The Carolina Hurricanes have spent the previous four seasons in the bottom half of the NHL in scoring. This is not a secret, and I am not expecting anyone to be shocked by this incredibly compelling opening statement. Improvement in scoring is one of the greatest areas of focus when figuring out a way to scrap together the additional points needed to become a playoff-caliber squad. To address this issue, the Canes brought in veteran Justin Williams to man the right wing, and have great reason to believe that some of their young talent in Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Jeff Skinner can continue to trend upward.
In previewing the Canes wingers, here are the six wingers the Canes expect to have a predominant impact on their fortunes.
2016-17 totals: 82 GP, 24 goals, 25 assists, 49 points
Acquired: 2nd round (35th overall) pick, 2015 NHL Draft
Coming off of what can only be described as a highly-successful rookie campaign, Sebastian Aho quickly became an indispensable part of the Hurricanes attack. While he got off to a somewhat slow start, Aho soon proved that not only could he play in the NHL, but that he has an opportunity to become an elite offensive player. Scoring 24 goals and tallying 25 assists really only scrapes the surface of the potential Aho possesses. Playing alongside Jordan Staal for much of the season, Aho proved that he is also perhaps a more complete player than some initially viewed him. Aho consistently performed against some of the NHL’s best and provided high-end offensive and defensive production.
His all-around strengths are what gives Aho not only a complete game, but also the potential for significant growth. The young winger is not simply a young sniper or a light-weight speedster. Instead, Aho combines elite skating, an accurate shot and excellent vision and passing which makes him a player that can literally be inserted onto any line on coach Bill Peters’ lineup card at any given time.
Provided he is healthy, the exciting young native of Finland should provide even more production in 2017-18 as a 20-year-old. It is not inconceivable that the Canes second leading point getter last season could challenge Jeff Skinner for the title of offensive leader in 2017-18.
2016-17 totals: 82 GP, 37 goals, 26 assists, 63 points
Acquired: 1st round (7th overall) pick, 2010 NHL Draft
While only 25 years old, Jeff Skinner is the second-most veteran winger on the Hurricanes roster. The offensive dynamo again led the way for the Canes with his 37 goals last season. While he is certainly seen as the preeminent offensive force for the Canes, perhaps just as important has been the rounding out of his game over the course of the last two very solid seasons. Skinner has grown, along with most of the rest of the forwards under Bill Peters, into a dependable two-way player. While no one would ever consider Skinner a shut down defensive winger, becoming a passable defender simply allows for greater flexibility throughout the lineup.
Skinner’s ability to avoid the injuries that derailed him for a spell following his spectacular rookie season appears to be the only true concern for his continued development. With his scoring touch, and growing willingness to play tough in front of the net, more scoring opportunities should continue to follow Skinner around. Look for Skinner to become increasingly active on the power play as well as Carolina looks to jumpstart that aspect of their special teams.
Age: 35 (turning 36 on October 4th)
2016-17 totals: 80 GP, 24 goals, 24 assists, 48 points
Acquired: Free agent signing, July 1, 2017
The return of Justin Williams is certainly the most talked about, and arguably most important, offseason acquisition over the summer. The 3-time Stanley Cup Champion and former Hurricane is expected to bring a bit more gritty, grimy scoring to the Canes’ offensive punch, but perhaps more importantly is expected to provide the veteran leadership and accountability that many observers see as necessary to put the Canes back into the playoff conversation. While the Canes certainly are pleased with the intangible benefits they expect to receive from Williams, don’t make a mistake in thinking that is all the Canes are looking for. The regular 45-50 point offensive production are absolutely a massive part of why the Canes sought out “Mr. Game 7.”
While it remains to be seen if Williams will receive the captain’s “C” on his chest, he will most certainly be a part of the team’s leadership group. As the Hurricanes look forward to the first of what is a two year deal for the veteran winger, they hope his contributions, along with the growth of the rest of the organization, are enough to get the team over the hump and back into the playoffs. After all, that’s why he came back.
2016-17 totals: 81 GP, 15 goals, 27 assists, 42 points
Acquired: Trade with Blackhawks, June 15, 2016
We are now getting into the players who have the ability to break through and have an out-sized impact on the potency of the Carolina attack. Teuvo Teravainen just finished his first season in Raleigh in which he put up a very respectable 42 points in 81 games, including a career-high 15 goals. Though he appears to be a known commodity due to his deep Cup runs with the Blackhawks and his subsequent season in Carolina, Teravainen is in actuality only a 23-year-old talent who is still developing and earning his offensive opportunities.
A dependable player in his own zone, Teravainen logged heavy minutes in the beginning of his career in his own end, alongside more defensively minded players. As his game is continued to be given room to grow, it is reasonable to expect at least modest upticks in his offensive output. In his first season with the Canes he increase his point total to 42 from 35 in his final season in Chicago. Assuming good. health, it is not unrealistic to expect something closer to a 50 point player or more, perhaps with around 20 goals in the coming season.
A tough, scrappy forward who on multiple occasions last season displayed an absolutely deadly wrist shot, Teravainen is another player in the Canes lineup who can slot all around, including playing in the middle of the ice as needed. Every team looking to make a breakthrough has certain players that serve as a fulcrum for the teams success. Look for Teravainen’s success or failure to progress as a pretty sound bellwether for how the Canes are performing.
2016-17 totals: 82 GP, 16 goals, 24 assists, 40 points
Acquired: Free agent signing, July 1, 2016
Another veteran in a room filled almost exclusively with young talent, Lee Stempniak played pretty much to his career marks in terms of production in 2016-17. His role as a secondary offensive piece was highlighted early in the season as he teamed with Victor Rask and Jeff Skinner to provide the most potent Canes grouping in the early going, scoring 4 goals in his first 4 games with the Canes. Eventually that line cooled, as did Stempniak.
Later in the season, paired more with the deeper lines, Stempniak continued to be a steady if unspectacular offensive performer. While Stempniak is a fairly solid all-around player, he is much better suited in his offensive zone, and it is clear that Bill Peters recognized this, as Stempniak had a whopping 60.2% of his shifts begin in the offensive zone.
A player who can certainly put the puck in the net when provided opportunities by being surrounded by talented linemates, the Canes will hope for and expect Stempniak to do exactly what Stempniak does. Play a solid game, provide leadership, and chip in the 40 or so points to the offensive attack that he is capable of.
2016-17 totals: 57 GP, 7 goals, 9 assists, 16 points
Acquired: 2nd Round (47th overall) pick, 2012
As a player who skated in around two-thirds of the games in Carolina last season, Brock McGinn proved to his teammates and coaches that he is certainly worthy of another good look in 2017-18. McGinn spend around the first month of the season with Charlotte, and once he arrived in Raleigh, didn’t exactly get off to the flying start he did in his NHL debut in 2015-16 (remember his goal just a few seconds into his NHL debut?). In McGinn’s first 10 games last season, he tallied exactly 1 point.
But as the season wore on, his ice time and his responsibility continued to grow. Along with his fellow young winger looking to crack the Canes lineup, Phil Di Giuseppe, McGinn provides some of the grittier more hard-nosed play that some observers have said they feel the Hurricanes have lacked at times.
While McGinn will still certainly need to earn his continued role on a packed Hurricanes roster, it appears as if his offensive upside, which began to show at times in the second half last season, will provide him with at least an opportunity. McGinn is yet another Hurricane who was slotted all throughout the lineup last season. His time alongside Elias Lindholm and/or Jordan Staal provided much of the most productive play from McGinn last season, but he certainly is capable of being just as much a driver of play as a beneficiary.
Should McGinn play a full season, it is not unrealistic to expect him to put up double-digits in goals and assists and provide the energetic infusion that the Canes sorely need over the course of a long season.
At some point, the Hurricanes will likely have to make a move with one of the centers who is currently vying for that ice time. There has even been discussion of Sebastian Aho moving to center at times, which would mean that Elias Lindholm, Lucas Wallmark or (if he makes the team) Martin Necas could spend some time on wing.
The fourth line in Carolina is likely going to be manned by a combination of players, and perhaps even multiple centers playing wing. Marcus Kruger was brought in to provide yet another tough defensive forward. Derek Ryan was brought back to play again in the bottom-6. He slots more as a true center, but at some point the Canes might have to just use the fourth line as a place to cram their best remaining talent into the lineup.
Expect to see Joakim Nordstrom continue in his grinding role along with free agent acquisition Josh Jooris, who also has history at center. For these players, while solid defensive hockey is a pre-requisite, whomever emerges as a driver of play and a potential offensive threat has the greatest chance to establish themselves as the one the fourth line is built around. Competition is healthy, and that is what the Canes are banking on in terms of filling out their lineup.
Scoring Projections (assuming 82 GP)
- Jeff Skinner: 35 goals, 41 assists, 76 points
- Sebastian Aho: 27 goals, 24 assists, 51 points
- Justin Williams: 23 goals, 26 assists, 49 points
- Teuvo Teravainen: 19 goals, 23 assists, 42 points
- Lee Stempniak: 14 goals, 20 assists, 34 points
- Brock McGinn: 9 goals, 15 assists, 24 points
- Josh Jooris: 7 goals, 11 assists, 18 points
- Joakim Nordstrom: 8 goals, 8 assists, 16 points