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Carolina Hurricanes 2018-19 Season Preview: Defense

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New faces could boost Carolina’s blue line into the elite tier among NHL teams.

Jamie Kellner

Both on the ice and behind the bench, there was a lot of turnover for the Carolina Hurricanes over the summer. One thing did stay the same, though:

That defense is really good.

For the first time in four seasons, this blue line will not be coached by Steve Smith, who left the organization to join the Buffalo Sabres in July. Instead, another former NHL defenseman will be behind the bench, and that man is Dean Chynoweth.

So, what kind of talent will Chynoweth have at his disposal in his second tour of duty behind an NHL bench? Let’s discuss.


On his third NHL team to date, Hamilton looks to be a big contributor.
Jamie Kellner

Dougie Hamilton

  • Age: 25
  • 2017-18 Totals: 82 GP, 17 goals, 27 assists, 44 points
  • Career Totals: 423 GP, 64 goals, 156 assists, 220 points
  • Acquired: Via trade with Calgary on June 23, 2018

Let’s waste no time and get to the big name addition to the team, by way of the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins.

Hamilton brings an array of talent to Carolina, but perhaps the 6’6” defenseman’s biggest asset is his booming shot from the point. He scored 17 goals last season (tied with Victor Hedman and Ivan Provorov for most among NHL defensemen) and 52 goals over the past four seasons.

His possession numbers offer even more to fawn over. At even strength last year, he and his Flames defensive partner Mark Giordano were absolutely dominant, posting the second-highest possession rate among defensive pairings that saw at least 300 minutes together - and that pairing saw 1,259 minutes of even strength ice time, which was second in the entire league.

In all facets, Hamilton is an elite player. To boot, he just turned 25 and has three years remaining on a team-friendly deal that carries a $5.75 million average annual value. Both at even strength and on the powerplay, this is a player the Hurricanes will rely on heavily.

If things work out as planned, Hamilton will play the right side of one of the best defensive pairings in hockey.


Jamie Kellner

Jaccob Slavin

  • Age: 24
  • 2017-18 Totals: 82 GP, 8 goals, 22 assists, 30 points
  • Career Totals: 227 GP, 8 goals, 22 assists, 30 points
  • Acquired: 4th round (120th overall), 2012 NHL Draft

And here’s the left side of that pairing.

The Hurricanes gave Slavin a huge vote of confidence when they handed him a long-term extension, but his 2017-18 season was a bit up and down. It’s hard to forget how incredible he was on opening night against the Minnesota Wild, or how he stole the show when Carolina took on Connor McDavid and the Oilers in Edmonton, but his season had a number of down moments that we weren’t used to seeing from him because, up to that point, he was pretty much as perfect as a young defenseman could be.

That being said, Slavin remains one of the most under-appreciated blueliners in the league (though, that is changing), and he’s entering his age-24 season with a whole lot of positive momentum.

The Denver native finished last season playing the best hockey, at least offensively, of his still young NHL career, logging 17 points in 24 games from February 9 to March 30. He was also a plus-16 player over that span, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Slavin wrapped up his exhibition schedule with six assists and a team-high eight points in four preseason games, as well. Rod Brind’Amour featured him on the second powerplay unit where he acted as the quarterback on a group which included Carolina’s two rookie gems Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas, and Slavin played quite well.

Analytically, Jaccob Slavin is one of the best defensemen in all of hockey. That is indisputable. However, I think there’s a lot more untapped potential in him, and Dougie Hamilton might be the perfect d-partner to help get that out of him.

A top pairing of Slavin and Hamilton performed as expected during the preseason - incredibly. If things continue to go well, those two are going to be a big problem for opponents for a long time.


Jamie Kellner

Brett Pesce

  • Age: 23
  • 2017-18 Totals: 65 GP, 3 goals, 16 assists, 19 points
  • Career Totals: 216 GP, 9 goals, 46 assists, 55 points
  • Acquired: 3rd round (66th overall), 2013 NHL Draft

Another cornerstone on the back end that the Hurricanes have committed a lot of time and money to, Brett Pesce is at a pretty important cross-roads in his career. The 23-year-old, like Slavin, wasn’t immune to up and down nature of the 2017-18 season. There was some good, some bad, and some ugly - the ugly, for him, being injuries.

His regular season came to an early end due to a shoulder injury, and an illness over the offseason certainly didn’t help his preparation for the upcoming season. That said, he has looked good in preseason action and he will need to keep that rolling as October 4 is just a few days away.

Through his first three seasons in the NHL, Pesce has really turned into a modern-day shutdown defenseman. He’s an excellent defender in his own end, he blocks a lot of shots, he has a good stick, his possession numbers are always great, and he has the mobility and vision to execute clean breakout passes and not be a by-stander in the offensive zone.

Hamilton will likely step into that top pairing role alongside Slavin, at least to start, so Pesce needs to establish where his role is at even-strength.

He’ll be a feature player on the penalty kill, but only time will tell who his defensive partner will be. He has seen time with almost every other defender on this team throughout the course of training camp and preseason. And, of course, the coaching staff will always be able to fall back on the reliability of a Slavin-Pesce pairing.

Though, I don’t think Brind’Amour and company will want to fall back on that right away.


Jamie Kellner

Justin Faulk

  • Age: 26
  • 2017-18 Totals: 76 GP, 8 goals, 23 assists, 31 points
  • Career Totals: 477 GP, 74 goals, 149 assists, 223 points
  • Acquired: 2nd round (37th overall), 2010 NHL Draft

The 2017-18 season was rough for Justin Faulk, and that’s probably putting it lightly.

After scoring a career-high 17 goals (13 at even-strength) the year prior, it just seemed like Faulk couldn’t get anything going, at least not anything positive. He looked slow, flatfooted, unconfident, uninterested, and he really just didn’t look like the player that was an All-Star each of the prior three seasons.

Defensive lapses have always been there for Faulk, but those lapses become a lot more obvious and a lot more impactful when he’s not making huge impacts on the offensive front. Poor defensive-zone coverage, ill-advised pinches, questionable decisions with the puck on his stick - that kind of stuff is what plagued Justin Faulk last season.

To his credit, he has looked better in September - quicker and more in-control. And while you’d be hard pressed to find someone who thinks Faulk had a great year in ‘17-18, his offensive totals weren’t an atrocity. 31 points in 76 games is fine, but it’s just not good enough for Justin Faulk, a player who has shown that he can be a game-breaker.

It still is a pretty big surprise that Faulk wasn’t dealt over the offseason. And while he still might be traded at some point, the Hurricanes would really benefit from a bounce-back year from him.


Jamie Kellner

Calvin de Haan

  • Age: 27
  • 2017-18 Totals: 33 GP, 1 goal, 11 assists, 12 points
  • Career Totals: 304 GP, 12 goals, 69 assists, 81 points
  • Acquired: Free agent signing, July 3, 2018

The Hurricanes surprised a lot of people, perhaps even themselves, when they announced the signing of former New York Islander Calvin de Haan at 9:00 pm on July 3.

Despite missing the latter half of the 2017-18 campaign after getting shoulder surgery, de Haan was considered by many to be the best defenseman in the 2018 unrestricted free agent class. So, when the Hurricanes were able to reel him in, and do so for what was not the highest money bid, it shocked a lot of people.

But, alas, they got him.

While de Haan is far from an offensive defenseman, his ability to move the puck, stretch the ice, and execute low-risk plays makes him a reliable player with the puck on his stick. He won’t have a lot of ugly turnovers or mind-boggling decisions.

What he does better than just about everyone in the league is block shots. Over his last 187 games played, he has blocked 453 shots. He’ll be another mainstay on the club’s penalty kill thanks to his ability to clog up shooting lanes, make smart decisions, and use his mobility to his advantage.

He’s not flashy. He’s just solid. And he’ll be a good addition to Carolina’s top-four on the blue line.


Jamie Kellner

Trevor van Riemsdyk

  • Age: 27
  • 2017-18 Totals: 79 GP, 3 goals, 13 assists, 26 points
  • Career Totals: 237 GP, 11 goals, 36 assists, 47 points
  • Acquired: Via trade with Vegas on June 22, 2017

Quietly, van Riemsdyk put together a solid first season in Raleigh.

From start to finish, TvR was just really good. The name of his game was consistency. On one of the most unpredictable teams in hockey from one game to another, you always knew exactly what you were going to get from van Riemsdyk. Realistically, he is probably as good as you’re going to get in a third-pairing defenseman.

The front office took notice of that, and they gave him a two-year contract extension.

Now at age 27, the former Blackhawk will look to build on his success from a season ago. He’ll have to keep fighting for his spot in the lineup because of how deep and talented Carolina’s defensive depth chart is, but the right side on the third pairing is his to lose.


Jamie Kellner

Haydn Fleury

  • Age: 22
  • 2017-18 Totals: 67 GP, 0 goals, 8 assists, 8 points
  • Career Totals: 67 GP, 0 goals, 8 assists, 8 points
  • Acquired: 1st round (8th overall), 2014 NHL Draft

The 2014 eighth-overall pick had a lot of... let’s call them “teachable moments” in his rookie campaign under the direction of Bill Peters and Steve Smith.

It just looked like he couldn’t find his game or get into a real rhythm. There were some patches of good play, and he made a number of quality defensive plays, particularly when he found himself defending odd-man rushes. But there were also some moments where he just didn’t look ready to be in the NHL.

He was a rookie. Those things happen with rookies. Fleury’s performance as a 21-year-old on a team that was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster in the final two months of the season is not fully indicative of what kind of defenseman he will be when he is 27, or even what kind of defenseman he will be this season.

Regardless of whether it’s fair or unfair, Haydn Fleury’s development and perceived development will always be impacted by the fact that he was a top-ten NHL draft pick. Will he end up being a fringe top-pairing defenseman like many had hoped? Probably not, but it’s okay, and probably necessary, to adjust your expectations.

For Fleury, the 2018-19 season will need to be about steady improvement. It looks like he will start the year as the team’s seventh defenseman, so he needs to put in a lot of work and effort in order to get into the lineup on a consistent basis. A season ago, Klas Dahlbeck was outplaying him and taking playing time from him. He definitely will have to be better than that if he wants to stay in Raleigh and be on one of the most talented blue lines in the NHL.

Also, it’d be cool to see him score a goal.


Elsewhere

2016 first-round pick Jake Bean, 20, is entering his rookie season and will start the year with the Charlotte Checkers. He had a great junior career in Western Hockey League, one which saw him earn a silver and gold medal in the World Junior Championships on Team Canada. A strong start, coupled with injuries to the NHL roster, could present him an opportunity to make his NHL debut this season, but the organization will likely be patient with the offensive defenseman’s development.

Trevor Carrick, 24, and Roland McKeown, 22, will start the year with the Checkers. Both players saw NHL action last season and will likely be among the top call-up options on the blue line, at least in the early portions of the season. Carrick had a big year in Charlotte in 2017-18, recording 44 points in the regular season and an additional four points in eight playoff games. McKeown impressed in his ten games with the NHL club, logging three assists. He also had the third-highest plus/minus in the AHL last season.

Training camp invitee Michal Cajkovsky, 26, made the most of the opportunity he was given by the organization. He landed himself a one-year, two-way deal with the Hurricanes after his impressive training camp and preseason. Considering he lasted longer than either Carrick or McKeown in camp, he might just be the team’s number one call-up option on defense. Though, he might have just stuck around longer so that the Canes could get a better look at him before making a decision. Regardless, the former KHLer earned a contract, and he could very easily find himself in some NHL action this season, especially since he is waiver-exempt. For now, though, he will be in Charlotte with Mike Vellucci.

2017 second-round pick Luke Martin, 20, will return to Michigan for his junior year with the Wolverines in the NCAA. The big, right-shot defenseman had eight points last season.


Scoring Projections (assuming 82 GP)

  • Dougie Hamilton: 15 goals, 33 assists, 48 points
  • Jaccob Slavin: 7 goals, 29 assists, 36 points
  • Brett Pesce: 3 goals, 18 assists, 21 points
  • Justin Faulk: 10 goals, 25 assists, 35 points
  • Calvin de Haan: 5 goals, 20 assists, 25 points
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk: 3 goals, 15 assists, 18 points
  • Haydn Fleury: 2 goals, 10 assists, 12 points