The Carolina Hurricanes are in an interesting situation entering the final 14 games of the regular season.
With 70 points in the standings, Carolina would pretty much have to win out in order to get a playoff spot, so while they haven’t been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, we are at the point where you have to start looking to next season and getting as big of a head start as possible.
For that reason, we are starting to see some new faces. Valentin Zykov and Lucas Wallmark have broken into the league over the past week and both of them have impressed in varying sample sizes.
Zykov got injured in the first period of his second game on Saturday against the Leafs after scoring early in his NHL debut against the Rangers last Thursday and Wallmark has been great in the faceoff circle and has seen more and more ice time in each of his first three NHL games.
At this point in the season, it’s kind of about juggling being competitive this season and also trying to get a head start on next season. So far, it looks like the organization is doing a good job - they certainly have a lot of experience in that regard.
Hopefully, this is the last time we have to talk about this juggling act and the team can just solely focus on being competitive down the stretch starting next season.
- I touched on Zykov and Wallmark a little above. Zykov is all about size and scoring, and he has put that on display in a very small sample size. In a full game and one shift, the Russian winger has logged 12:30 of ice time and was able to power home his first NHL goal. Once he returns, he’ll be looked upon to provide that power game and get to the front of the net. He’s a big player who has an opportunity to make the team next year. Wallmark also has a very real shot of making the team out of camp next year after nearly doing so back in October. He won 67% of his faceoffs through three games and logged his first assist against the Isles on Tuesday prior to being reassigned to the Checkers Friday morning. If he makes the team next year, it will likely be in a bottom-six center role and he has the tools as a two-way center to make it happen. He’s a player who I have liked a lot.
- Bill Peters made a questionable decision going with Ward on back-to-back nights against the Islanders. Ward struggled in an 8-4 win on Monday and then got the start again on Tuesday in a 3-2 overtime loss. The Canes went with Eddie Lack on Thursday and got rewarded as the Swede made 30 saves on 31 shots and stole two points for the home team. Peters joked after the game that he couldn't mess up on who he would go with on Saturday, implying that Lack would get the crease against the Predators. Of course, the apparent bias towards Cam Ward has been a big talking point lately, but it would be wise for the team to start going with Lack given how well he has played since the end of February.
- Brock McGinn is far from flashy but his presence is felt when he is in the lineup. He led all Carolina forwards his three hits and he put two shots on net on Thursday. His aggressive style of play is what will keep him around going into next season, but one concern has to be his durability. He’s not a big player, listed at 6-feet, 185-pounds, but he plays bigger. That’s great in the sense that he brings a spark to the lineup and will shake things up, but injuries have been a little bit of an issue early on in his NHL career. It’s still early, though, so we’ll see if this is something to actually be concerned about moving forward. I think he’s set himself up to be a favorite to make that group of 12 forwards going into the 2017-18 season. He brings an aspect to the game that few forwards in the running bring.
- Elias Lindholm's banner season has continued. He’s riding a five-game point streak and received first-star honors in last night’s win, although Lack probably should have gotten it, but oh well. We all have seen his offensive upside with his great vision and ability to move the puck, but a less talked about aspect of his game is his physicality and his growing confidence in going to dirty areas. Assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour talked about this earlier in the week with Adam and Joe on 99.9 The Fan. Lindholm is still just 22 and his confidence as a player and the role he is playing with this team continues to grow. Down the line, I think it’s inevitable that he plays on Jordan Staal’s wing, just because of how well they have played together in longer stretches this season. Their play styles mesh so seamlessly and they are both very responsible defensive players.
- Interesting note: Ryan Murphy has to play in each of Carolina’s last 14 games this season in order to reach the 70-games over two seasons rule and be exposed by the team at the expansion draft. If he doesn’t reach that threshold, Carolina will have to either expose Justin Faulk or extend Klas Dahlbeck’s contract past this season. Even if it is just in the smallest of roles, I think the Canes have no choice but to just put a uniform on Murphy every game between now and the end of the season. Let’s hope he stays healthy.