Cam Ward's downright abysmal numbers in years past. The only problem is scoring in the shootout, something that this team has made look like rocket science for years. Sebastian Aho fared well as a rookie and while Justin Williams has rarely been used in this situation over the past few seasons, he has also had success. One would also assume that Jeff Skinner and Teuvo Teravainen have way too much talent to repeat their combined 0-7 from last season. Skinner, who netted four shootout goals as a rookie, has scored just twice since then and has been goalless in his last 18 attempts dating back to 2013, so either he's just a desolate wasteland in the shootout or he has walked under far too many ladders while shooting pucks at mirrors. Jaccob Slavin also exists and has managed to be a shockingly viable option, scoring three goals on eight attempts over the past two seasons.
Breakout player: Noah Hanifin. Is this too easy? It feels too easy. Hanifin has had an up-and-down NHL career so far, but his ceiling remains high and potential largely untapped. He finished last season playing important minutes alongside top-4 partners and excelled in what limited time he had there. A full season with a consistent partner like Justin Faulk or Brett Pesce will help Hanifin finish taking his step into a larger role with the team. With two years of experience now under his belt and more significant minutes to be played, Hanifin is primed for a breakout year.
Successful season: I badly missed the mark on this one last year ("playoffs or bust" was a terrible, terrible take on my part) so, naturally, I'm making the same assessment this year. Maybe not "or bust" this time, but a playoff berth is the expectation for this season and would constitute a "successful season." Circumstances will undoubtedly change throughout the season, but another year with no postseason hockey will be bitterly disappointing for fans and players alike.
Top scorers: The year(s) of Jeff Skinner continue(s). Skinner shone as one of the Canes' foremost leaders last season, tying his Calder Trophy-winning 63 points from 2010-11 but putting up six more goals for a total of 37. With his confidence already high and rising (and perhaps with help from Justin Williams as a linemate), Skinner will lead the team in goals, breaching the 40-goal mark for the first time in his career as he also posts a team-leading 69 points.
Biggest surprise: Martin Necas stays with the team for the full season. I'm as surprised as anyone that the young Czech forward found his way onto the opening night roster, but his impressive performances in the preseason suggest a higher level of NHL-readiness than anticipated. As his confidence grows, Necas earns a permanent spot on the roster and provides another speedy threat for opponents to handle.
CC’s Projected Metro Standings
- Pittsburgh Penguins (average finish: 1.11)
- Washington Capitals (average: 2.56)
- Columbus Blue Jackets (average: 3.00)
- Carolina Hurricanes (average: 4.00)
- New York Rangers (average: 5.00)
- Philadelphia Flyers (average: 6.11)
- New York Islanders (average: 6.33)
- New Jersey Devils (average: 7.89)
Projected Playoff Teams
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Washington Capitals
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- Carolina Hurricanes
- New York Rangers